There’s a lot that goes into playing defense in a professional football game. There are complex schemes, personnel tricks and alignment advantages that a defensive unit can use to put itself in the best position to succeed.
But none of that matters if the defenders don’t tackle well.
Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo knows that. Focusing on tackling is always a big part of training camp and the preseason games — and the coach says he’s been seeing a positive trend in that aspect of his unit’s play.
“I think it’s been pretty good,” Spagnuolo said of the team’s tackling during his Tuesday press conference. “There’s always room for improvement there. We had less missed tackles this past game than the previous [one], so that’s a good sign.”
The statistics back that up: per PFF, the Chiefs had eight missed tackles in their first exhibition against the San Francisco 49ers. Against the Arizona Cardinals, they had only four.
With a little over two weeks remaining until the regular season begins, Spagnuolo is emphasizing to his players how important it is to make their tackling solid right from the beginning of the year. After going through last year’s limited offseason, the team tackled poorly in the season opener — and Spagnuolo wants to avoid that.
“The thing I presented to the guys early on was [the fact that there was] no preseason games last year,” Spagnuolo began. “We opened up against Houston, and I think we had like 14 missed tackles — whatever that number was, it was really high. It slowly went down, but we don’t want to be like that in the first regular-season game this year. We’d like to get it down — [and] be the best-tackling unit we can be from Game 1.”
No matter how prepared they are, they’ll have a tackling challenge in that first game against the Cleveland Browns, who will use running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt as featured parts of their offense. Both players are considered among the league’s hardest players to get to the ground.
But Spagnuolo thinks that as they play the Minnesota Vikings on Friday night, their last preseason opponent will not only give them another chance to improve tackling, but also give the team a similar look to what they’ll see against the Browns.
“This offense is going to be in a lot of sets with two tight ends and the fullback,” explained Spagnuolo. “I’m glad that we’re facing this kind of offense — because in a couple of weeks, we know what Cleveland likes to do.”
Cleveland will run the ball with authority. In last season’s Divisional round matchup against Kansas City, the Browns ran for 112 yards — and a score — at a rate of 5.1 yards per carry. The Chiefs had nine missed tackles that day.
With only one more chance to have live-game tackling situations before the season opener, the Chiefs have to use the preseason finale to work out any kinks they may still have. There will be little details to work out — but getting comfortable while tackling at full speed is likely to be the team’s biggest priority.