One of the major changes was limits to in-season practices. Teams were permitted only 14 padded practices for the entire season, with one per week for the first 11 weeks and just three for the final six weeks.
Coaches predicted tackling would suffer.
They were right — probably beyond their worst nightmares.
In 2010, the final season under the old CBA, teams missed an average of 80.0 tackles per season, according to data tracked by ProFootballFocus.com. That rose to 93.6 in 2011 and 95.8 in 2012. It wasn’t just the Packers who saw their missed-tackle counts shoot through the roof last year. Green Bay missed a whopping 116 tackles last season. In 2010, that would have been the worst in the league. In 2013, however, it wasn’t too far off the staggering league average of 111.9.
There are obvious pros and cons with the current CBA. By limiting the amount of contact during the week, it’s keeping players fresher and healthier for the games. However, how can you simulate tackling Adrian Peterson or Brandon Marshall if practice is limited to something closer to two-hand touch than real football?
It is possible to be a good tackling team without getting to work on actually tackling. San Francisco (75.0 missed tackles per season during the three years of this CBA) and Seattle (79.3) have figured it out. And the Packers had it figured it out, too. In 2011, only five teams missed more tackles than Green Bay’s 109. In 2012, only three teams missed fewer tackles than Green Bay’s 68.
“I think you have to be smart,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said during training camp before the 2012 season. “I think we try to vary our drills. You see us with port-a-pits out there, trying to take players to the ground, because it’s got to be a controlled environment. It’s like anything — you get what you emphasize. Every year, we try to go back and identify things we did well, things we didn’t do so well. Obviously, tackling is one of those things that we placed a priority on.
“You’ll see us tackle every day. Some drills will be a little more physical than others. I think we’ll have a real emphasis on getting everybody going to the ball and breaking down and getting in position to make the play, even if we aren’t (actually) tackling, that they’re tagging off with the proper leverage. I think that’s extremely important. The best tacklers I’ve been around, they developed in practice sprinting to the ball, but then coming in under control and getting themselves in the best position to make the tackle without finishing them off.”
Still, the contact limitations of this CBA have changed the league in an incredible fashion. In 2010, only three teams missed more than 100 tackles. In 2013, only nine teams missed fewer than 100 tackles. In 2010, the league average was 80.0 missed tackles. In 2013, Seattle (78) was the only team to beat that figure.
“No matter what scheme you play, defense comes down to being sound and tackling and pursuit,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said last month. “Those were our big emphases. When we won the whole thing, we were one of the better tackling defenses in the league and we have to get back to that level.”
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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.