Packers Tackle Major Chink in Defensive Armor

Morgan Burnett (Jeff Hanisch/USP)

With a heightened emphasis, Green Bay has gone from one of the worst tackling teams in the NFL to one of the best. Because of that improvement, the Packers are allowing fewer big plays and fewer points.

The Green Bay Packers had a multitude of problems on defense last season.

Exacerbating almost all of them, the Packers acted as if tackling would cause a rash.

And that led to a rash of big plays against a defense that was practically airtight in leading the charge to the Super Bowl the year prior.

What a difference a year makes.

According to a team-by-team analysis compiled by ProFootballFocus.com, the Packers ranked 27th in tackling last season with 109 missed tackles.

This season, Green Bay is second with 37 missed tackles, putting it on pace for 59 misses. Compare that to the 109 missed tackles in 17 games last season, 106 misses in 20 games in 2010 and 75 misses in 17 games in 2009.

"I think it's a combination of a lot of things," Capers told Packer Report on Friday. "I've always believed this: As a coach, if you believe there's a deficiency, then you need to emphasize it in any way that you can because my experience tells me that you normally get what you emphasize. If you want to be a takeaway team, you emphasize takeaways. If you want to be a good tackling team, you emphasize tackling. If you want to stop the run, you emphasize stopping the run. Now, there's only so many things you can emphasize. What you normally do is go through and say, ‘What are going to be the most important things that are going to give us a chance to do what we want to do?' Well, tackling's right at the top of the list."

A look at the top tackling teams in the NFL backs up Capers' contention. Houston leads the league with 37 (with one extra game), followed by San Francisco (41), Pittsburgh (42), Buffalo (44), Chicago (45), Denver (46) and Seattle (48). Of those eight teams, only Buffalo doesn't field a championship-caliber defense.

The secondary has made the biggest improvement. Last year was a disaster, as busted coverages and gambles that went bust were compounded by blown tackles.

Among the 109 cornerbacks measured by Pro Football Focus (based on 25 percent playing time), Tramon Williams ranked third with 16 missed tackles, Charles Woodson was fourth with 15 and Sam Shields tied for 10th with 10. Among the 87 safeties, Charlie Peprah tied for 22nd with 10 missed tackles and Morgan Burnett tied for 31st with nine. Sprinkle in a few other misses, and the secondary whiffed on a whopping 69 tackles.

This year, Burnett has a team-high six missed tackles. Williams, Woodson, Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings have missed three, Shields and Jarrett Bush have missed two, Casey Hayward has missed one and Davon House hasn't missed any. That's 23 by the entire secondary, according to PFF's data.

"I like the direction that we're heading," Capers said. "I think that, obviously, it was a glaring need a year ago. You can't play defensive football if you can't tackle. That's where everything has to start. We weren't very good a year ago. In our offseason study, we talked about, ‘What are we going to do to improve it?' It influences the kind of guys you take, too. Some people are termed just ‘cover guys' or whatever, but in this day and age, good offenses are going to make everybody on that field tackle and they're going to try to go at your weakest link tackling. You've got to put guys out there that they all can tackle. I think we've made good strides. We're not where we want to be yet but we're a lot better than we were a year ago, I know that."

Not surprisingly, the improved tackling has meant fewer big plays against a vastly improved defense. It's not quite as good as Capers' first two seasons but it's a big leap compared to last season. In 2009, the Packers allowed 55 plays of 20-plus yards and 10 plays of 40-plus yards. In 2010, the Packers yielded 54 plays of 20-plus yards and nine plays of 40-plus yards allowed. In 2011, those numbers soared to 80 plays of 20-plus yards and 12 plays of 40-plus yards. This year, they're on pace to allow 66 plays of 20-plus yards and eight plays of 40-plus yards.

Add it together, and the Packers have gone from a 19th-ranked 22.4 points allowed per game to a 10th-ranked 20.7.

"Our missed tackles are way down compared to last year," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "I think (it's) everyone as a unit, leveraging the football. When things get off the gate, we're getting them on the ground. We're not having multiple misses and it becoming a situation where instead of one guy missing, you have two or three, four guys missing. That second or third guy — whether it's a safety, corner, or a linebacker — they're coming in and they're finishing, and that's the thing you like to see. You don't see a lot of guys just relying on one guy to get a ball carrier down on the ground."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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