When your job is to break down NFL football and record statistics in the process, you tend to notice things most people wouldn’t even think of.
Most of us just assume that there is some uniform process for stat-taking, controlled from above and taken care of by league officials, and while such a body does do a little nipping and tucking here and there, the majority of the legwork is done by individual team scorers—32 of them—who are tasked with tallying up things like tackles as they happen, without much to help them out in terms of accuracy.
In a world where fantasy football is big business, and Individual Defensive Player (IDP) leagues are ever more popular, these statistics are significant, but these scorers are the most important anonymous people in the league.
While the NFL does record multiple stats as official league statistics, believe it or not, tackles are not an official statistic. The home team scorer records all tackle statistics for that particular game and the results can be quite astounding.
When you go back and watch games, tracking tacklers yourself as you go, it becomes quickly apparent that not only is accuracy an issue, but differing scorers appear to be working from different methodologies to get the job done.
I won’t bore you with the details of the different ways these scorers seem to be recording tackles, but suffice to say that getting all of them on the same page with regards to methodology should be the very least we should expect.
This is particularly relelvant for tackles which, while not an official statistic, are crucial in evaluating the performance of some positions and determining how good a season those players had.
The other problem with these statistics is the accuracy of the scorers. In this area, I have some real sympathy. They are working in real-time from their enclosure usually attached to the press box.
If any of you have ever been in a press box, as good as the view is, it’s no substitute for getting in close to the action with a high definition TV feed and slow-motion replays. The press booths do have TVs showing the game footage as well, but there aren’t big-screens next to every reporter with some DVR controls to go back and watch.
Recording statistics like tackles accurately, and picking the right body from a pile, can be extremely difficult, but certain scorers seem to have an inbuilt bias in their scoring.
In a gang tackle where no obvious tackler is apparent, some scorers will actually leave the tackler blank, while some tend to take the approach of simply giving it to the first guy they saw emerge from the pile, or the big-name player that was part of the maul. There are scorers whose default position seems to be "when in doubt, give it to the middle linebacker."
Have you ever been in a discussion where you’re told a player had a great season because he had 100+ tackles? Well how many did he actually have? I’ve seen tackle figures differ from the unofficial NFL numbers by more than 30 solo tackles in a season.
That’s the difference between an All-Pro-caliber season and an anonymous one, the difference between a trip to Hawaii and irrelevance, the difference between winning an IDP league and being an also-ran in the playoffs.
It’s not an easy task, but if the NFL is going to treat tackles as an accepted statistic, they can’t hide behind the fine print of terming it an unofficial number to justify the current levels of accuracy.
Statistics have become too important to us all to accept the current level of accuracy and methodology in their recording. The 32 team scorers need to get on the same page, because they are recording the stats that will go down in the history books.
They’re the most important people you’re never likely to hear from.