In news he probably doesn’t want to hear, Pro Football Focus ranked the Minnesota Vikings defense number one in the NFL in tackling for 2019.
What is tackling? Is it ability? Is it desire? Is it toughness or mostly coaching that gives one man the power to take another man down when he’s doing his best to escape his grasp?
The first thing it represents is a basic principle of a contact sport, and Mike Zimmer doesn’t take it for granted. He says things like being “on-point” and “in the right spot’ when it comes to delegating positions for his defense, but what is unspoken is the Vikings hustle to the ball and the ballcarrier and the act of putting him on the ground.
Pro Football Focus (an organization that Coach Zimmer that does not subscribe to literally or figuratively), has recognized the efforts of this coach and his Minnesota defense and given them a number rank in their “ability to tackle” through 11 games of the 2019 season.
*Editor’s Note: This article comes from ‘The V61’ (vikings61.com) a new website devoted to news, analysis, and history of the Minnesota Vikings! Bookmark The V61 (friend and partner of Vikings Territory and Purple PTSD) and follow them on Twitter and Facebook here!
An underrated aspect of the game that has been consistent under Mike Zimmer is the Minnesota Vikings ability to tackle.— PFF MIN Vikings (@PFF_Vikings) November 22, 2019
The #Vikings rank in team tackling grade:
2014: 1st #SKOL
Matt Bowden, a former NFL defensive back, writing in the National Football Post, asks several questions about today’s athletes, the first of which is their attention to detail in following through on the lessons they learned about tackling technique when they were younger players.
“Only when I was playing for defensive backs coach Steve Jackson in Washington did I see the attention to detail with tackling. We hit everyday during the regular season and it translated to the field. Whether it was hitting the one-man sled and driving it across the field–the classic “Oklahoma” drill–(or) working on the proper angles to the ball.”
The fact that the college game differed so much in the course of athletic ability from the professional game also may have dramatically changed some coaching tactics and player behavior. Meaning “hits” and not tackles became more attractive, not only coaches who could reduce the prowess of opponents, but by a burgeoning media covering the collusion game.
‘Zim Zen’ And The Hitman
One of the reasons Mike Zimmer focused his attention on defensive backs Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith when he came to Minnesota in 2014 was the fact that the two athletes offered him length and strength in his secondary, an essential to the defensive scheme he would run.
Bowden makes a vital point about the crucial nature of such coaching:
“Pay attention to this on Sunday: How often do you see a DB try to cut down a running back by putting their helmet on a knee? It happens too much. Not only do you risk your own health—and neck—by doing that, it also allows the ball carrier to gain about two to three extra yards, or run right through that attempted tackle. “
A Zimmer has said many times to the press, his defensive tactics require “good ball tacklers” at every spot on the defense. The players he has picked–or rallied for–in the college draft; Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Trae Waynes, Jayron Kearse, all tackle well, despite playing “out of the box” on the majority of plays.
Beyond Zimmer’s parlay and tutorship of tackling athletes, he’s also taught the game to be played with “thump” and theory in the sometimes forsaken covenant of sportsmanship.
Harry ‘The Hitman” Smith, an athlete who certainly knows how to “lay the lumber” without breaking the glass, said this to the press about a big hit he had made in a recent game:
“I’ve played in the league long enough that people know I’m not trying to hurt people.”
That’s nice to hear from one of the game’s surest tacklers–and a testament to his coach, Mike Zimmer.
Turn In Your Guns
Everybody knows that NFL players had been using their helmets as weapons for decades. Great players like the Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor and the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier have ended their own careers because of their own tackling technique.
In the 1970’s there was Chicago bears safety name Doug Plank, who was so unscrupulous that he would cement his helmet to his shoulder pads so that he could use it as a battering ram against opposing backs and receivers.
Thankfully, times have finally changed and the NFL has been faced with too-many concussions and career-ending infirmities to continue to leave players to their devices. They modified the rules and the defenses of this league–very reluctantly–began to fall in line with the new mandates, hitting opponents without initiating helmet-to-helmet contact.
Hopefully, that leaves one of the most important aspects of the defensive game in the hands of the players and coaches that recognize that the principles of being ‘on point” and “in the right spot” mean taking the ball-carrier down the old-fashioned way–with clean, tough tackles.
It’s also leaves Zimmer and the Vikings being tagged as the best, which is pretty cool.