Where has all the good tackling gone?

Publish date:

NEW YORK (AP) Tackling. As basic as throwing, catching, running and kicking a football.

Except that through two weeks of the 2015 season, the guys passing, toting and booting the footballs are doing a much better job than the ones with defensive assignments.

USA Football's successful program teaching the proper fundamentals for tackling - Heads Up Football gets the head out of the hit - is making a difference throughout the youth leagues across America. Yet when those kids watch games on Sunday, what they're seeing sure isn't what they're being taught.

Wrapping up? A dying art.

Playing the correct angles? A dying science.

Instead, we see shoulder rolls into ball carriers, which is about as effective as sneezing at an opponent.

We see leading with the helmet, a dangerous ploy for everyone concerned.

And we even still see some launching, the most egregious tactic of all - outlawed throughout the sport, yet still a part of it, although thankfully a much rarer occurrence these days.

It all goes back to the basics.

''They are reminders of what we know and need to do well, you know, the fundamentals of it, of the leveraging and the tackling,'' says Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, a former NFL linebacker. ''Without that, it's hard to be good on defense no matter what you're doing. So you can play man, you can play zone, you can play match-up zone, you can play fire zone, you can bring zero pressure, man pressure - you can do whatever you want to do. But at the end of the day, you're going to have to whip a block, you're going to have to leverage and tackle people, and when you do that well and you do that well consistently, you can play really good defense.''

Few teams do nowadays, particularly in the secondary. With the exception of some members of the Legion Of Boom in Seattle, which actually has struggled so far this month, and a few safeties around the league, defensive backs' inefficient tackling brings back memories of Deion Sanders. One of the best cover cornerbacks in football history, ''Prime Time'' used to say avoiding being the primary tackler was a ''business decision.''

If the running game undergoes a revival in the next few NFL seasons, as some observers believe already is happening, part of that renaissance will be attributable to the big-play potential. Get the guy with the ball past the linemen and linebackers and into the secondary, especially at the boundaries, and there's barely a cornerback in the league who will bring him down.

Size matters, of course: few DBs come close to the size and strength of a Le'Veon Bell or Alfred Morris.

But there are ways around such physical mismatches.

''It's two-fold, usually, with missed tackles,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ''It's definitely technique. Sometimes, in a sense, you're not aggressive enough. You break down too much and give a guy a chance to make you miss. In this league, athletes will make you miss in a heartbeat. If you try to wait for those guys to get to you, they are by you.

''Good tackling is gang-tackling. Good tackling is pursuit. That's always been true in football. We have to make sure we do a good job of that.''

It's not that defensive coordinators and position coaches on that side of the ball aren't trying. One problem is that they might be trying in the wrong manner, attempting to outscheme offenses rather than make like the 2000 Ravens or 2002 Bucs or 2013 Seahawks and physically beat down the opposition.

There's also the issue of significantly shortened practice times, both in OTAs and training camp, then during the regular season. The labor agreement has mandated it, mainly for player safety considerations. But it's the bane of coaches who lose so much teaching time.

Or so they claim. Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, a 10-year veteran, isn't so sure.

''Even with the old CBA, there was not a lot of tackling going on during the course of the season. What matters is when you're not tackling to the ground, you're still working on techniques,'' he said.

But that work often came in extensive offseason practice sessions, many of them now outlawed.

''That's the time where, yeah, you work on it,'' Jackson added. ''You try to work on it and you try working your conditioning. But it's hard to simulate tackling without actually tackling.''

Perennial All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman is most annoyed when he sees short passes turn into long gainers because of poor tackling.

The solution?

''You just tackle better,'' he said. ''A lot of them have come from missed tackles, letting them run for more yards. And communicating better. Simple.''


AP Sports Writers Josh Dubow, Michael Marot and David Ginsburg, and freelance writer Todd Karpovich contributed to this story.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL