Job No. 1 for Packer D: Tackle better
By Tyler Dunne
Green Bay – The state of tackling in the NFL today is not promising. Reasons abound. But Joe Whitt isn’t concerned about league-wide trends, about what’s going on beyond these walls.
“I’m just worried about the state of tackling on our football team,” the Green Bay Packers cornerbacks coach said. “It wasn’t good enough last year.”
Step 1 to Green Bay’s defense rebounding is simpler than a revived pass rush or tighter coverage in the secondary. They have to tackle better. Yards after the catch – after any contact, really – often demoralized the Packer defense in 2012.
As we’ve discussed, tackling across the league has eroded over the past decade. In Green Bay, it took a nosedive last season.
Fixing this won’t be easy. Practice time has dwindled. Today’s defensive back is conditioned differently in 2012 than even 2000. And unfortunately, there’s no time machine around for coaches to send Sam Shields back to Pop Warner to play defense – something he never did full time before 2009.
But coaches can be blunt. They can hold players accountable. They can eliminate excuses.
“It’s a mind-set,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “The guys that (tackle), will play. The guys that don’t will be sitting on the bench. . . . That simple. They understand it. It was painful for us to look at it last year.”
It wasn’t so much the final number of yards the Packers allowed that irritated the coaching staff.
Repeatedly, defensive coordinator Dom Capers emphasized that opposing passer rating and turnovers are what they value. Capers harps on the big plays. And last season, many big plays were the direct result of whiffed tackles.
A sampling of the pain Perry speaks of:
On Hakeem Nicks’ 66-yard touchdown to open the New York Giants’ playoff win at Lambeau Field, 48 yards came after contact. Safety Charlie Peprah, eyeing a knockout, ricocheted off Nicks.
There was the win over the Chicago Bears’ JV unit when Josh McCown hit Earl Bennett for a 20-yard reception that turned into a 49-yarder on Tramon Williams’ miss.
There was Rams quarterback Sam Bradford hitting tight end Lance Kendricks on a 5-yard rollout that blew up for 45 yards on Morgan Burnett’s slippery wrap-up.
And, yes, you’ve seen the Buccaneers’ LeGarrette Blount’s 2 yards and a cloud of dust rev into a 54-yard blooper.
The Pittsburgh Steelers allowed 2,000 less passing yards than the Packers. Their penchant for forcing turnovers – more than any other team in the league the last three years – would seem to trigger sloppy tackling to some degree.
Capers doesn’t make that connection. “There’s no trade-off,” he said. Still, he is concerned with the isolated, long pass plays.
Capers, who has spent many off-seasons doing research studies, conducted one this year on the impact of big plays.
“If you don’t have a plus-15 yard gain in a drive, then people don’t score many points,” Capers said. “But any time you have a plus-15 yard or greater play in a drive, it quadruples your chance of scoring.”
So there’s that. Capers should be optimistic. A quick turnaround is plausible.
In 2011, Tramon Williams was mired in a prolonged state of passive coverage. To protect his shoulder, he shied away from piles, admitting he wouldn’t attempt a tackle if teammates were around.
Nerve damage remains in his shoulder, but he should be closer to himself in 2012.
Morgan Burnett played a chunk of the season with a bulging cast over his broken hand. If Shields’ tackling gaffes continue, he won’t play. Maybe M.D. Jennings or Jerron McMillian surprise at safety.
Most of all, the coaching staff must improve the Packers’ tackling in today’s cautious practice climate. Sorry, but wrapping up a jogging teammate and tumbling into a high-jump pit does not replicate a hell-bent-for-election Adrian Peterson.
Capers, Whitt and Perry hope their constant emphasis on tackling builds a mind-set. Starting July 26, they’ll stress all elements of form tackling – head placement, lift, drive, etc. in individual drills.
The true testament will come on game day when Green Bay will be more willing to yank players off the field for uninspired efforts.
Thirty-one interceptions bailed them out of jams almost weekly last season. Green Bay can’t put as much pressure on the offense to be flawless next season.
The solution may be simple. Former players, from Dave Robinson in the ’60s to LeRoy Butler in the ’90s, agree that tackling boils down to pride.
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