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Tackling Fundamentals (Cardinals Clinic)

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Background: Jan 1, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (99) tackles Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier (25) during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine

If you ever want to teach fundamental tackling —- check out JJ Watt’s technique.

The first and primary consideration involves the tackler’s “pad level”. The general rule is “the lower the pad level, the better” because it will give the tackler a better path to the ball carrier’s legs.

Look at JJ Watt’s pad level in the photo above. Notice too how he is keeping his” head up” and thereby is not making the classic mistake of “dipping” the head.

In previous games, have you noticed that when JJ Watt splits the gap and gets a big tackle for loss, he winds up his both arms wrapped around the ball carrier’s calves or ankles?

This year, the Cardinals have been missing far too many tackles. It often seems like the first tackler on the scene almost always whiffs —- like you can see on the play below.

Tthe main reason why the Cardinals miss so many tackles is due to poor fundamentals.

On this play, rookie CB Christian Matthew makes an aggressive run at RB Tyler Allgeier, but fails to break down early enough. Running straight at anyone reduces the odds of making a good tackle because all it takes is a quick sidestep by the ball carrier and the defender has no chance.

“Breaking down” means coming to “jump stop” 3-4 yards from the ball carrier.

The jump stop allows the defender to “square up” to the RB —- with all important “knee bend” (“sitting down sinking the hips”) in order to lower the tackler’s pad level —-

Subsequently, with knees bent, the focus is to stare at the RBs waist —- so as not to get fooled by “juke moves” with the head and feet. While staring directly the RB’s wait, the tackler needs the patience to wait to see which directions the waist takes the RB.

Thus instead of “over-committing” and running right past the RB, the defender waits for the RB to commit to a side and then with his “head up” and “knees bent” (to create a spring-like base), once the RB commits to side, the defender now springs toward the RB’s legs, with the lowest pad level possible, with the tackler’s “head across (the body)” and upon impact, he “wraps up” like a bear-trap clamp with both arms, keeping the “head up”with his legs “driving through the man” The legs should not stop until the RB is on the ground..

So on this play, Christian Mathew fails to break down, Then Dennis Gardeck fails to break down. As a result in both cases, they “overcommit” and lunge at the RB without him picking a clear side first. Credit DT Jonathan Ledbetter for a great hustle play from his spot on the field, and credit Jace Whittaker and Jalen Thompson for closing quickly on the ball, with Ledbetter to force the RB out of bounds. These three epitomize the notion of “swarm tackling.”

Corralling a crafty “juke move” RB like Tyler Allgeier is obviously not easy, but that’s why sticking to the fundamentals is the key.

Go back and watch the play one more time —- and this time watch for where Matthew’s and Gardeck’s heads are as they are approaching the RB. Way too high —-so high that they are both standing straight up. This immediately tells you they have either forgotten or abandoned their fundamentals. It also tells you that Cardinals’ coaches haven’t stressed teaching and repping the fundamentals enough to have them ingrained in the players’ habits. The best tacklers stay low to the ground like prowling cats.

Like J.J. Watt and Budda Baker.