Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo, who was taken aback by his team’s inability to tackle the Cowboys’ running backs on Sunday, had this to say the day after: “Certainly, I’ll just sum it up this way that we’ve got to solve the defensive issues. I think most of it can be solved by tackling. When I added it up this morning on the 11 plays where we missed tackles, after the missed tackle there was a total of 183 yards given up. So you can do the math and figure out that if we don’t tackle better, that part is not going to get better.”
In football, tackling is a physical action, and the goal is to not allow any forward progress of the running back, ball carrier or the player in possession of the ball. The act of tackling is taught at the early levels of football, and the player’s knowledge of the game, along with the fierce competitive intent, grows with their mind set, not to mention body mass of the player. The NFL level of competition is where grown men encounter high impacts and catastrophic collisions by launching or propelling themselves at the ball carrier, with good wrap and finish.
Tackling is a major function of the game of football. Everyone needs to learn the art of making a tackle no matter if they play offense, defense or special teams. Anytime you step on the field be prepared to make a tackle.
The old saying that practice makes perfect is so true when it comes to fine-tuning tackling skills. It is about repetition, live contact drill work which builds team toughness and competitiveness. Two words I used when coaching and looked for in a player when scouting, was toughness and aggressiveness with a relentless motor to the ball and collision finish.
Key teaching points are to keep your head up and hit with your eyes, maintain a good lower body base and explode through the ball carrier, shoot arms with good wrap technique and drive your feet until the whistle with good finish and take-down.
You drill sprint to the ball with good angles and approach with breakdown in space to finish. A lot of coaches use bag simulation in tackling drills; the problem this simulates isolated drill work. In live performance, players are moving at a much higher rate of speed, are elusive in tight and open space and the collisions are greater.
Tackling in the NFL is a mind-set, but with that being said despite the level of competition, make it a competitive tackling drill, with collisions, technique and the act of finishing must be drilled live several times a week for at least a period or two. It is a must that there is form tackling drills, live goal-line drill periods, box drill work, open-field tackling drills, Oklahoma tackling drill (teach defenders to shed the block and make the tackle during this physical football tackling drill). Now that is the coach still in me.
As a personnel man, I held my breath in practice sessions when all these drills were run (under Dom Capers, George Seifert and John Fox) that I just mentioned. While there are injuries that occur in the game of football, I have learned over the years, that when drills are designated as “live,” the players become focused and everybody goes 100 percent. It is great work, keeps skill-set sharp and the mind-set in game-time aggressive mode.
While Josh McDaniels and the Rams’ offensive coaches have a lot of work to continue their growth on that side of the ball, Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole will need to find the anger button for each and every defensive player and push, poke and prod these players to raise their aggression level not only on game day, but it all starts in practice. Coaches put players in position to make plays. Players need to have pride in their craft to fight and scrap to compete at a high level of competition. This is the NFL.