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Study of Lamarr Houston tackling woes not whole story

When looking back at Lamarr Houston’s performance last season overall, it is an extremely positive one. Fans remember how he was terrorizing quarterbacks and holding down his side of the line against anyone attempting to run through it — which makes it that much more curious why he was recently singled out as leading the league in broken tackles.

Football Outsiders has compiled a list of those NFL players who have fallen victim to broken tackles most and least. Among defensive linemen, Houston was tied for the most broken tackles with six. The only lineman to equal his total was son of Hall of Fame Raider Howie Long, Chris Long, of the St Louis Rams.

But while Chris Long may have no excuse for that total, Lamarr deserves a lot of slack.

There is a reason that despite this statistic, we remember the rookie defensive end as dominating at his position. To use an old cliche, it’s not how you start but how you finish that counts.

Each NFL season I compile each Raider player’s weekly performances in my Ballers & Busters series. One thing I noted was Lamarr’s improvement from the early part of the season into the latter portion. It came to be a bit of an ongoing storyline in fact. I can say with certainty that nearly all of those six missed tackles occurred in the first six games of the season.

While I can’t go back and see if those broken tackles fit Football Outsiders’ specific criteria, I counted at least two broken tackles in the week four loss to the Texans and possibly three, the game in which Arian Foster torched the Raiders. If Lamarr did indeed have whiff three times in that game, that would be half his overall total in that week alone. He spread the other three or four missed tackles throughout the other five games to begin the season.

By midseason, Lamarr was beginning to put things together, showing why the Raiders drafted him. By the end of the season, he had outshined his round two draft position. For evidence of this you need only look at his tackle numbers. He had 39 tackles in 2010 and 27 of those tackles came in the final seven games.

So while he may have been left flat footed or broken ankled (so to speak) on six plays, he fixed those issues by midseason. The study doesn’t break it down by game or parts of the season, nor should it. The study is done to put the facts out there and let the reader sort out the rest of the details. While those details may not be important to a blanket NFL study, it is very important to coaches, fellow players, and fans.

Houston was a rookie. He was also switching from playing defensive tackle in college to defensive end in the pros. He struggled to get his footing and acclimate to the NFL. That’s commonplace for rookies. What was not commonplace was how he exploded onto the scene in week ten and beyond. In week ten alone he had as many tackles (7) as he had in the previous seven games combined. Then he eclipsed his total for the first nine games (12) in just three weeks. He also had three of his five sacks over those final seven games.

These numbers had me naming Lamarr as a “Baller” four times over the final seven games.

What began as a rocky rookie campaign turned into an outstanding year. But not the kind of outstanding that had him topping the list of broken tackles. The good kind of outstanding. Funny how deceiving such a study can be when the statistics aren’t put in the proper context.

They can continue to collect the stats while sportswriters and analysts provide the back story. It is a nice symbiotic relationship of which I am happy to hold up my end.

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