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Tackling Matters

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Trivia question for ROTB members :

Of all the Cardinals’ defensive players in 2020 who started more than 10 games, which player had the highest tackling grade?

Answer: he’s #43 in red, pictured above.

Good, consistent tackling requires excellent technique.

Case in point: both last and this year Haason Reddick made textbook tackles (sacks) on Russell Wilson while rushing the edge to Wilson’s right, where Wilson is often a Houdini at breaking contain and escaping pressure.

The first mistake that edge rushers make is rushing on a straight line to the QB. More often than not, that will lead to the QB breaking contain and extending the play either via a QB scramble or a pass from the open field on the move.

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Take a close look at this play where Reddick beat the 49ers’ RT Mike McGlinchey around the edge —- notice how Reddick’s shoulders are square to C.J. Beathard’s outside shoulder. What this textbook rush angle ensures is that Beathard will not be able to break contain and escape wide of the pocket. if anything, this pursuit angle will force Beathard to try to escape the pressure through the middle —- ah, but that’s just what Reddick wants because, the middle is where his help is. Precisely what edge players are coached.

It is this precise “outside shoulder” rush technique that allowed Haason Reddick to make two big sacks of Russell Wilson during the Cardinals last two wins over the Seahawks.

In Vance Joseph’s defense, the Cardinals on the whole did a very good job of improving their tackling from year one to year two, ascending from their #26 ranking in 2019 (44.5) to #8 in 2020 (65.9).

Yet, the Cardinals still trailed all three of their NFC West rivals in tackling:

SEA —- #1 —- 84.4

LAR —- #2 —- 75.1

SF —- #6 —- 72.6

ARI —- #8 —- 65.9

What this suggests is that if the Cardinals are going to try to win the division in 2021, they will need to keep climbing the ladder in this highly critical aspect of team defense.

What’s interesting and perhaps very telling is which defenders in 2020 had the highest tackling grades on the defense:

  1. DI Zach Allen —- 79.9 —- 505 snaps
  2. S Charles Washinton —-79.0 —- 40 snaps
  3. S Chris Banjo —- 78.4 —- 436 snaps
  4. OLB Haason Reddick —- 77.6 —- 874 snaps
  5. ILB Tanner Vallejo —- 77.3 —- 67 snaps
  6. ILB De’Vondre Campbell —- 76.4 —- 880 snaps
  7. S Jalen Thompson —- 76.3 —-232 snaps
  8. ILB Isaiah Simmons —- 76.3 —- 376 snaps
  9. CB Kevin Peterson —- 75.4 —- 66 snaps
  10. CB De’Vante Bausby —- 72.5 —- 16 snaps
  11. S Budda Baker —- 72.1 —- 1,005 snaps
  12. ILB Ezekiel Turner —- 71.4 —- 6 snaps

Notes:

  • It’s a modern day rarity for teams to have a DI score the team’s highest tackling grade (that is, teams that do not have Aaron Donald) —- what a tremendous achievement by Zach Allen!
  • Many of these players are key special teams contributors.
  • The best tackling room by far: the safeties.
  • The worst tackling rooms: the DIs and CBs
  • De’Vante Bausby delivered the best tackle from the CB position of the season, and was cut two days later and quickly reclaimed by the Broncos.
  • Tanner Vallejo in his limited snaps appeared to be a significant upgrade at MIKE ILB.
  • Isaiah Simmons should have played at least double the amount of snaps he was given.
  • Washington, Banjo, Vallejo, Campbell, Bausby are 2021 UFAs —- Turner is a 2021 RFA.
  • The Cardinals depth is better than most people thought and could have been used more.

NFC West MIKE LBs: (tackling grades)

  1. Bobby Wagner (SEA) —- 85.6
  2. Fred Warner (SF) —- 72.4
  3. Micah Kiser (LAR) —- 71.7
  4. Jordan Hicks (ARI) —- 68.0

NFC West DIs:

  1. Aaron Donald (LAR) —- 89.9
  2. Michael Brockers (LAR) —- 80.3
  3. Zach Allen (ARI) —-79.9
  4. Raheem Green (SEA) —- 76.0

However, according to Kevin Zimmerman of arizonasports.com:

Defensive end Zach Allen now sits behind Watt after putting together a strong finish to 2020. In the final quarter of the season, Allen recorded an 11-tackle game, had a pair of four-hurry games and batted down three passes at the line.

To which I tweeted:

J.J. Watt —- surprisingly he missed 11 tackles this past season while combining for 48 tackles (40 solo), which accounted for his poor tackling grade of 41.9. But his overall defensive grade of 85.4 was better than any Cardinals’ defender in 2020. While he missed too many tackles, his run defense was very good at 81.0 and his pass rushing grade was a healthy 76.6. Let’s not forget that Watt was consistently double teamed and it is difficult to make tackles when a blocker has locked up one of his arms.

NFC West CBs: (tackling grades)

  1. Jamar Taylor (SF) —- 76.4
  2. Ahkello Witherspoon (SF) —-75.5
  3. Darius Williams (LAR) —- 73.6
  4. Quentin Dunbar (SEA) —-73.5
  5. D.J. Reed (SEA) —-73.2
  6. Shaquille Griffin (SEA) —-69.7

Patrick Peterson (64.4) and Dre Kirkpatrick (48.6) were the weakest tackling starting tandem in the division, plus the worst tandem grade-wise overall at 55.2 and 49.0. Their coverage grades were 53.1 and 46.1 respectively.

Peterson gave up 667 yd.s (66.7%) for 5 TDs, 3 ints. 4 PBUs, a QBR of 100.8 and 12 penalties.

Kirkpatrick gave up 637 yds. (65.9%) for 2 TDs, 3 ints., 3 PBUs a QBR of 80.5 and 9 penalties.

I chose to include these stats because Cardinals fans have argued that the CB tackling grades shouldn’t matter as much if the pass overage is good.

Cryptic Tweet:

Now — this late night tweet may be nothing at all, but what if it is a hint that the Cardinals are going to let Haason Reddick hit the free agent market?

Here is my guess at what Haason is hinting at —- Ithe Cardinals may have told him that they “don’t know” what his true market value is at this point, so they are going to let him field offers with the hope that he and his agent will give the Cardinals a chance to match.

This would suggest that the Cardinals have decided against putting the transition or franchise tag on Haason, because they do not want to risk having to pay him $13M (t-tag) or $15M (f-tag) if a long-term deals can’t be reached.

The good news for Haason is that he has been steadily climbing up the national 2021 UFA rankings. Just yesterday he was ranked the #24 top UFA by Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic. Link:

https://theathletic.com/2431491/2021/03/09/ranking-nfl-free-agencys-top-150-players-with-possible-price-tags/

24. Haason Reddick, Edge/LB, Arizona Cardinals (27)

He had a big second half of the season and finished with 12.5 sacks, which was tied for fourth league-wide. Reddick’s role in Arizona has changed about 400 times in four seasons, but he has shown pass-rushing chops. He’s a hybrid-type player who could be really fun with the right defensive coordinator.

By the way, I think that Sheil Kapadia does a tremendous job. He’s one of my favorite NFL . analysts.

Notice how Kapadia said:”Reddick’s role has changed 400 times in 4 seasons” but “ could be really fun with the right defensive coordinator.”

Ugh.

I thought that in light of Vance Joseph’s (and Charlie Bullen’s) work with Haason over the last 19-20 games and how strongly their relationship has developed that Vance has become the “right defensive coordinator” for Haason Reddick.

But, if the Cardinals’ decision is to risk losing Reddick, the 2020 team leader in sacks with 12.5 and highest graded tackler among those who started more than 10 games —- then Vance Jospeh should never be considered the right defensive coordinator for Haason.

A number of Cardinals fans and pundits have been been urging the Cardinals to let Haason walk in favor of re-signing Markus Golden, saying that the “drop-off isn’t that much.”

Before I begin to try to explain why this trend of thought is misguided, let me say that II hope like crazy the Cardinals can hold on to Haason and Markus.

Markus Golden’s NFL niche, at age 30, is as a nickel edge rusher. As we saw when he returned to the team via the trade with the Giants, Markus applied consistent pressure from the edge opposite Haason. In 9 games for the Cardinals, Markus generated 41 QB pressures and 4 sacks for a pass rushing grade of 77.6.

During that same 9 game span, Haason Reddick generated 35 QB pressures, 8 sacks, 28 tackles for a pass rushing grade of 84.8, plus only allowed 75 yards and 0 TDs in pass coverage.

However, Markus Golden’s main weaknesses at this point his career are his tackling (only 14 tackles with 5 missed tackles in 416 snaps for the Cardinals for a tackling grade of 35.8) and his sub par pass coverage (30.6 with Cardinals).

Therefore, it is mistake to think that there is not much drop off between Haason Reddick and Markus Golden, because Haason is a far superior SAM OLB , while Markus is not a natural fit at the position. In the base 34, Markus is a better fit at Bandit, but that’s where Chandler Jones plays. And the Cardinals cannot afford to make the same mistake they made with Chandler when Suggs was starting at Bandit, by making him play SAM where he struggled in establishing contain and in being a competitive factor in pass coverage.

If the Cardinals let Haason walk, then who plays SAM OLB? Do they thereby stick with Devon Kennard at $7M a year? Do they draft a rookie to take over the spot? Do they sign a free agent? Do they move Isaiah Simmons there and then sign or draft a WILL ILB?

Devon Kennard is good in run defense, but he’s not nearly as adept as Haason Reddick in contain, pass coverage and edge pass rushing. Here were his 2020 grades on 362 snaps: 63.8 overall, 69.8 vs. run, 60.0 tackling (only 17 tackles), 64.0 pass rush (22 pressures and 3 sacks) and 26.5 in pass coverage.

The Cardinals were obviously not impressed enough with Haason Reddick’s SAM OLB play while the team won two of the last 3 games in 2019, because they signed Devon Kennard to start ahead of him in 2020. Are they still sticking to that plan?

Once Reddick took over for Kennard, Vance Joseph described Haason Reddick as “the perfect” SAM OLB for his 34 defense.

But, if Haason’s mysterious tweet is a harbinger of his departure, then, well, one might imagine that perfect wasn’t and isn’t enough, is it?

Thereby confirming what Haason so aptly wrote: “They don't know what they don’t know.”