While watching the new tackling rules during the Chicago-Baltimore Hall of Fame Game, I wasn’t thrilled like most football fans. Personally, I wouldn’t hate the adjustment so much if it didn’t result in a fifteen yard personal foul penalty. If they added the old face mask incremental five yard penalty, I think it would be far more watchable. For instance, the play at the 1:30 mark. Lamar Jackson throws an over the middle goal line pass to his tight end, as the defender makes a great play, breaking up the pass with a big hit. He tries to snipe with his shoulder, but makes helmet to arm contact on the tight end. The result is a fifteen yard penalty and a first and goal. This was simply a great football play in the past, if you have to call it a penalty, calling it a fifteen yard penalty with an automatic first down is just unfair to the defense.
More importantly, I was thinking about how the helmet rule will affect the Packers specifically. Tackling hasn’t been their strongest suit in recent years, but no defense in the league has been trained for the new NFL like the Packers. Green Bay has been coaching up their defense behind morally responsible football, how many times have you seen a player in the gold helmet making a dirty play? It almost never happens, which I felt was part of the reason they struggled. Most of the best defenses in the league were still rough and tough, the Packers were playing a nicer brand of football.
Now that the rules have changed so drastically, the team has a head start, as they’ve been coaching the defense to use skill while tackling more than brute force. Blake Martinez racked up 144 tackles last season, the vast majority of them were ankle tackles. He wraps them up at the hips, or goes low, grabs his opponent’s legs, and tears them to the ground. He is very unlikely to garner the fifteen yard, lead with the helmet, penalty.
Another rising star Kenny Clark attacks with a very similar skill set. How many times do you remember Clark pulling someone down by an ankle at the line of scrimmage? He does it again and again, and I don’t remember him putting his helmet down to spike his opponent.
You can go to almost every Packer on the starting defense, and you notice they tackle in a very similar fashion to how the NFL now wants it’s players to tackle. The two wildcards on the defense that I think can warrant this new penalty at times will be Kentrell Brice and Josh Jones. Both young safeties like to talk trash, and fly around the field making big hits. Brice likes to lead with his shoulder, which as seen in the Bears-Ravens game can easily be called a lead with the helmet penalty this season. As for actually leading with his helmet, I think Josh Jones is the most likely candidate. He came into the league ready to show his physical dominance last season, he wanted to be a brutal force for a defense in need of one. When the game gets emotional, I could see him causing the team fifteen yards here and there.
You could point the Packers technique towards long term Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers, but I always felt the moral hitting was directed from Mike McCarthy. He just seems to want to coach his team the “right” way. ‘We’re trying to win games, not end careers.’ I imagine him saying. The team seems to be trying to win championships with a team full of good people, which I love about the Packers, even if I question the strategy. Regardless, they have a head start technique wise this season, hopefully it allows the defense to climb higher in the rankings than we’ve seen in recent history.