Hitting Hard, Seattle Style

The Seahawks have embraced tackling techniques that remain physical and sure-handed while conforming to evolving safety rules—and Pete Carroll shows how in a new teaching video that’s become popular at the grassroots level
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When the NFL expanded defenseless player rules to essentially eliminate hits above the shoulders in 2010, Pete Carroll reacted like every other coach. “I was resisting,” Carroll, then in his first season as Seahawks coach, told The MMQB last week. “How are we going to do this? How are we going to do that?”

His silent protest lasted that through that first season until the next league meetings. That’s when he had what he calls a change of heart. Carroll got together with his coaches, including defensive passing game coordinator Rocky Seto, and changed course. “I knew we couldn’t fight it,” Carroll said. “We had to do something about it.

“Let’s take the other side of the argument and see if we can turn this thing into a positive.”

The rest is history, culminating with a Super Bowl XLVIII victory over the Broncos. The heart of the 2013 Seahawks was a physically imposing defense that figured out a way to maintain its mission statement—punish the opponent—despite ever-evolving safety rules. It played out in statistics. According to Pro Football Focus, Seattle was second in the league in tackling efficiency last season, missing one tackle every 11.94 attempts. (Only New England—one every 12.29 attempts—was better.)

The technique taught by Carroll and his staff has allowed Seattle to maintain one of the league's most physical defenses. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The technique taught by Carroll and his staff has allowed Seattle to maintain one of the league's most physical defenses. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Now Carroll is sharing those secrets with the football world. In late July, in conjunction with Nike and the Seahawks, Carroll released a tackling teaching tape on the popular coaching video platform HUDL, which reaches some 14,000 high school and youth teams on its network. It was well-received.

“Over 1,000 coaches have signed up to be notified when new content from Nike and Pete Carroll is delivered,” said Erik Pulverenti, who is in charge of business development for HUDL. He adds that coaches from more than 60 countries have watched the Seahawks Tackling video, which is also available on the Seahawks’ own site.

Carroll said he, Seto and the team’s video staff put the film together before the summer break so coaches would have the opportunity to utilize it before their seasons started.

Carroll ignored the instinct to protect some of the secrets that made them world champions.

“You're always concerned about that because you're trying to maintain a competitive edge,” he said. “But in this case, I think the game is way above that kind of a thought. In an effort to try and help promote the game that we love and also help young people coming into the game be safe, there was really no question that we had to go and put it out.”

To emphasize shoulder tackling, there are rugby clips sprinkled in throughout the video.(Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

To emphasize shoulder tackling, there are Rugby clips sprinkled in throughout the video.(Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

So what’s on the tape?

The Seahawks refer to themselves as a “shoulder leverage tackling team.” Basically, they track the near hip of the ball carrier, and then lead with the near shoulder in the thigh of the ball carrier. They feel this helps take the head out of the equation. The basic tackle is the Hawk Tackle. The teaching points are: eyes through the thighs, wrap and squeeze, and then “drive for 5”—push the ball carrier back five yards when necessary.

Sound similar to rugby tackling? Carroll thought so too. There are several rugby highlights sprinkled in.

“I’ve always thought it’s an awesome game,” he said. “It's the most natural game of football in that you don't have pads on. I think we can make dramatic illustrations of how you can play the game without a helmet.”

The other tackle techniques taught in the video are tracking the ball carrier, the Hawk roll tackle (tackler rolls himself and the ball carrier after contact), the profile tackle (with an aiming point through the near pec), the strike zone against defenseless players (below the neck and above the knees) and the compression tackle (two defenders on either side of the ball carrier).

The shot heard ’round the Super-Bowl, the key first-quarter hit by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor on Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas that set the tone for the Seahawks’ 43–8 rout, was shown on the video in the strike zone portion, but was also an example of a profile tackle.

“It's a perfect example of utilizing the strike zone,” Carroll said. “The strike zone thought is something Rocky came up with that has really helped us. We have to avoid hitting players in the head and neck area. We don't want to go below the knees either. It's been a really cool addition because it makes sense.

“Kam Chancellor, who is one of the toughest and most physical players in the NFL, has taken the teachings to heart. [His tackling] demonstrates how you can maintain your physical play and still do it the right way, within the guidelines of the league. Really, they are the guidelines that all football should be following.”

The most surprising aspect of the video is that Carroll said they have learned to drill the techniques in-season and during the offseason, in pads or in shorts and a t-shirt. Tackling across the NFL has suffered in the three years since the NFL enacted its rule changes. The likely cause is that most coaches haven’t figured out a way to effectively drill tackling without pads. Judging by the Seahawks’ success on defense, it appears that Carroll has.

The Seahawks and the NFL have released the video in conjunction with its Heads Up Football safety campaign from USA Football. While both tackling techniques feature the shoulder, two techniques depart greatly on how to finish a tackle. The Seahawks have the experience to bring the head down as part of their shoulder tackle. USA Football, which deals mostly in the youth level, instructs players to tackle by ripping their knuckles up with a double uppercut, which brings the head up and away from the tackle, not down by the legs. There will be some criticism from youth coaches about this, and Carroll knows his techniques aren’t for everyone.

“I don't expect everybody to agree,” he said. “I'm not trying to tell anybody this is the way you’re supposed to do it. The whole point is just to show that this is the way we do it and if people want to take advantage of it, that's good.

“It goes against some of the traditional ways that tackling has been taught, and I'm O.K. with that. I really welcome the challenges. We don't mind at all.”