Members of the national media have been prone to multiple articlegasms about Lance Briggs, while local hero Michael Boley gets a smattering of mentions from announcers and pundits. After Hamburger suggested this particular feature, I thought I'd take a look at the numbers. Let's take this blow-by-blow.
Boley: 89 tackles, 74 solo
Briggs: 73 tackles, 60 solo
It's telling that Boley has more solo tackles than Briggs does total tackles. This isn't the most valuable statistic for determining a linebacker's worth, but it can certainly give you an idea of how active he is. Boley has been all over the field this year and has greatly strengthened a defense that would probably be a little wobbly without him. Briggs is second in tackles behind the esteemed Brian Urlacher and hasn't turned in the kind of dominating season he would like to have in order to get a giant contract. I give the edge to Boley, obviously, though this is again not the most statistically significant category. If we're extrapolating beyond this year, then Briggs obviously wins because he had three consecutive seasons of more than 100 tackles. That's quite a bit.
Boley: 3 sacks, all last week
Briggs: 2 sacks, one in week 2 and one in week 9
Again, linebackers represent the most statistically varied members of the defense. Defense linemen get stops and sacks, corners are supposed to author big plays, and safeties are a big of a mixed bag as well. I try to look at all the major categories in evaluating a linebacker. This is sort of an interesting battle, though. Briggs has piled up 5.5 sacks in his career, an average of just over one per season. In three seasons, Boley has 6 sacks. You can defend Briggs by saying he's excellent at stopping the run and perfectly capable dropping back into coverage, but numbers are numbers. Boley is more aggressive going toward the QB, although admittedly he did get all of those sacks just last week. Boley wins here both this year and long term.
Boley: 2, none returned for TDs.
Boley wins this this season and already has four through three seasons, which means he could overtake Briggs sooner than later. Briggs has six career interceptions, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that he has returned three of those for touchdowns. You gotta hand that to him.
For me, interceptions point toward a well-rounded linebacker. If you're capable of dropping back into coverage and beating a tight end, running back or (rarely) a receiver to the ball, it's because you have the skills and adaptability to play in coverage. This and the sacks are a testament to what Boley has done this year, and he is once again beating down Briggs for the season. Long term Briggs is still winning, but in two more season. We'll see how it shakes out.
Boley: 3 FF
Briggs: 2 FF
I'm including this here while cautioning that it isn't always the most useful stat. For every time a guy gets upended and forced to let the ball go, there's another time when a Sweaty McGreasehands practically the throws the ball away the instant he's hit. Still, it's instructive to note that both Boley and Briggs have more than one, which means this isn't happening by accident. Once again, however, Boley is the triumphant one.
First of all, Boley is a year younger. It's instructive to note that he was merely an above average player his first two years. I blame a lot of that on his not being unleashed, but it's a bit peculiar that this explosion is coming in a contract year. On the other hand, Lance Briggs has basically been an extremely hyped tackle machine whose record of authoring big plays isn't nearly as long as people would have you believe. This season has been a breakout for Boley and he's simply outclassed Briggs in every major statistical category.
That's not even mentioning that Briggs was an offseason holdout and had the bizarre crash and subsequent abandonment of his new car to deal with. I don't actually believe that Briggs is a bad dude at all, but I'd rather have the guy with the (so far) squeaky NFL record and the sudden emergence into an elite linebacker. With respect given to Lance Briggs, Michael Boley is the winner here.