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False Positives: Troy Polamalu Is the Only DB That Can Tackle

Troy Polamalu Makes a Tackle

If there’s one thing I’m tired of reading on sports message boards it’s about how defensive backs can’t tackle. According to threads, Ed Reed can’t tackle, Dawan Landry can’t tackle, and neither can Darrell Revis, Asante Samuel, Deangelo Hall, Kerry Rhodes, Charles Woodson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Laron Landry and any other list of defensive backs EXCEPT Troy Polamalu.


Except that’s not true. And even if it were, it might not matter much.

This is the case of when stats and simple arguments (like head to head comparisons) skew a picture. Defensive Backs can become known for not tackling for a few different reasons.

1. They Aren’t Used For Tackling: Defensive Backs are now asked to do a lot. Not only do they cover, they are an integral part of the pass rush, they break up plays, intercept passes and on and on and on. Depending on how a DB is used he may or may not have a high number of tackles. If a DB like Ed Reed or Asante Samuel spends most of their time roaming to intercept passes, tackling may not be their primary role. When it comes to someone like Asomugha who isn’t even being thrown to or when he IS being thrown to doesn’t allow a completion, tackling is often of no consequence because the ball was never caught.

2. They Avoid Missing Tackles. Golden rule for DBs is do.not.miss.any.tackle. If you think of secondaries as last lines of defense then you understand why. If a DB misses a tackle there is a high likelihood that play action continues and results in a gain of several yards or worse a touchdown. To avoid missing a tackle, DBs will often deliver a hit or a simple hard shove out of bounds. To viewers at home the latter may look like a copout, but part of playing the role of DB is make good decisions not just entertaining ones.

3. They Get Burned on National Television. Most people who watch football keep their eye on the ball the entire time. Out of  11 players on the field, viewers probably see 4 at a time on one play, 2 on offense and 2 on defense (QB, Receiver the QB throws to, the defensive player covering the receiver, and the most prominent pass rusher on the play will also usually be in sight). Most viewers don’t see, or at least dont pay attention to, much else. So any time a DB gets burned on a play or missing a tackle they are visible. Same thing for when a DB breaks up a play or delivers a big hit or tackle. That’s why someone like Ed Reed can be both heralded for his play and criticized for tackling ability.

4. Receivers Are Bigger Now. Calvin Johnson, Anquan Boldin, and many other WRs are the same size or bigger than most DBs in the league. Most DBs average somewhere around 6’1 and 210-210 lbs. With WRs like Johnson and Boldin at over 6’4 and weighing over 230 lbs and Tight Ends like Jason Witten and Visanthe Shiancoe also over 6’4 but weighing over 260lbs tackling ain’t no crystal stair. In particular, if a tackle is the 3rd function you perform on just one play.

This is not to say that all these DBs are good tacklers or that there’s no room for improvement. But it is to say that you have to look beyond stats and what plays made highlights to determine what makes a good DB in general and, in a more narrow sense, what makes them good for a particular team. DBs are used differently depending on the team and all are supported by different levels and types of talent. All of that affects how much they tackle and in many cases the likelihood of actually making the high number of those tackles.

At any rate, “does not tackle often” does not equal “cannot tackle.” “Missed a tackle on MNF” does not equal “misses tackles all the time.”

While I have you here, I don’t think I ever linked to this awesome article that Bob Herbert wrote before he left the NY Times a few months back. He talks about some former players and how they mentioned that defensive play (from a fundamental standpoint) had changed for the worse in the NFL.

The N.F.L. has taken some remedial steps, especially in the area of head injuries. But pro football, always violent, is now violent in the extreme, and there is some question as to whether that violent style of play — and the consequences that flow from it — can really be changed. Paul Tagliabue, a former N.F.L. commissioner, told The New Yorker about the comments of a group of former players who had looked closely at the way defensive play has changed. “They raised the idea,” said Tagliabue, “that it was no longer tackle football. It was becoming collision football. The players looked like bionic men.”


Post post post note, my favorite video of a Polamalu tackle.


NFL Handed Out 12 Additional Fines — Clear Crackdown on Late Hits

The NFL fined more players on Friday. All I have to say is, we’re calling late hits now?


Vikings DE Ray Edwards-$20K- spearing-Repeat Offense.

Saints CB Malcolm Jenkins-$10K for two hits-one of them to the head.

Viking WR Bernard Berrian $5K- late hit.

DE William Hayes-$10K -late hit.

Lions G Stephen Peterman- $7,500-late hit.

Titans DE Dave Ball-$5K-roughing the passer.

Texans G Wade Smith - $5K-leg whip.

Texans DE Adewale Ogunleye-$5K-late hit.

Texans SS Bernard Pollard-$5K-out of bounds hit.

This one made me laugh a little bit. I missed this game due to living outside the Philadelphia market, but the Eagles are MY TEAM. QB Kevin Kolb was fined $5K for a horse-collar tackle on a player returning an INT.

What? lol

49ers  FS Dashon Goldson-$5K-late hit.

Chargers LB Antwan Barnes-$5K-unnecessary strike.


Bob Costas Makes the Legal Case for the NFL Illegal Hit Rule

Last night Bob Costas made the legal case for the NFL’s rule, and he did it without kissing the NFL’s ass. Costas essentially said that the NFL’s enforcement of the NFL rule is to protect them from the inevitable future lawsuits that will be filed against it as our knowledge about football players and their injuries grows.

Essentially, if and when the NFL is taken to court about the danger of the sport and how much they knew about the danger and when they knew it, the NFL has to be able to argue that it did everything within its power to make the game as safe as possible. And that anything further they would have done would have made the game something differently entirely.

This isn’t about the safety of current players, this is about the future and longevity of the league and its ability to make and protect its revenue stream.

I think it’s interesting that Costas makes this point given that the players (and many fans) are arguing the opposite-that the big hits are the best thing for the league and without them people will lose interest in the game. I think the NFL would rather take a chance on losing a little money now than a lot of money later.


The NFL Should Have Given Players The Safety Video Before Issuing Fines

I watched the video that the NFL showed players to help them understand why a lot of them are about to be a little lighter in the pockets.

My biggest observation is that I DO understand the rules better. My 2nd biggest observation is that some players will be fined and it won’t be their fault. My 3rd observation is that I’m coming around to be okay with number 2…sort of.

I think the NFL will be challenged in getting these modern gladiators to understand what it means for a player to be “defenseless.” This is is a word players don’t like. As far as they’re concerned, if you’re on the field you’re fair game to be knocked silly. But AU CONTRAIRE MON FRERE!! Not so fast.

From the video, the NFL defines defenseless basically as a player who literally cannot defend themselves without giving up on a play. [Just to be clear these are my words, not theirs. However, since this shit can be kind of grey and this is my blog, I'mma explain it how I interpreted it. Use the comment section to disagree]

For example, if a receiver is in mid-catch, he’s defenseless because he can’t protect himself with his hands because they’re after the ball and he can’t avoid the hit with his body because it would put him out of catching range. His choice is to either avoid a hit (and look like a punk) or catch the ball and get clobbered or try to catch the ball and get clobbered before/during/after. A punter is defenseless mid-kick-obviously the only way to avoid a hit is to not kick the ball. Combine this with the fact that once a player has “committed” he may never see the other player coming in the first place. Defenseless and unbraced!



When It Comes to Football Injuries is it Heads vs. Knees?

The longer this conversation about what is and isn’t an illegal hit goes on, the more I’m seeing players and bloggers set up a choice-and I’m wondering if it’s a false one. That choice being that if players are not able to hit high, or are afraid of hitting high, they will automatically go as low as they can. Consequently, rather than a bunch of head injuries we’ll have a bunch of shattered knees (read: careers) to contend with.

Matt Hudson writes:

Think about the DeSean Jackson – Dunta Robinson hit if the new rule had already been implemented.  Robinson, knowing that a suspension or fine could happen if he hits anywhere near the top of the diminutive Jackson, goes for his knees.  Suppose that conservatively, both players are running at 20 miles an hour.  A helmet to the knee at a combined 40 miles an hour?  Congratulations, NFL – you’ve avoided a concussion.  And blown out a knee in the process.

The hit to Desean Jackson was ugly by all accounts; but set up this way the hit sounds preferable to the alternative.

On twitter, Reggie Bush stated that as an offensive player he opposes the rules because he’d rather be hit up high than below the knees.

Reggie Bush Uses Twitter to Express His Thoughts on Illegal Hits

But are these two options what it really comes to? I’m not so sure.


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