How to Tackle The Problem Of Tackling? All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Imagine you’re a student and you have a practical exam coming up; in this test you’re asked to perform a specific skill and the instructors will not only be grading you for your ability to conceptualize what you are doing and why but to also that you can put it all together and actually get some results.  I’ve been tested this way dozens of times as a undergraduate and graduate student and I can safely say that just because you know what you are doing and why doesn’t always mean you can do it in real life.

The same is true for football players; as instructors to the game, coaches often will be assessing a player’s ability to conceptualize what they are doing and why, but also how well they perform that skill.  And just the same as any other student, just because you know what you are doing and why doesn’t always mean you can do it in real life.  There are countless examples of players who have the mental aspect of football down pat but lack the technique required to be successful in the league.

Now imagine a practical exam where you can study and figure out what you need to do and why, but weren’t actually given a chance to practice that skill before the exam, how well do you think you would do? Again from experience I can tell you you often don’t get the desired results because while your mind knows what to do your body doesn’t have the muscle memory to successfully perform that skill.

So where is this all going?  For football players, that practical exam where they’re given time to study but not to practice is tackling.

“We’re going to put our face in people. We will tackle,” Whitt said when asked if the Packers will actually practice the art of tackling each other in training camp. “We will get that solved. Guys who tackle will be out there. Guys who don’t won’t.” – cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr.

The Packers had a pretty dismal season when it came to tackling (refer to: LeGarrett Blount) and mostly this has been rightly or wrongly been laid on the feet of the defensive secondary.  I’ve mostly attributed this to the defensive backs aiming for “big plays” like interceptions and strips rather than just tackling soundly but for whatever reason; the Packers defense missed a ton of tackles.

The first logical option for head coach Mike McCarthy, defensive coordinator Dom Capers and cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. would be to spend lots of time in OTAs, minicamp and training camp practicing tackling, but with the new CBA restricting padded practices, this is almost impossible. So what is a team supposed to do when they aren’t any good at tackling?  I highly doubt the Packers defensive secondary doesn’t know how to tackle properly, the coaches at the NFL are far too good for something like that to happen, it’s just that the majority of players simply haven’t had any time to practice the skill of tackling.

Take for example Sam Shields, who Packers fans tear their hair out when it comes to missed tackles.  When was he supposed to have learned when to tackle?  Shields played wide receiver in high school, enrolled at the University of Miami as a wide receiver and only converted to cornerback as a senior.  As a professional cornerback, he had one offseason where he probably focused on kick returner first and studied cornerback on the side and then had another offseason wiped out by the lock out.  Again I’m sure that Shields knows how to tackle, but his body doesn’t know how because he hasn’t had enough time to form muscle memory and given the current state of NFL offseason, it’s likely that he’ll never develop that muscle memory to be a consistently sound tackler.

The same is probably true with veterans, where if you don’t practice something it’s likely to lead to being rusty.  One of the more unknown facts about the Packers defense last year was the player with the most missed tackles was none other than Charles Woodson.  Has Woodson forgotten how to tackle?  I doubt it, historically Woodson has been a great tackler and he has played long enough in the NFL to develop muscle memory.  Some of the missed tackles again probably have to do with Woodson going for the strip instead of the tackle, but it might also be that after 16 years, with majority of those later years being devoid of tackling practice, Woodson might be getting rusty.  Another possibility is that he physically isn’t capable of tackling the way he could when he was younger (age does that to all of us) and he hasn’t had a chance to adapt and refine his technique since tackling is rarely practiced in today’s NFL.

Frankly, I don’t know if there is a solution to this problem.  The argument that players should have learned to tackle in college is pointless because they are completely different games; what could get you a stop in college probably won’t work in the NFL where everyone is stronger, faster and probably more experienced.  Furthermore, plenty of players make position changes in the NFL and like Sam Shields and finally players can go through their entire college careers without being able to tackle properly.  Players also can’t practice how to tackle in the NFL, so really the only opportunity to practice is on the field on game days, which obviously is going to lead to lost games and poor performances before players hopefully figure it all out.

To me Joe Whitt’s comment is more hyperbole than an actual threat, because lot’s of players can’t tackle properly any more and he’d probably have to bench all of the defensive backs (Woodson had the most missed tackles, Williams couldn’t tackle due to his injury, Shields doesn’t have any experience tackling, Burnett had a cast on his hand, Peprah and Bush look like they’re always going for the big hit instead of wrapping up etc.)  That added to the fact that the rules are so offensive friendly means defenses are going to have to wake up and realize that they need to accommodate and adapt to poor tackling instead of trying to fix the unfixable.


Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s


23 thoughts on “How to Tackle The Problem Of Tackling?

  1. Just throwing this out there for discussion: How much of the tackling problem in the NFL has to do with RBs, WRs and TEs becoming super athletic freaks?

    Yes, defensive players also have gotten bigger, stronger and faster, but man, how in the hell are you supposed to tackle a guy like R. Gronkowski, A. Peterson or D. Sproles? Even quarterbacks are the size of LBs these days.

    I don’t envy today’s defensive players one bit.

    1. Your premise makes perfect sense, but we should see an equal distribution of ‘missed tackles’ across the league, such as it is (i.e. – every defense is encountering these elite athletes). But we don’t. The Packers, for many reasons, were among the biggest offenders in the league when it came to poor/missed tackling.

      1. Do you think many of these missed tackles are a result of a more directed mentality of go for the INT/FF in lieu of securing the tackle first or is it really just that bad?

        1. Just my opinion, no particular order of important:

          * With no interior pass rush receivers and QB’s had time for pretty advanced route development; i.e. – DB’s were always in a ‘trail’ position where receivers weren’t in front of them and moving into the open field. Therefore, they were at a sever disadvantage to breakdown and tackle, so they lunge and fail.

          * As you stated, they placed an emphasis on challenging the ball, not the receiver.

          * Peprah and Bush are below average athlete that can’t afford to be in trail position; Shields has only tackled people in the pro ranks for a year; Williams was seriously injured; Woodson’s athleticism historically allowed him to be in bad position, recover and make tackles. He didn’t get away with it this year.

          My humble opinion: An interior pass-rush will resolve so many issues this year. Routes won’t be as clean, QB will get the ball out sooner, and DB’s will be in proper position to make a tackle.
          * Safeties were out of position. They didn’t adequately keep plays in front of them.

          * Lastly, I felt the MLB’s didn’t attack the line of scrimmage enough. Even Bishop gets caught guessing too much and Hawk isn’t very good at closing angles either. They need to stay clean (D-line did them no favors here) and press scrimmage, break down and tackle.

          1. This part:

            “My humble opinion: An interior pass-rush will resolve so many issues this year. Routes won’t be as clean, QB will get the ball out sooner, and DB’s will be in proper position to make a tackle.”

            Was supposed to be last….Not the only solution, but the most critical to advance the defense regardless of formation.

            1. I was just about to say I feel the DL and the pass rush will alter much of what we seen last year.

              1. Last year we saw how much time the receivers had to get open. It’s harder to break free if they don’t have time. An improved rush is a must.

            2. And there’s no doubt that your feelings are on the money – one only needs to look at the plethora of DL the Packers have brought in this year to make that connection. Add to that Nick Perry and Terrell Manning and it’s pretty blatant what the Packers saw as their major problem.

              1. CSS:

                Yes, the Packers were particularly bad tacklers last season, but it’s been a league-wide trend for a while now.

                I also agree with everyone on the importance of an inside pass rush. Modern QBs, event the slower ones, seem fairly comfortable dealing with a speed guy off the edge as long as there’s a pocket to step into.

        2. It’s probably a combination of both; tackling is less important as defensive players get fined for more and more hits and defenses are shifting the focus to a “bend and don’t break” strategy with more emphasis on interceptions than stopping the offense from scoring points.

        3. I have watched the games over and over and they were swiping at players. Some of it was going for the ball but it was like grabbing at air. I do believe that a pass rush will help a lot of this, hope they bring it all together this year.

      2. This is purely observational, but I do think I’ve seen more “bounce off” missed tackles now than say 5 years ago, and it seems to be league wide. Obviously some teams are always going to be better at tackling than others, but overall I do think tackling as a skill as diminished, even if the stats don’t back it up.

    2. Well I haven’t seen anyone really come up with an effective counter for the “super-freak” tight end or the back shoulder throw, but it’s possible that the NFL is still waiting for colleges to produce players who can combat these tactics. Historically for a time there was only one blind side pass rusher, LT, but after a couple of years more LT look a likes and players who could block a LT showed up in the league.

  2. Perhaps there is a business here to start an off-season tackling school independent of the NFL or any team. Attending such a school might give an edge in the competition for a roster spot.

    1. Well you still run into the problem of injuries, since it doesn’t matter if you are the best tackler in the world if you get hurt in the process. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the training schools already do this; after all if the Packers are ok with Clay Matthews doing MMA during the offseason, they probably don’t mind players practicing tackling, again as long as they don’t get hurt.

  3. hawk blows.

    kidding…….. but not really.

    get an ilb who consistently “lays wood” and it will become contagious.

    the Packers do not have a tackling “trend-setter”.

    best tackler on the team is smith. when he hits you – you stop – or go backwards.

    even cmiii rarely blows people up.

    i want my defense moving forwards.
    last year’s d moved backwards first and then reacted to the offense.

    they need an attitude adjustment.

    football is emotional.

    1. People attempting to level guys often miss tackles.

      I don’t want a team of guys throwing shoulders. I want a team of guys who form tackled securely and bring down the ball carrier maintaining the wrap up until the whistle blows.

      The second guy who gets there can throw the shoulder.

      1. Anyone just needs to see Peprah trying to to shoulder tackle Nicks on his first touchd…..sorry I need to puke.

    2. I’m not sure even the Packers want to set the trend of “laying wood”, as that often results in penalties and fines for the players (and maybe suspension in the future). I think it’s obvious that the Packers want their defensive players to make big plays like interceptions and sacks, but really laying wood is probably not up there. The real problem is getting the defense to tackle soundly all the time and not go for the big hit

  4. We’ll get a good look at sound tackling when the Packers play the 49ers. Dispute the league wide tackling issues the 9ers are one of the best tackling teams I van remember.

    1. Well the problem is again I would favor the Packers simply because the Packers can outscore any team, regardless of how poorly the defense tackles, and there lies the problem. Just because the 49ers are a better tackling team usually doesn’t mean that they have an advantage. Only simply by statistics, sooner or later its going to catch up with you, and unfortunately it caught up with them against the Giants in the playoffs.

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