There May Be No Tackling Steelers’ Tackling Problem

There is a reason that we have a missed tackles report around here on a weekly basis. And there is also a reason that it has been a more recent phenomenon, because, believe or not, the Pittsburgh Steelers used to be the best tackling defense in the league. Now, as we have talked about previously, a good case can be made that they are the worst.

Sure, there are some qualifiers in there. The Steelers have some athletic defenders like Ryan Shazier whose ‘missed’ tackles that a normal defender would not even be in a position to attempt create opportunities for other defenders to come in and make, or finish, the play. That much is surely true.

But that only accounts for a fraction of the missed tackles, and there is no evidence that it has been getting better over the years. As much as Sean Davis has improved over the course of the past several games, his tackling has not, as just one example.

This is why head coach Mike Tomlin went off a bit yesterday during his press conference, still stewing over the tackles that were missed during his team’s 40-17 blowout victory from several days earlier. And frankly, I think it was good to see him still fired up over that and talking about it.

It’s at least better than ignoring it. But all the talk in the world is not going to clean up the tackling, either, which is largely a unit-wide issue. Very few players are immune to the problem. Cameron Heyward is easily their most consistent tackler on the unit, perhaps followed by Vince Williams, though even he has his misses.

Pretty much everybody else has been made to look quite foolish a time or two just in recent weeks on missed tackles. All of the outside linebackers who have had a significant amount of playing time have also had a significant amount of missed tackles, including rookie T.J. Watt and everybody’s favorite underdog, Anthony Chickillo.

The secondary? Joe Haden has really solidified the coverage, but he’s sure fit in with the missed tackles as well, though at least he makes the effort consistently, unlike Artie Burns on the flip side. Mike Hilton out of the slot is their most consistent tackler on the back end, and he still has a handful as well, including a couple of misses at the back end of long passes.

We’re not going to be a dominant group until we minimize big plays and we tackle better”, Tomlin said during his press conference. “We gave up a big play the first play of the second half. We gave up a couple big plays in Indy”.

“We’re missing tackles on big plays and allowing people to score”, he pointed out, which has occurred multiple times in recent games, since Kansas City. “We have to give our red zone defense a chance to operate by making some of those tackles”.

Unfortunately, there is no easy fix, nor midseason band-aid. The Steelers are arguably the most physical unit in training camp, yet that hasn’t translated to improved tackling efficiency. Frankly, I don’t think that there is an answer here. It’s just something they have to work around. Which is sad, considering how surehanded a unit this once was a decade ago.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Conserv_58

    IMO, defensive players, especially DB’s have adopted the mindset that in order to make a big hit the best way to accomplish that is to use a shoulder hit. As we’ve seen far too many times offensive ball carriers merely bounce off of the would be tackler and continue down the field. They’re looking to make a highlight reel hit and end up with egg on their faces. The basic tenet of wrapping a guy up with both arms seems to be lost in today’s NFL.

  • Jim McCarley

    I believe that the increased size and speed of players is detrimental to basic tackling proficiency. Most any player that carries the ball is bigger and faster than ten years ago (the decade ago you refer to). Plus, players that play defense tend to also be bigger and faster as well. It’s like two objects traveling faster than normal on a collision course. Once they collide the very fact that they tend to bounce off each other a bit more,than usually, due to their velocities, makes staying in contact even more difficult…it’s like dropping a ball from a foot off the ground and ten feet off the ground…..the further distance away creates more velocity and thus more distance apart when they react to the collision. The differences also should include the athleticism of the QBs…Fewer pure drop back QBs these days so defensive players have even more to deal with…. used to be the DL would “meet at the QB”, but now you really have no idea where the QB will be, plus with all the penalties for late hits and roughing the QB , the DL can’t just come in all dilly dilly. They must try to be under control and sadly they have to think too much which leads to missed sacks, imo. I mean, what good is a sack if you get penalized 15 yards for a low hit or a late hit or for “grazing” the QBs helmet with your hand ….? I agree that the Steelers miss some tackles. I see it every game and it is really frustrating to watch a guy get an extra ten yards or more when he shouldn’t, but it likes trying to steer a car at 100 mph versus 50 mph…..players are faster and the field conditions may not help either, especially at Heinz Field and others where grass is still used. What’s the answer? well, figure out how to train those faster players to slow down a bit and stay under control, but if you do that then you may take away their instinct and basic asset which is their speed….

  • Jack Hambert

    But even graded on a curve, we are still near the bottom. Every team has to deal with increased speed. Some do it better than others.

  • Sloppy defensive play is a league wide phenomenon.

    The CBA rules cut practice time in half and limit padded practices. That is less opportunities to work on tackling drills. Also I’m sure they want to limit certain guys to injury exposure in practice time, meaning guys like AB and Bell probably don’t get tackled in full contact practices.

  • Ralph Wagner

    To quote Vince Lumbardi “GRAB GRAB GRAB Nobody’s Tackling Anymore,”

    That seems to fit the Steelers LOL

    Go Steelers

  • Steeler Nation!

    I think we had to seek out DBs with more speed and coverage ability, but maybe lacking the strength and toughness of Ike, Blount, Shell type guys of the past. Where’s Donnie Shell when you need him again? We need safeties like him who was big hitter (like Mitchell) but a much better tackler and cover guy. Davis has better ball skills than Mitchell, and has made some huge plays breaking up passes, but misses too many tackles. Burns may have really good speed, but he is never going to be confused with Rod Woodson as a football player.

  • Steelerman24752

    It is great that you do a missed tackle report and keep track of them. My question is how do the Steelers stack up against the other teams? Do other teams of blogs keep track of other teams? And what positions are the most egregious on the other teams?

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    The Steelers defenders running around trying to force fumbles with big hits and missing easy opportunities to bring guys down in the process. The term ‘splash play’ keeps ringing in my head when I think about his issue. It goes hand-in-hand with the term ‘separate man from ball.’ This has led to the prevalence of the flying shoulder by many Pittsburgh defenders. I mean, Vince McMahon would love our secondary. Unfortunately, this practice doesn’t create turnovers or big plays as often as it surrenders them. Rally tackling and stripping the ball forces fumbles. Putting a helmet on the ball forces fumbles. Deflecting passes into the air instead of laying big hits creates interception opportunities. Not sure if this can be fixed midseason, but it will continue to plague this team if it can’t.

  • Dshoff

    There was a game earlier in the season where there was HORRENDOUS tackling. But in the next game, the tackling was much better; you could see guys even just hanging on to a foot, determined not to have a missed tackle. They need to play with that mentality every game.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    It’s nice to see Tomlin going off on this subject as it seems he largely ignored the elephant in the room for a long time.

  • americanpatriot

    Without replay capability, and with eyes nearing 70, I miss a lost of the fast paced tackling action, but even I was struck at how poor the team as a whole was at tackling. Although I hadn’t paid much attention to the ‘missed tackles’ article in the past, I was anxiously awaiting to read this week if my eyes deceived me. Alas, no report.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    There has to be a reason, doesn’t there? It’s been an issue for 3+ yrs, or at least feels like it’s been that long. Is this a Butler thing? The new defensive regime? Even players like Haden joining from the outside get this virus? Scheme seems too similar to be the cause..

    The game against Indy literally felt like the defenses came from different tackling schools.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    There seems to be a trend of simply trying to get to the ball-carrier as fast as possible in order to hit them. But unfortunately, all any player has to do is juke a little bit, and the closing defender coming full speed will miss their mark.

    WRAP. UP.

    A ball carrier can’t bounce off of arms that are wrapped around their body.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Agree completely. But the Steelers rank as the league worst, or that neighborhood? All teams dealing with the same issues.

  • It’s funny, you would think since they miss an alarming amount of tackles you would think their yardage stats reflect it, Maybe the rush yards do, but nothing else does. They rank highly in other places, like points per game, sacks, passing yardage. Other teams bend and give up more yardage but miss less tackles. I’ll take more missed tackles and less yardage given up all day.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Pro Football Focus does their own tracking of all teams and the Steelers were at the bottom of the league the last time we checked in.

  • Matthew Marczi

    It’s been a problem for longer than that, actually. The downward trend started in 2011, when pretty much all of the other downward trends also started on defense, including sack numbers declining. That is also when their star defenders of the 2000s were declining. I think they simply have been replaced by players who are inferior tacklers. Unfortunately even Stephon Tuitt is part of this problem, in spite of the many great things he does.