One reason why is a championship defense turned into a bunch of tackling dummies.
“Last year wasn’t what we set out to do. Tackling was a big part of it,” Charles Woodson said early during the 2012 training camp. “There’s an emphasis on it. Any time you have a glaring defect in a part of your game plan, it’s going to be an emphasis the next year. They’ve really talked about it a whole lot and I think the main important thing for us is it’s about playing with high energy, it’s about flying around. There’s going to be missed tackles, but if one guy misses a tackle and the next guy is there to make the tackle, then it’ll be all right. We have to make sure that our defense is a fast-flowing defense, get to the ball and make sure that if the first guy doesn’t get him, the second guy gets him; if the second guy doesn’t get him, the third guy’s right there, too, so there’s not a lot of yards after the catch or yards after the first contact.”
That emphasis paid off. In 2011, Green Bay missed 109 tackles. That was the 27th-highest figure in the league, according to ProFootballFocus.com. It was a major factor in the Packers allowing a league-worst 411.6 yards per game. In 2012, the Packers reduced their missed-tackle total to just 68. That was the fourth-best figure in the league, and it helped them rank 11th with 336.8 yards per game.
In 2013, Green Bay — following a dubious league-wide trend that we’ll analyze on Monday — tied for 19th with 116 missed tackles. Not surprisingly, that was reflected in Green Bay finishing 25th with 372.3 yards per game.
When training camp opens in less than two weeks, the defensive focus will be on the addition of Julius Peppers, schematic changes and a less-is-more approach to coordinator Dom Capers’ voluminous playbook. Tackling, however, will be more important than anything devised by Capers.
“I think we have to change something — not change, but we have to evolve and hone in on (the little things),” linebacker A.J. Hawk said during OTAs. “Who knows what our plan is going in once the season comes, but we need to find a way to play better. We need to find a way to get off the field. I don’t think you have to make any crazy, drastic changes, I don’t think that’s what we’re going to do. But you have to find a way to evaluate what we did wrong and find a way to get better at that. Whether that would be tackling or anything. You’ve heard me saying it’s not rocket science. We have to tackle. We need to create turnovers. It’s boring to talk about that stuff, though.”
The numbers say it all. The last seven champions — as far as PFF has statistics — have missed an average of 84.9 tackles per season. Of the 11 teams that missed 100 or fewer tackles last season, seven made the playoffs, with Seattle (78 missed tackles, No. 2 in the league) beating Denver (98 missed tackles, No. 8 in league) in the Super Bowl.
Out of 62 inside/middle linebackers who received 25 percent playing time, Brad Jones ranked 25th, Hawk 34th and Jamari Lattimore 54th in ProFootballFocus.com’s tackling efficiency, which shows the number of attempted tackles per miss. Of 47 3-4 outside linebackers, Nick Perry ranked sixth, Andy Mulumba eighth, Clay Matthews 36th and Mike Neal 43rd. Of 94 safeties, Morgan Burnett ranked 31st, M.D. Jennings 46th and Banjo 94th. Of 120 cornerbacks, Micah Hyde ranked 10th, Davon House 18th, Tramon Williams 51st and Sam Shields 73rd.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.