Tackling Technique: The Season In Review

Submitted by maizedandconfused on January 21st, 2011 at 1:32 PM


2010. A Defensive Odyssey

So. The 2010 Defense. The general consensus is a solid “WTFWTHCWT” (What the F? Why the hell can’t we tackle?). I decided to look at tackling, mostly to deduce whether it was coaching or just us being small and getting run over. Good tackling technique can be outstripped by superior strength/athleticism, so it was a valid consideration to look at technique of tackling to ensure that our defensive woes were a parallel to youth and not the infamous GERG. Considering both the change in coaching situation (Mattison for Mayor of Smackmouth-Swaggerville), it now makes more sense to look at these numbers mostly for future reference, as progression of freshman is inevitable, and with the number we played on D our chances for a leap forward are large.

About the analysis:

1. I regarded made tackles as anytime a player made contact with the ballcarrier and that ball carrier ended up down by contact using solid tackling technique. I did not look at technique of made tackles, as after 1/2 of tape review most of the tackles that were made were of good technique. Any tackle that forced the ball-carrier out of bounds was counted as a made tackle.

2. I designated missed tackles as failing to make a tackle in space, taking an extremely bad angle on a tackle that should have been made, or simply just getting the hit but not bringing down the ballcarrier.

3. Bad Form takes into account any missed tackle that used any of the following:

  •        Head on the up-field side
  •        Arm/Jersey tackling
  •        Any hit at or above the numbers
  •        Getting "shook" in open field due to not breaking down or over pursuit.

The notable difference here is missed tackles sometimes come from being overpowered or stiff-armed, not a technique avenue. If the UM defender made the hit with the head on the right side and attempted to wrap up but the ball carrier just slipped through, I counted this as a missed tackle only. If, however, the same play happened with the UM defender coming in high and behind, this was counted as both a missed and bad form tackle.

To derive the "Tackling Efficiency" I used the following formulas as necessary:

Tackling Efficiency: (Made Tackles - Missed Tackles)/(Bad Form Missed Tackles+1)

This metric takes into account both total tackles made along with missed tackles. In my mind it should give a good representation of who is making the most tackles, while missing the least


Tackling Percentage (%):Made Tackles/Tackling Opportunities (Made + Missed)


This should just give a straight representation of “If I was in position to make a tackle, did I bring down the ball carrier?”

  • I included both metrics to allay the concern on a previous post that I was marginalizing the D-line due to limited numbers of tackles. As you can see, both metrics relatively correlate with one another, with both having one or two anomalous results.



Individual Players Tackling Efficiency:

A few notes from the individual analysis:

  • Our defensive studs are who you expected

Martin, Demens, Kovacs and RVB are monsters

  • Mouton was a beast outside of conference, but once we hit the B10 he dropped to about 3 tackles for ever 2 misses.
  • Ezeh really cannot tackle.
  • Roh was not as beast as he could have been
  • Underclassman tended to tackle less effectively in B10 play than upperclassman



Individual Players Tackling Percentage:

A few notes from the analysis

  • Our defensive studs are who you expected

Martin, Demens and RVB are monsters

  • Roh was a better tackler than it seemed with the efficiency index.
  • Upperclassman seem to tackle better in the B10 than underclassman, with less noticeable dropoff
  • Carvin Johnson has the potential to be a bad bad man. Dude can tackle. And more often than not, he puts the ball carrier down with authority.


A By-Class Anaylsis:

I stockpiled the numbers by year. 1st years are True Frosh and RS Fr, 2nd years are True Sophs and RS So’s etc.

(9 1st years, 4 2nd years, 3 3rd years and 6 4th years)

Tackling Efficiency:


Tackling %


This team is young (shocker). There were 9 players that were first year players, compared to 4 and 3 2nd and 3rd year players. Of the 6 seniors to play, only 3 had meaningful minutes (Ezeh, Mouton and Rogers). The trend is easily demonstrable, as you get older you get better at tackling. Ignore the 4th year numbers, as Rogers is absolutely terrible at tackling, something you would expect of a WR journeyman at CB. The most telling graph I feel is the tackling efficiency by class analysis. This clearly shows that, while there were less sophomores and juniors, they made more of the opportunities and made more tackles as a whole. Going forward, I think there are some players on D that are young that have the potential to be absolute stars. Carvin Johnson and Courtney Avery both flashed some absolutely astounding athleticism; however with a year in the weight room I think Avery could be a better tackler. Most of his missed tackles weren’t bad form, just simply not being strong enough to bring down the ball carrier.  


  • Cam Gordon is best suited to be a down-hill blitz type LB, as when he played in the box is when he was most effective.
  • Ray Vinopal should have been red shirted, however we did not have that luxury. He is definetly the gritty player we expected, just simply not big/strong enough to make the plays in run support we needed.
  • Mike Martin gets held. A lot. So does RVB.
  • Demens has the potential to be an All Big-Ten LB. He is that dominate. Once he starts learning some passing coverage and his reads are more instinctive, his tackles for loss will go up. He greets the runner with violence, and is all over the field shedding blockers and enforcing his will.
  • Carvin Johnson should be the freshman people are most excited to see next year. That kid has an absolute nose for the football, and plays with good energy.
  • Roh at the weak D end is a potential good fit, however he really needs to work on breaking down and containing the QB. Against OSU he continually broke contain and TP just stepped up and downfield he went.
  • Jibreel Black needs work, but he could be a good one. Really good moves and solid hand use


Undefeated dre…

January 21st, 2011 at 1:48 PM ^

Great work, especially because of the amount of time it took to put this together. Do you have any thoughts about Kovacs, and why he does so well with one metric but not another metric? Did he basically have good form, but got run over?

May help just to see a Bad Form % -- % Bad Form Tackles / Total Opportunities. Based on the data, it seems like Kovacs would do well here -- he just didn't get the guy down?


January 21st, 2011 at 10:11 PM ^

I'm with you.  It seems like every time I saw Johnson he was making a play/nice tackle.  He needs to be on the field, but unfortunately 3 of our better players on defense play basicly the same position in Johnson, C Gordon and Kovacs.  I don't believe that FS is the right position for Johnson.

The best I could come up with was to run a 4-2-5 with Vinopal at FS and Johnson-Kovacs-C Gordon as the other safeties.


January 21st, 2011 at 2:31 PM ^

Definitely appreciate the analysis. Thanks for doing this. It confirmed some thoughts i had about some of the defensive backs. I really liked Avery and Johnson.  I think they have the mentality already that Hoke and Mattison are looking for - aggressive.  Add to that Cam Gordon, Demens, and Vinopal. 

The timid ones to me were Rogers, Floyd, and Christian. Floyd was ok but not convincing at corner, atleast not through the Big Ten schedule. Rogers was just, well, Rogers. The poor kid went into tackles expecting to be crushed (not the right mentality to have as a defensive back). And Christian, well he didnt take advantage of any opportunities when made available.

So i have a feeling Hoke and Mattison will love Avery, Carvin Johnson, Cam Gordon, Demens, and even Vinopal. Again, this is just referring to DBs/Hybrid guys that were on the field last year.


January 21st, 2011 at 3:16 PM ^

I'd love for a more video talented member to make a reel of Carvin's tackles.  He and Cam both had a nasty mentality to me when making hits.  Sadly Cam would bounce off or fall down due to poor technique.  I forget exaclty which game it was, but I rember Carvin getting credit for a sack because his hit blew the quarteback behind the LOS.  He also had that get up quick and swagger about him after hits that showed how much he wants to hit.  That to me was one of the biggest elements missing in our defense.  That desire to blow people up.  Carvin's got it, and thanks for the data to back it up.  Dude was an undersized true freshman.  He's gonna be a true beast.


On a side note, I love how someone can post some previously discussed pointless topic on the board with a grammatical error and get 40 responses in 10 minutes.  This dude spent hours and hours putting together something actually useful and has 4 comments hours later.  Wow.


January 21st, 2011 at 3:23 PM ^

REally great analysis here. I tihnk the criticism of our D is way overblown. I mean, it was rightfully criticized as bad last year, but the talent is there for it to be successufl going forward. IT was not Greg Robinson even that was the issue(though MAttison is a big upgrade).

Young players, as you point out, struggle to tackle. Its unavoidable and we were unavoidably young. Lloyd left us Banks,Patterson,Ezeh,Mouton and Rogers for this year, yeesh. Woolfolk and Warren could have been really useful to us this past year, would have made a huge difference IMO. Rogers could never play CB, especially as a tackler.


Also, people forget that our youngest position was DB and tthat's the hardest positon to learn right away from HS. HS QBs and passing offenses are unsophisticated and most HS teams run a lot more than they pass. With a year of growth, our CB play and tackliing will be MUCH MUCH better, especially with Woolfolk back, Demmens starting all year and Roh back at DE(I think that helps a lot). 

This is how I see our depth chart

RDE Roh Wilkins Beyer/Paskorz

DT Martin - Ash(RVB will paly significant time here probably)

DT Campbell vs.Washington - Talbott

DE RVB Black Watson/Heininger  Rock(RS probably)

DL overview - gotta add a body or 2 in this recruting class, ideally an end bigger than Beyer, faster than Rock. Anyone at DT will do, ideally Cooper or Heyward, who I still think Hoke can land. He loves Brady I've heard.

WLB Cam Gordon - J.Furman - Hawthorne - K.Jones

MLB Demmens - Bell - Ryan - Morgan(RS)

SLB Fitzgerald - M.Robinson/M.Jones - Herron

LB is pretty solid, but I'd like to land one more in this class. Frost would have been HUGE. Put him on this depth chart in the mix at SLB and I'm much more impressed. Hopefully we can land at least Clark if not that kid from Texas A and M or even Frost/Wallace. I like our group though, especially if Fitzgerald steps up, as he might in a D that suits him better. Jones flashed potentiial before being hurt last year and Furman and C.Gordon both look like LBs long term, LBs who can make plays. Demmens is a stud. Depth is fine I think, MRob could even play SS and we'll live.

CB Woolfolk - Christian - Hollowell

CB  Floyd/Avery - Talbott/Countess

FS C.Johnson - Vinopal - Carter

SS Kovacs - M.Robinson? - T.Gordon/M.Williams

We need another body or 2 at CB, ideally Mcclure and Taylor or Raven. Chrisitan or Floyd will probalby move to FS and Robinson could move to LB possibly. Johnson could displace Kovacs. I could also see something like Kovacs and Johnson as the starting safeties with Floyd,Woolfolk or Christian playing FS on passing downs.


There is talent there, though the depth would have been much better if we didn't hurt the recruiting class so badly with the coaching delay. Imagine if we were throwing Frost,Lyons,D.Cooper,Zettel,Crawford and Dawson in the mix, or something like that.


January 21st, 2011 at 3:32 PM ^

It was not Greg robinsons fault? Are you smoking crack? Stop blaming the kids for not getting coached. Gerg failed epically in every coaching stint since he left the NFL. There is a reason that nobody was Ever in the right position on d, and that the d regressed miserably as the season went on. And that reason is because our d coordinator played with stuffed animals.


January 21st, 2011 at 4:25 PM ^

i worry that jb fitzgerald is a bit of a tweener.  he doesn't have the lateral quickness to play LB and is too small to play with his hand down.  i'd prefer to see him play on obvious passing downs where his lack of quickness can be mitigated by a clear assignment, eliminating the need to react and move quickly.


January 21st, 2011 at 7:21 PM ^

I saw a lot of bad angles and tackling from behind as guys ran away.

I think a more telling statistic for this defense might be YAC and how many guys it took to get someone on the ground or not.  Guys ran through the defense at times.

I agree that GERG and the lame scheme/poor coaching had a lot to do with the end result.  I was at the Illinois game and they ran the wheel route over and over and it was never covered.  Come'on...coach'em up to stop it!

Blue in Seattle

January 21st, 2011 at 7:58 PM ^

The efficiency to percentage comparison is an excellent choice.  One thing I noticed was Patterson was at 100% of opportunities to tackle, tackled, and then you raved about Johnson.  My guess is that Carvin Johnson had a much higher amount of opportunities.  Kind of like my 100% fielding average when I was 8 in little league and played in Left Field.

If you could chart the volume of opportunities across the individuals that would add the last dimension to this review.  You could even then take say the top third of the "volume" group and examine them across age, against each other etc.

I expect that Mouton is in the top of the volume group, but would not compare favorably in technique.  And potentially Carvin clearly comes out as the monster in this comparison.  Thus what you saw on film could be clearly charted.

thanks anyway, this is great stuff as it is.


January 23rd, 2011 at 3:46 PM ^

"I you could chart the volume of opportunities across the individuals"

Thats essentially the metric included in the tackling efficiency..

it takes into account the number of made tackles along with the number of attempts, and penalizes for bad form.

I thought long and hard about how to normalize things, but in actuality there really isnt a good way to compare except percentage along with efficiency. Efficiency gives a good reflection of how many tackles with good form you make, and % gives you the idea of a made tackle per times attempted.


January 21st, 2011 at 9:15 PM ^

I''m glad someone 'tackled' this subject.  Poor tackling is a major pet-peeve of mine.  This must have taken quite a bit of your time research. 

Just a side note:  I had the priviledge of playing my high school football for (at the time) the winningest high school coach in Michigan.  My senior year our team was small. but we were pretty good and made the playoffs.  The opposing teams usually averaged being 50lbs more than our linemen.   I was a two-way starter that played nose guard (sometimes middle linebacker)....I drool when I watch Mike Martin.  Anyway, I was a whopping 145lbs and ended up 2nd on my team in tackles, all-conference honorable mention, and defensive player of the year for our team.  I'm not sharing that to toot my horn, but make a point that size has very very little to do with the ability to tackle.  We were well coached on fundamentals and "toughness" (listening to Hoke brings flashbacks). 

I cannot believe how many college players do not know the basic fundamentals of tackling, or at least don't use them.  It amazes me how many arm tackles, jersey grabs, and high chest-level tackle attempts I witness in D1 football.  My coach would have blown an artery if we tried such things.  We were taught to hit hard, hit low, and wrap that sucker up.  We practiced it everyday, it was ingrained in us, and we won as a result.  I love watching a good solid tackle, and I hope it soon becomes a normal occurance and expectation in Michigan football in the years to come.


January 22nd, 2011 at 1:48 PM ^

Enjoyed this post.  As an undersized center I learned than size was a only a significant advantage if matched with speed. (physics 101)  The big slow nose guards were no problem for me but the small fast ones were a bitch.  I remember blocking one of those speedy guys who was stunting out of the play and watching him after being blocked away fron the play still have the speed to catch our running back from behind on a sweep!  Nasty combo speed and size and its what you need especially on D.  Hope to wee our young D backs bulk up and cause some damage next year. 


January 24th, 2011 at 11:16 AM ^

Thanks to the OP for the time and effort put into this. It gave me some hard data/trends to back up our belief that our D was too young but will improve significantly, even as early as next year! Go Blue!


January 25th, 2011 at 7:01 PM ^

Excellent analysis. Next thing I want to see is a comparison of this year to next years tackling. We expect improvement for each player individually and overall should see team improvement even without better coaching. But what I want to know is whether we see the percentages for each cohort improve too, which would suggest that Mattison has managed to teach tackling and/or used better schemes so that even younger guys can do better.

This is a perfect example of what is so great about mgoblog. Viva Charts!!

micheal honcho

June 17th, 2011 at 11:37 AM ^

Having played varsity HS football I learned this in a dramatic way. You will be good at the things you commit to being good at. Tackling is perhaps the best example of this.


Junior year my coach was an old school, leather helmet guy who just DRILLED into our heads that we HAD to be the best tackling team in the conference or we would not even be competitiive. We ran more drills on tackling, proper angles of attack etc. than anything else. He was just simply not going to tolerate poor technique and he would pull a senior and play a much smaller sophmore to make it crystal clear. We ran a fairly simple veer offense and finished the season .500 but were never out of a game, even with the best in a powerfull conference.

Senior year, new coach was much younger, a very dynamic guy who could make us run though a wall. His offense was more pro-style/shotgun with more passing, motion and overall much tougher to defend but he didnt work us over when we missed tackles/blocks like the old guy did. We did not tackle nearly as well. Still finished .500 but we were just flat blown out by the better teams in the conference.

I think Brady Hoke is committed to Michigan being a great tackling team and the results will be instantly obvious.