National Football League Films analyst Matt Hamilton confirmed to The Sports Xchange that that the Baltimore Ravens linebackers production this season, especially that of celebrated Ray Lewis, is a myth.
Hamilton, a former assistant coach at Missouri, says that based on an intensive study of every tackle made by inside linebackers in 2012, there is hard proof that, regardless of what emotional leadership the great Lewis provides the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, his actual physical contributions this year are less than average.
On balance, Hamilton and others agree that this game will feature perhaps the best foursome of inside linebackers in Super Bowl history -- Lewis and Dannelle Ellerbe of Baltimore and Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman of San Francisco. Despite the NFL's desire to emphasize safety this year, those four will certainly not make anything safe at the Mercedes Benz Superdome Sunday.
However, although Lewis and Willis are widely publicized as the leaders of their respective linebacker units, the reality is that Ellerbe is performing far better than Lewis and Bowman is clearly the best of the entire group going into this game.
Despite widespread celebrations of Lewis' 17-year career and announced retirement, he is by far the least effective linebacker of this Super Bowl group. Of course some of this is a result of Lewis' injury problems. But beyond that, unofficial and capricious statistics incorrectly perpetuated Lewis' profile to more closely match this image -- that of a former two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year -- rather than the reality.
"The difference between statistics that were reported on Lewis and those I saw on films were often not even close," said Hamilton, who began his research because there is no such thing as official tackle totals in the NFL. "Lewis was credited with tackles when he was 10 yards away and the guy who made the play did not get a tackle. In the postseason alone, Lewis is credited with 13 more tackles than I can find on film."
Working with former linebacker, team executive and television analyst Matt Millen in the NFL Films vaults, Hamilton devised a complex formula to determine the actual effectiveness of inside linebackers. The result is called "Impact Tackles," on which Hamilton has a patent pending. An Impact Tackle must meet these criteria:
--A tackle resulting in a gain of three yards or fewer that does not result in a first down.
--A tackle that prevents a conversion on third or fourth down.
--A tackle for a loss.
--A tackle resulting in a gain of 3 yards or fewer that does not result in a first down
--A tackle that forces a fumble.
The best of several interesting statistics from this measures the average impact tackles per game and average yards gained per tacklem both against the run and the pass. Based on Impact Tackles per game played (not counting games missed due to injury), the Superbackers rated in this order among all NFL inside linebackers:
Bowman, second in NFL), 5.0 yards per game, 2.76-yard average vs. run
Willis, fifth, 4.38 per game, 3.12-yard average vs. run
Ellerbe, 21st, 3.23 per game, 3.32-yard average vs. run
Lewis, 33rd, 2.50 per game, 4.78-yard average vs. run
Hamilton says the most important statistic by far is average Impact Tackle per game.
Millen believes these statistics are especially revealing in terms of how the players approach the game and, ultimately, how much impact they have on it.
"A guy who squares up and takes on blockers and ball carriers directly will have more impact tackles and give up fewer yards, it's just common sense," Millen said. "Lewis has always been productive in terms of tackles, but his style was often as a run-around guy. Yes, he could and did take on people, but that isn't how he plays most the time.
"In this group, you can see in games that Bowman is the guy who takes on people, who squares up, plays downhill, blows things up. He makes things happen. It is just how he plays. Willis can and does play that way a lot, but he sometimes uses his athletic ability to chase a play rather than attack it. The difference could be giving up a yard or two."
Hamilton points out that the statistic on average yards against the run is influenced by how a linebacker is utilized. The most conspicuous example is that of Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, whose average of only 1.53 yards per impact tackle is by far the best and less than half the league average of 3.45 yards.
"Urlacher is attacking the line of scrimmage with blitzes more than anybody and by design gets in on plays close to or behind the line of scrimmage" Hamilton explained. "Others play in a more traditional manner and pursue plays rather than attack the line. Obviously they will make more plays a little down the field."
For the curious, the No. 1 Impact Tackler in the NFL in 2012 was Seattle Seahawks rookie Bobby Wagner. He was credited with 161 tackles, including 83 impact tackles (5.19 per game) and his stops were at an average of 3.48 yards against the run.
"He started sort of average but at an early point it was as if the lights went on and he absorbed everything about the game at a rapid rate," Hamilton said. "He had an amazing season. He is going to be tremendous. Another rookie who did well was Carolina's Luke Keuchley (7th with 4.38 IT per game and 3,12 yards vs. run)."
Hamilton, 25, wants to work in pro personnel for an NFL team and has had recent interviews. Millen, a stickler who appreciates those who work hard and really understand the game, believes Hamilton has good future.
"Great kid, knows the game and works hard," Millen said. "He makes outstanding observations."
With that in mind, Hamilton was asked what he thought about the results of his study in terms of what to expect in the Super Bowl.
"Honestly, I don't know how the Ravens are going to stop the 49ers running game," Hamilton said.
"San Francisco's offensive line is playing great and should make it very hard for the Ravens, and that is not counting the run-option. I mean the power running. The Ravens had some good moments against the run-option with other teams, but the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick run it a little differently and have a really great offensive line. It should be a tough game for the Ravens front seven."
Frank Cooney has covered the National Football League for more than five decades. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout,com. .