"The tackling just was not there all year," he said at his season-ending press conference last January. "Without getting into the specific statistics, we did not tackle well enough as a football team, from start to finish."
Put on the video and it would be difficult to argue against McCarthy. Too many times, the Packers were out of position (see Tramon Williams' weak attempt on the Rams' Lance Kendricks in the Oct. 16 game) or simply run through (see the Bucs' LeGarrette Blount's 54-yard touchdown run in the Nov. 20 game). And while tacking is often a team effort, one position group on the defense has been worse than the others.
The Packers' defensive backs were the most mistake-prone group on the team in tackling in 2011. In fact, the top five players in missed tackles all played significant roles in the secondary.
According to statistics compiled by Pro Football Focus, Charles Woodson led the Packers with 18 missed tackles last season. Tramon Williams was close behind with 16, while Charlie Peprah tallied 11, Sam Shields 10 and Morgan Burnett 9.
Among the 66 cornerbacks in the league that played at least half of their team's snaps in the regular season, Woodson, Williams and Shields ranked in the top 10 in missed tackles.
How can the Packers cut down these numbers in 2012? Defensive coordinator Dom Capers offered this technical advice during the OTA practices last month:
"The single biggest thing is getting yourself in position to make the tackle," he said. "Most (missed) tackles are because guys don't ever gather and come under control. If they're inside-out, they hold inside-out leverage. If they're outside-in, they hold outside-in leverage, and they maintain that leverage. The best tacklers I've been around had a great habit in practice, whether you had pads on or not, is they would get themselves in position to make the tackle every time. They would go full-go, come under control, sink their base and be in position to make the tackle. If you get sloppy at that, it affects your ability to get guys on the ground."
Capers was speaking of defense in general terms and not specifically about his defensive backs, but there is reason for concern with a growing trend over the past four years. Starting with the season before Capers arrived in Green Bay, the Packers have seen their missed tackles per game go up in each season – from 4.3 in 2008 to 4.4 in 2009, 5.3 in 2010 and 6.4 in 2011.
In 2010, five of the top seven in missed tackles on the team were defensive backs, with Woodson and Peprah leading the way with 14 each.
Certainly there are contributing factors. Woodson plays a dynamic, physical, gambling position on the defense, so he might be more susceptible to misses than anyone else. Williams played with an injured shoulder for much of 2011, which clearly affected his play. Peprah has speed limitations that can create tackling angle problems. And Shields, a wide receiver for much of his collegiate career, is a still-developing cornerback.
In a story on this Web site by our Bill Huber on June 13, Shields admitted that tackling is a big part of his game that he needs to keep working on. By last season's end, Shields, the No. 3 corner for the majority of the past two seasons, was splitting snaps with Bush.
Using the parameters of those cornerbacks that played at least half of their team's snaps again, Shields ranked fourth from the bottom in the league in tackling efficiency with one missed tackle for every 4.9 tackle attempts. Williams was only fractionally better with 1 in 5.0 and Woodson 1 in 5.8.
By contrast, linebackers Desmond Bishop (1 in 17.6) and Erik Walden (1 in 14) were two of the better players in the league at their position in tackling efficiency. A.J. Hawk (1 in 11) and Clay Matthews (1 in 9.8) were not in the top half but were much better than their defensive teammates on the back end.
The Packers' defensive line, which fell short in the pass rush department in 2011, missed fewer tackles as well, though they had less opportunities than the linebackers and defensive backs. Nose tackle B.J. Raji missed four tackles, while Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn missed just one each. Howard Green did not miss a tackle.
On special teams, the Packers missed 14 tackles. The league average for the other 31 teams was 14.6, so the Packers rated about in the middle of the pack. The Bengals were the best with just five missed tackles while Seahawks were the worst with 29.
A Disturbing Trend
Here are the Packers' missed tackles numbers on defense over the past four seasons (provided by Pro Football Focus)
2011 – 109 missed tackles in 17 games (6.4 per game)
2010 – 106 missed tackles in 20 games (5.3 per game)
2009 – 75 missed tackles in 17 games (4.4 per game)
2008 – 68 missed tackles in 16 games (4.3 per game)
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org