PHOENIX — Remember the Bangles song, “Walk Like an Egyptian?” Well Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has stressed “tackle like a rugby player” during his successful tenure, in which his team has won a Super Bowl and gotten into a second.
And as his players get set to face the Patriots Sunday, they feel they’ve benefitted from that philosophy.
Tackling is the most fundamental task on a football field. But it’s not always done right. It’s not always done with safety in mind, and poor technique can be seen during an NFL game.
“I think you’re conscious of it because he beats it into your head so often,” defensive end Cliff Avril said. “He talks about it a lot. Just tackling in general, and style of tackling is something he emphasizes so much. Subconsciously, you start thinking about it more and more and even though you don’t tackle full-speed in practice, in your head you’re finishing off the tackle. By the time game day comes, it works out for us because we come out fast.”
Carroll and his staff put out a video last summer showing rugby players and their tackling skills. In addition to showing it to his team, he said he wanted the video to get into the hands of youth groups, and high school and college coaches to show “that the game can be played safely and at a high level.”
Rugby players tackle by leading with the shoulder rather than the head. That helps avoid major injuries and is a sounder way of tackling, with fewer missed tackles.
Asked if he was happy with his team’s tackling overall, Carroll said, “Yeah we’ve been a pretty good tackling group. I don’t know how you measure that, but I feel it’s crucial to our style of play. This style of tackling doesn’t call for the head to be involved.
“It’s right in line with the evolution of the game. The league has recognized that, too. I thought it was worth putting out there. And the feedback we’ve received has been tremendous.
“I’m grateful to the league because they put it out in a big way. They got it into the hands of some of the major youth groups in America. This next offseason, we hope to keep the conversation going because the game has to continue to evolve. I fought it like crazy. And then I said to heck with it, I’ve got to support this and I haven’t looked at it the same since.”
Asked if he feels the different way of tackling has helped curb major injuries, Carroll said, “Our numbers are in good shape in that regard. I hope that’s been one factor. It’s also allowed us to focus on the rule changes and the adjustments to the rules.
“We focus on the ‘strike zone’ and the way the game is supposed to be played. We talk about how the awareness of this needs to be spread around. You try to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, which is below the neck and above the knees. And we use a baseball illustration to teach that.”
Carroll was fascinated by the tackling in rugby. He watched it often. He was impressed by the fact that in a sport in which players don’t wear helmets, the tackling is superb, and safe.
“Rugby players take the head out of the game,” Carroll said. “We practice this without helmets, without pads.”
Over the years there have been many additions and amplifications to equipment in the NFL. The league has gone to great lengths to make sure players aren’t injured by the equipment that’s supposed to help keep them healthy.
There are more severe penalties for head-to-head contact. But one rarely sees the Seahawks throw their helmet into someone’s head because Carroll doesn’t allow it.
Carroll said he made sure he got commissioner Roger Goodell involved, and he said Goodell has embraced it and has his marketing people promote it. While it’s helped the Seahawks, Carroll has seen a greater good.
With the concussion epidemic in football, the shoulder-first approach could do a number of things if it eventually becomes commonplace. It will help reduce life-altering injuries. It would keep young players safer, with their parents more apt to allow their children to continue to play football. The fear has been that the concussion scare may eat away at youth programs across the country.
After winning a Super Bowl, Carroll’s video carried major cachet. Two Super Bowl wins would give him even more credibility when he says that tackling with the shoulder and producing a fast, hard-hitting defense is the way to win the ultimate game.