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The Main Takeaway from Packers’ Preseason Game One

It’s taken me a couple of days to replay the tape of Thursday’s Green Bay Packers-Philadelphia Eagles contest. The game was a slopfest. While the rustiness, the mistakes, and the turnovers and near-turnovers were to be expected, my biggest impression was being unimpressed by the tackling – I should say attempted tackling – of Green Bay defenders.

Poor tackling by the defense – and in particular open-field tackling by the Packers’ secondary – has been a trademark of the team throughout the Mike McCarthy era. We should all be getting pretty sick of it. When such a fault exists year after year, and despite changing personnel, it’s got to be a training deficiency.

Apparently, some fans are quite forgiving. On May 8, in a posting titled “Packers Preach, But Don’t Practice, Fundamentals,” I had this to say:

Almost without exception, members of the Packers’ defensive unit simply display poor tackling technique… Almost no one tackles from the knees to the ankles (quarterbacks exempted) – they just try to bear-hug people.

I previously plowed the same ground in February. And yeah, I took some crap for being so negative. So, against the Eagles, Dom Capers’ crew starts out the season by conducting a seminar on poor tackling.

It didn’t take long to show that nothing has changed with this team. On the Eagles’ first touchdown, Mack Hollins, a rookie taken in the fourth round, ran a simple slant and beat rookie Kevin King across the middle. King still was close enough to make a tackle and limit the damage, but he went for a two-armed takedown around Hollins’ waist, which the receiver easily slipped. Quentin Rollins also had a good shot at a tackle, but first he took a bad angle and next he too went high – allowing Hollins to stiff-arm him into the turf like swatting a fly. Had Rollins gone for the legs, he would have avoided the stiff arm. Result: a 38-yard touchdown for the “Mack Attack.” And by the way, the play was initially made possible by Clay Matthews having a clear shot at quarterback Carson Wentz, and whiffing on it.

This became the pattern for much of the Green Bay secondary throughout the game.

Josh Hawkins should certainly have known better. Though he is listed as having made five tackles, he came up empty on several attempted tackles. Hawkins, you might recall, gave up a horrendous touchdown last year in week 3 against the Lions. In great position, he missed the tackle on Marvin Jones, resulting in a 73-yard touchdown – with only 32 seconds left in the half, and with the Packers holding a 28-point lead. The Packers held on to win by seven.

Hawkins spent most of the rest of the season on the sidelines and in coach Mike McCarthy’s doghouse. It doesn’t appear to have brought about any change.

Tackling Grades

Kentrell Brice, Joe Thomas, Josh Hawkins, Josh Jones, and Donatello Brown, and even Morgan Burnett, each missed tackles due to poor technique. On the other hand, Kevin King, Marwin Evans, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Trevor Davis (after the Brett Hundley interception) displayed good takedown technique. I’d give the defensive game ball to Evans for consistently textbook tackling and that beautiful deep-ball interception. Josh Hawkins and Joe Thomas were about tied as the least disciplined tacklers, putting each at high risk of not making the final roster.

Are Bad Practice Techniques to Blame?

In watching tape of Green Bay practices, I’ve noticed that the Packers are reluctant to go to the ground. The blocking, runner, and receiver patterns are fairly game-like, but when a runner or receiver with the ball is contacted by a defender, the defender has obviously been ordered to “wrap up” the ball carrier – usually around the waist – they do a little dance, at which time the ball carrier has been told to come to a stop.

Rarely does a ball carrier or a defender fall to the ground during these exercises. Because these practices are mostly stand-up affairs, defenders don’t tackle below the waist – if they did, they would wind up on the ground and so would the ball carrier. In other words, the Packers’ training techniques are habituating defenders to making wrap-around up-high contact with ball carriers.

When the Packers are not spending time on these nine-on-nine or 11-on-11 pretend-tackling routines, they seem to be hurling themselves at huge black inflated rolling donuts. Talk about a device that in no way replicates tackling a ball carrier, this has got to be the dumbest training technique ever. It doesn’t do a thing to teach proper tackling techniques, as the donuts have no legs to go after. When have you ever seen a player tackle the donut low? Nor do open-field runners run in straight lines like the donuts do.

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Rob Born

Someone else said it first but I popularized it: “Athleticism is important in athletic pursuits.” It took three years, but the Packers finally listened. My new mantra: “Trading down is fine, but never trade up.”

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6 Comments

  1. Kato August 14, 2017

    I feel like tackling in general is pretty subpar across the league. I dont know that they are worse on average or not. It would be interesting to see PFF numbers for this. Unfortuntely, as it is becoming a younger league, the players don’t get the chance to learn proper tackling technique, and limits on contact practices also have had an adverse effect on tackling in the league.

  2. Empacador August 14, 2017

    Good article Rob. This is a good read from 2012 that addresses your contention KATO. http://archive.jsonline.com/sports/packers/tackling-the-issue-in-the-nfl-lh5p210-158997705.html

    No need to panic, they have identified the problem. McCarthy said the approach was the most frequent error against the Eagles. Players used improper footwork, he said. They hit too high, becoming vulnerable to a stiff arm or sliding off the ball carrier’s pads. “But at the end of the day,” McCarthy said, “it’s football. You break down the tackling with the approach, strike, wrap and finish. I thought our approach was the biggest error we were making in the area of tackling, and that’s the thing we work on the most. “With that, we’ll be emphasizing the approach more in our drill work.”

    Kind of like in 2015. “The Green Bay Packers struggled with tackling last season and again during the preseason, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see many of those issues come up in last Sunday’s 31-23 win over the Chicago Bears. Mike McCarthy said the Packers weren’t as assignment-clean as they needed to be. McCarthy said, “We really didn’t handle the outside zone with the flat footwork that we struggled with against Philadelphia in the preseason, and it was an issue again for us yesterday. “That’s a point of emphasis because obviously we’re going to see it again this week with Seattle.”

    Followed up the next week with this. “But probably most disturbing and most noticeable in Thursday night’s loss was the lack of tackling – something that has plagued the Packers in the past under defensive coordinator Dom Capers. But McCarthy said that is also something that is correctable. “We had way too many missed tackles,” McCarthy said. “It’s a fundamental we practice every day and it did not carry over to the field. After one game, we’ve put out our performance and our opponent will stress us in areas we did not perform well.” And the area where they didn’t perform at all was in tackling. McCarthy said that when players don’t utilize the correct footwork, it compromises their ability to utilize the fundamentals of tackling. After all, that is what football is, right? Vince Lombardi would tell us all today that the game comes down to two things – blocking and tackling.”

    Which sounds surprisingly like what he said in December of 2013. “You keep going through it,” McCarthy said. “Obviously who is doing it and why it’s happening when it’s happening and keep coaching and emphasizing. That’s a big part of what coaching is. The answers are there. It’s a fundamental we haven’t done a good enough job of late and we have another opportunity this week against the Falcons.”

    Which is similar to the end of the 2011 season. “When McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers sat down for most of the day Wednesday to review the season from a defensive perspective, the one thing that kept coming up was poor tackling. ”The tackling just was not there all year,” McCarthy said in his season-ending news conference. ”Without getting into the specific statistics, we did not tackle well enough as a football team, from start to finish. It’s something that’s emphasized every single day in practice and something that Dom and I talked a lot about today.”

    Tackling may suck across the NFL, but the Packer history is above and beyond. No matter how much emphasis they place on tackling, the Packers can’t coach it and have an extensive history of blaming fundamentals and assuring everyone they will get it cleaned up. 6 years and counting being inept at something McCarthy claims is fundamental.

    This is why I do not like him as a coach. All talk all the time and gets pissy when you question him. Still waiting for those multiple championships, plural, you promised Mike.

    1. Empacador August 14, 2017

      Re-reading that article I linked, maybe if the Packers weren’t drafting basketball players- guys that aren’t used to tackling- on defense, they might be making some headway. The article truly is excellent and has many key people mentioned not only from current and past Packers organizations but also key NFL players and their observations/assessments, that will resonate with Packers fans. Seriously, a good read if a bit lengthy.

    2. Kato August 14, 2017

      Thanks for the read. I actually remember that article now. When I was wondering aloud how the packers ranked in the league as far as tackling, it was not meant to be an excuse. They should not strive to be league average, they should strive to be the best.

      This is where pride comes into play. Something I feel like my generation, and those younger than myself (I am 29) has been plagued with. Pride in work and craft and been largely lost among younger people I feel like. Pride at being good at what you do. Why go out and do something you are supposed to be good at and half ass it? It makes you look like an idiot. Maybe the coaching staff is doing all it can to coach tackling fundamentals. If that is the case, next time they seea weak tackling attempt (like the piss poor effort Rollins had on the play Randall was concussed that PF4L pointed put), an example needs to be set. His ass needs to go to the bench as a ago that crap won’t be tolerated. If you make a good attempt and the guy breaks the tackle or whatever, then fine, chalk it up as a loss. It happens when you are going up against the best athletes in the world. Chuck Woodson missed his fair share of tackles. But you would also never see a poor effort from him

      1. Empacador August 14, 2017

        Wisdom and self awareness, you are wiser than your years. Kudos! I didn’t take your comments as making excuses, more like a curious observation. I bet the guys in the article could tell you statistically ballpark how the NFL has declined with regard to tackling.

  3. PF4L August 14, 2017

    Very well written article Rob, and a great read from Empac.

    I think maybe one of the reason’s you see the same mistakes being made almost yearly and McCarthy repeating things he said years ago is possibly because of the high rate of player turnover, constant influx of rookie draft picks, and UDFA’s.

    Personally, i watch some of these guys tackling high and can’t help but think, that’s not how they were taught to tackle in high school and college ball. But here they are, tackling like they just took up the sport in the NFL, it boggles my mind.

    But maybe, just maybe, this is purely a symptom of what ails the Green Bay Packers. The lack of any real changes. Don’t make any changes, but expect different results. I’m getting tired of singing that song.

    Let me know when the circus leaves town.