B.C. Lions' Adam Bighill got Sherritt end of the stick in tackle stats


Star defender overlooked for top award based on convoluted numbers


VANCOUVER — The National Football League, despite its use of instant replay, convoluted ratings system for quarterbacks and detailed-oriented rule book (even the terms of the coin toss are spelled out) still hasn’t figured out what a tackle is.

That’s because nobody really knows.

For instance, if three defenders converge on a ballcarrier simultaneously to make the stop, who gets credit for the tackle?

It’s a judgement call, a grey area, and a stat that could be easily skewed. So the NFL, believe it or not, doesn’t put out official tackle totals.

Neither does the Elias Sports Bureau, a New York-based company that provides historical research and statistical services for professional sports teams, for the very same reason.

Each NFL team puts out press notes detailing tackle totals of individual players, but they’re subjective numbers. When in doubt, award a tackle to a player who might be in line for Pro Bowl consideration, as opposed to another who is not.

The Canadian Football League, however, does put out a weekly list of individual tackle totals. And it is on that basis that Edmonton’s middle linebacker, J.C. Sherritt, was given the nod over his B.C. Lions’ counterpart, Adam Bighill, for the West Division defensive player of the year nomination.

Sherritt had a single-season record of 130 tackles for a 7-11 team, one that, incidentally, had the worst defence in the league against the run (yielding an average of

126.8 yards per game). The 13-5 Lions, with Bighill as their chief runner stopper, were the stoutest team against the rush this season (allowing opponents an average of 76.4 yards).

Lions, who play the Calgary Stampeders in Sunday’s West Division final, also had the best defence against the pass (237.3 yards per game average) compared to the Eskimos (304.9), who were second worst.

Bighill, because of his impressive mobility, was also a big part of the Lions’ extremely efficient defence against the pass. He had four interceptions and nine sacks, a number of them pursuit sacks when he tracked down a quarterback in the act of scrambling and tackled him from behind, the epitome of the hustle play.

Still, he finished 26 tackles behind Sherritt in the stats tables with 104, second-best in the CFL. And in the eyes of many voters among the Football Reporters of Canada who decide the player awards, that also made Bighill the second-best defensive player in the West.

Overlooked in the comparison, however, was the fact that the Lions’ defence was on the field for just 899 plays in 2012 (facts supplied by CFL statistician Steve Daniel). That’s 60 plays fewer than the No. 2 team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Edmonton’s defensive team was on the field for 1,030 plays, 15 per cent more than the Lions.

While Bighill’s total of 104 tackles pales marginally in comparison to Sherritt’s gaudy 130, he was still responsible for 16.7 per cent of B.C.’s 624 defensive tackles, roughly one in six. That is almost identical to Sherritt, who had 16.9 per cent of Edmonton’s 767 tackles.

Interestingly, Daniel points out, Sherritt had one marginal tackle in particular in his final game of the regular season, against Calgary on November 2, when the Eskimos were doing everything possible to keep him on the field to get the sacred record.

With less than 10 minutes left in the game, the Eskimos’ defence chased a Calgary ballcarrier out of bounds. No tackle actually occurred on the play, but one was awarded to the Edmonton player closest to the point where the play ended -- J.C. Sherritt.

“We decided to give the player the benefit of the doubt, as likely Calvin Tiggle’s were, back in 1994, no doubt,” Daniel explained. “That (awarding a tackle) is by far the hardest and most subjective element in the stats part of the rule book. But -- this is the most important point of all -- no stats person EVER makes decisions based on player totals, or even who is involved, only on the moment and by what they see. The identity of the player is strictly secondary to the act of tackling, catching the ball or the yardage involved.”

When Sherritt set the single-season record in that Nov. 2 game, he was mobbed by his teammates, even though the Eskimos had given up a 12-yard gain on the play, in a game they would eventually lose.

Tiggle had a similar season in ‘94, when he had a record 129 tackles for the Toronto Argonauts. Coincidentally, the Argos also had a 7-11 record that season, same as the Eskimos in 2012. Ditto for Bruce Holmes of the 1990 Ottawa Rough Riders. He holds down the No. 3 spot in the CFL single-season tackles list with 127. Holmes also played for a 7-11 team that year.

You get the picture: Losing team, lots of tackles.

Bighill’s 104-total this season ranks just No. 30 all-time. But here’s the thing: his team won six more games than all of the above.

“If anything, it’s a greater achievement, based on the fact he played with such a good team, with many fewer total tackles, and much less time spent on the field,” Daniel added.

But don’t let that fact get in the way of a good narrative.

Sherritt had a “record” season, even though he was injured (ankle) and unable to play in the East Division semi-final loss to Toronto (Edmonton was a crossover team), perhaps because the Eskimos were so fixated on him getting it.

Bighill will have to be content just pursuing the Grey Cup.



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