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.
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.