Cory's Corner: A Better Defense Starts With Tackling

The only way the Packers get deep in the playoffs is if the defense can get back on track.

And what’s the easiest way for a defense to get back on track?

Tackling. I know what you’re thinking. Tackling isn’t something that the Packers have been very efficient at. Ever since 2013, the Packers have missed a grand total of 736 tackles. That’s an average of 122 missed tackles a season.

That’s a drive that was allowed to continue after a missed tackle on third-and-7 or a 10-yard slant pass that turned into a 54-yard touchdown because of a couple of missed tackles.

The Vikings missed 71 tackles last year and the Patriots missed 74. Just think of how many plays turn into highlights because of the difference of 49 missed tackles. That’s a lot of mistakes that an offense must cover up. 

But it comes back to the basics. That’s why I like Adrian Amos so much. In four seasons, he has missed a total of 35 tackles. He is the sure tackler that Green Bay’s defense has desperately needed. 

Also, this will ruffle some feathers, but not brining back Clay Matthews was an excellent move from a tackling perspective. He missed the third-most tackles on the team last year with nine. And the reason that number was that high was because Matthews took too many unnecessary chances. He oftentimes tried to hit the home run, but wound up striking out. 

Pettine doesn’t need rock stars to show up consistently on highlight shows. He needs guys that will wrap up and help get the defense off the field. He needs guys to play as a unit and not as a bunch of individuals. 

And that is how Pettine will be judged. Not in how well he can scheme this group with plenty of promise and brimming with talent. But how he can make everyone do the little things while forgetting about individuality. That is how the defense will get off the field on third down, that is how the secondary will prevent big plays and that is how Aaron Rodgers won’t feel pressured to win games by himself. 

It’s amazing that a concept that is preached in Little League is the same concept that will give this team a real shot at January football. 

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Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Comments (28)

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porupack's picture

July 02, 2019 at 06:33 am

According to your article Adrian Amos missed 35 tackles in 4 seasons and Clay Matthews last year missed 9 tackles (at which rate would be 36 over 4 years). Is there a different expectation for OLB v S positions? Not critical, just wondering. I can believe making an open field tackle at Safety is tougher than a defined corridor for OLB.
HOpe your message to Pettine gets through on that tackling though; heck of a point you make: 49 more missed tackles compared to Minnepo and the Patties.

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dobber's picture

July 02, 2019 at 02:42 pm

Safeties are usually in on a lot more plays than a situational OLB (who can just be run away from). They're usually among their team leaders in tackles. In some ways you can equate that with a shortstop on a baseball team: they usually tend to be the league leaders in errors, but they also tend to get a lot more balls hit their way than, say, a first baseman. More attempts...more chances for misses.

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NickPerry's picture

July 02, 2019 at 06:59 am

An average of 122 missed tackles a year?

Hmmm... Since HHCD is now on the Bears, the Packers missed tackles should drop considerably while the Bears misses will grow... A Lot!

Just imagine how many the Packers may have averaged had they counted all the horrible angles or half-assed efforts by HHCD. Wait until week one when those delusional Bears fans FINALLY start to get it...The Packers got the MUCH better deal in the Amos / HHCD switch.

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Coldworld's picture

July 02, 2019 at 07:24 am

Your point about horrible angles is more broadly relevant than HHCD. The image of Brice last year came to my mind and any number of plug in players over recent years. Josh Jones is another one, at least when deeper.

Sadly, when you are down to players on the edge of roster worthiness, football smarts or athleticism diminish resulting in poor anticipation, positioning, angles and therefore tackling.

After that it comes down to attitude (HHCD?) and scheme. I do believe that Capers played soft and got us burned too often as a result in later years. Was it the scheme or the roster? I think a bit of both.

We have a lot of youth, that will lead to mistakes, but I look for gradual but significant improvement under this regime and roster over the year.

To your point on Amos: yes! Amos has been a model of consistent efficiency and reliability. Exactly the kind of player one wants to provide a foundation for the secondary. For where we were, definitely better in terms of marginal upgrade. We will see if the Bears undervalued those attributes. My suspicion is that they did.

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mrtundra's picture

July 02, 2019 at 09:20 am

There were several times where HHCD didn't put in any effort, whatsoever, to even be part of defending an opposing player. HHCD just stood there while the play went past him. Any effort at all, could have stopped the opposing team in it's tracks. HHCD didn't exert himself for at least two seasons while he played for the Packers. Glad to see him gone. I cannot wait to watch ARod pick on HHCD when we play Da Bears twice this season.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

July 02, 2019 at 10:44 am

Sometimes I couldn't tell if HHCD was trying to tackle or stick his head between his legs.

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nostradanus's picture

July 02, 2019 at 07:09 am

It is amazing how it really does go back to the fundamentals blocking and tackling. The Packers have been a poor tackling team for as long as I can remember and hopefully that will change. When the Packers face an excellent defensive tackling team like the Bears it can really frustrate and disrupt the offense. Let’s hope with this being year two in Pettines defense and the infusion of talent, the defense becomes a force!

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Packer_Fan's picture

July 02, 2019 at 07:15 am

The difference between the Vikings and the Patriots and the Packers is alarming for me. Brady didn't win the Super bowl, their defense did by shutting down the Rams offense. Making tackles, making the right plays and playing well as a team won the game. The Packers haven't had a team like that since their season ended with the debacle in Seattle.

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Lare's picture

July 02, 2019 at 07:21 am

To me, this a matter of coaching. Anybody can learn how to tackle if it's coached correctly and stressed in practices & games. I just don't think it was a priority under the last coaching group.

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Coldworld's picture

July 02, 2019 at 07:38 am

As an ex rugby player, what your saying is technically true, but so much of tackling is mental. Great tacklers don’t fear contact and even relish it. Doubt or hesitation leads to poor positioning and failure to take down and a tendency to play off and cede a number of yards if contact is made. It also increases the risk of injury, ironically.

A player that is reluctant tackle needs to be appraised on that basis and used accordingly within the scheme. Some are good enough to be great without that attribute: Neon Deon being an example. He was a corner not a safety, and played with sure tackling safety help behind him which helps. We haven’t had that in a long time.

When inconsistent tacklers routinely rank among the team’s highest number of tackles, one needs to ask how many soft yards were given up as well as how many big plays resulting from a missed tackle. Too many in Green Bay in recent years.

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dobber's picture

July 02, 2019 at 08:15 am

So much of this goes back to college. Some programs do take the time to coach tackling, but more and more -- just like in the NFL where the CBA limits contact and practice time -- they just don't. Players don't come to the NFL schooled in some fundamentals, and there's no time to teach it.

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Coldworld's picture

July 02, 2019 at 11:56 am

It’s crazy because bad tackling gets you hurt. No tackling kills the game.

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Renllaw's picture

July 03, 2019 at 07:49 am

The CBA only allows 14 padded practices to work live tackling.... When you have had to install a new scheme and roll through player after play because of injury and lack of production, it has to be frustrating and hard on a coaching staff trying to get players up to speed and then have to coach them up on the fundamentals a player at this level should already have. I think the draft picks and free agents Gute has brought in the last couple of years reflect their awareness of this. All of them, so far, seem to be solid fundamental football players.

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Guam's picture

July 02, 2019 at 07:46 am

While the Packers have been worse than most teams (coaching), I also believe tackling league wide has become an issue. The most recent CBA reduced the amount of practice time in general and the number of full contact practices in particular. If you can't practice live tackling, it is harder to improve on it.

Hopefully Pettine can improve on the Packer's tackling, but I don't ever expect to see Lombardi era proficiency again.

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dobber's picture

July 02, 2019 at 08:17 am

I wish I'd scrolled down before posting above. Thumbs up for you, Guam!

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Spock's picture

July 02, 2019 at 08:43 am

dobber, I was going to comment on your original comment above that ALL the NFL teams are drafting from the same college teams and operate under the same CBA but Guam included the problem as league wide so he covered that. Still, it was concerning that given that equal playing field the Packers were so much worse. I'm excited about Gute's guys this year, especially the sure tackler Smiths'.

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Guam's picture

July 03, 2019 at 07:38 am

Thanks dobber, but you also correctly extended my point that the problem starts in college. The NCAA has reduced the amount of time college athletes can spend on their sport (20 hour per week max I think) and just like the CBA, this has reduced the practice time for tacking among other things. Tackling is becoming a lost art at both the collegiate and professional levels.

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porupack's picture

July 02, 2019 at 11:39 am

Sure, it could be a league trend in part by less contact practice. Sure it could be a softening of NCAA programs. But Cory made it pretty clear when comparing to Minnepo and the Patties; it is personnel and/or coaching more than external reasons.
Argue which is one you think is most relevant; a) culprit personnel; HHCD, Jackson, Brice, etc. or b) Coaching; (Capers and Pettine) .

We may know the answer soon since we didn't change the coach this year, but changed a lot of personnel.

If it was coaching, why didn't we get better last year with Pettine? Or is Pettine likewise weak in technical fundamentals as was apparently Capers? Seems like that answer is tentatively yes.
If things improve in 2019, then we can know that it was a matter of personnel.

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albert999's picture

July 02, 2019 at 08:12 am

Ray Nitschke could tackle
teach his game and will to do so

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mrtundra's picture

July 02, 2019 at 09:32 am

Nitschke would come off the field with a RB's forearm in his mouth. Viscousness is not a learned thing. One has to be born with it and have a hunger, a desire for it. Nitschke, Butkus both had it. Big Daddy Lipscomb and Mike Curtis had it and so did Conrad Dobler. GB needs to instill that kind of fear into their opponents that these guys did. A little forearm, some A-1 and a baked potato with an ice cold Spotted Cow to wash it down. Sounds like a recipe for success. Meat's back on the menu, boys!

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Tarynfor12's picture

July 02, 2019 at 10:00 am

I'm hoping for the end of the finger pointing of blame, the ole' ole' , turnstile and take me for a piggyback ride first type tackling.

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Ezra's Hotdog's picture

July 03, 2019 at 03:44 pm

Or the lower the head and dive to where the player used to be. Matthews had a good one last year. Can't remember which game it was.

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Since'61's picture

July 02, 2019 at 11:03 am

If the Packers tackling doesn’t improve the defensive results won’t improve either.

The Packers defense has been playing as though tackling has become illegal. Three primary reasons have been coaching, the current CBA and the players themselves. With the players it has been a matter of talent and attitude.

First coaching needs to work on tackling and adjust to the CBA rules to get enough tackling practice into the schedule. Tackling techniques and taking the appropriate angles can be worked into the program.
This is obviously true since some teams tackle better than the Packers as the article points out.

Secondly, playing defense is as much about attitude as it is about techniques. “If you don’t wanna, you ain’t gonna.” HHCD proved this point over his last 2 seasons in Green Bay. This about coaches and the players.

Third, you need good players. I believe that the Packers have taken steps in that direction with the additions of the Smiths, Amos, Savage and Gary.

Finally, leadership on the field. The Packers defense hasn’t had a true leader on the field that the defense can rally around since Reggie White. I’m not talking about someone who talks and shouts. I’m talking about a player who steps up and makes stops and plays when it matters. A game changing sack or hit or turnover. We need a Nitschke or a Reggie White type of player to emerge on the Packers defense.

Put the defense in a room and make them watch film of Lombardi’s defense until they get it! Thanks, Since ‘61

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wildbill's picture

July 02, 2019 at 11:12 am

I for one hate when a tackler just throws his shoulder at a player and expects an NFL level player to go down. I have seen this work at times but more often than not the runner either continues or at least makes extra yardage. Wrap up the ballcarrier!! I know that’s not possible 100% of the time but that fundamental should have been taught since these guys were in jr high. And keep your head up, geez Louise.

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Point-Packer's picture

July 02, 2019 at 11:17 am

Or willing tacklers, unlike Ha Ha Bill Clinton Norm Dix.

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Mark S's picture

July 02, 2019 at 02:47 pm

The biggest challenge to NFL coaches is the lack of contact in practice. Once you get to the NFL all players should have the necessary physical abilities to tackle, but despite the extreme athleticism of even an average player, it's still gonna be a matter of muscle memory, will, and instinct. Really generic & vanilla tackling drills that bored the hell out of us in college must be a veritable religion, the automated programmable tackling dummies need to be a big investment. That's because you can only really draft will & instinct. Only thing you control is muscle memory & that's all constant repetition! Because the NFL play is such a baby bang event even the most instinctual player will fail at tackling repeatedly if his technique is weak at all. Nick Collins in his 1st year comes to mind (I remember thinking he was a bust lol). Darren Sharper took 2. So he can scheme all he wants but your are 100% right, unless he fixes this much of our heavy investment will be wasted! GREAT ARTICLE, THANKS

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Mark S's picture

July 02, 2019 at 02:47 pm

The biggest challenge to NFL coaches is the lack of contact in practice. Once you get to the NFL all players should have the necessary physical abilities to tackle, but despite the extreme athleticism of even an average player, it's still gonna be a matter of muscle memory, will, and instinct. Really generic & vanilla tackling drills that bored the hell out of us in college must be a veritable religion, the automated programmable tackling dummies need to be a big investment. That's because you can only really draft will & instinct. Only thing you control is muscle memory & that's all constant repetition! Because the NFL play is such a baby bang event even the most instinctual player will fail at tackling repeatedly if his technique is weak at all. Nick Collins in his 1st year comes to mind (I remember thinking he was a bust lol). Darren Sharper took 2. So he can scheme all he wants but your are 100% right, unless he fixes this much of our heavy investment will be wasted! GREAT ARTICLE, THANKS

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korbie33's picture

July 02, 2019 at 10:34 pm

Players making multiple missed tackles need to be coached up. If this does not work the player is replaced. If the missed tackles for the team does not show continued improvement the coach or coaches need to be replaced. The people scouting the draft selection need to place greater emphases on tackling ability.
Aaron Rodgers cannot carry a poor tackling defense. Reps without missed tackles should be monitored and rewarded.
The defense should evaluate a missed tackle the same as the offense does dropped passes.

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