Michael Ainsworth/APDespite a slow start to the season, the Seattle Seahawks still finished as one of the NFL’s best defensive teams.
The “Legion of Boom” is notorious for its stingy, hard-hitting defense that squashes opposing offenses, but the Seahawks are at the forefront of a safer, revolutionary style of tackling.
ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia detailed the Seahawks’ effort to promote a new, rugby-style tackling method that has been paying dividends over the last three seasons.
It’s been pushed by assistant head coach Rocky Seto, who after coaching at USC joined Pete Carroll and the Seahawks in 2010. Seto has been promoting a different tackling style that removes players’ heads from the equation.
According to Kapadia, Seto showed a visiting English coach the method in 2012 when the coach told him that it looks like the way rugby players make tackles.
The basic idea is to target the hips and thighs and drive your shoulder into your opponent. Seto told Kapadia:
I believe that’s how the game was originally played when the guys were wearing leather helmets or the helmets without the face masks. You didn’t want to put your nose right into someone’s chest or knee. You’re going to get hurt. So that’s just what the rugby guys do, as well. They try to get contact with the shoulders. So that’s the biggest principle.
This season, the Seahawks produced a video showing how they teach players this safer method. Players are leading the tackle with their shoulders and trying to hit opponents at their center of balance to bring them down.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner said that there’s a little bit of an adjustment to it: “We didn’t really teach tackling growing up. You just hit the guy.”
Seto explained why there’s a transition period for players to use the new style, telling Kapadia, “Conventional football is to get your head across or to see what you hit, essentially using your head as a limb to stop guys from coming forward.”
Instead, this method of tackling tries to avoid any contact to the head whatsoever.
While Richard Sherman said players just do what they’re taught and are not consciously thinking about the new method, Earl Thomas said he thinks this could change football.
“I think so, especially when you’re talking about concussions and your brain shaking and stuff like that, and the effects that it has after football, of course,” Thomas said. “We do a great job of incorporating the rugby style with tackling.”
The new method seems to have had a positive effect on the Seahawks. According to Sporting Charts, the Seahawks were second in the NFL in total yards allowed after the catch this season. Kapadia notes that over the last three seasons, the Seahawks are allowing a league-best 4.3 yards after the catch and are fifth in the NFL in yards allowed after contact to runners.
Similarly, in terms of player safety, the Seahawks have reported the 12th-fewest concussions per game from 2013 to 2015.
Pete Carroll said of the practice: “There’s enough examples already how dangerous sports are, and we have to do everything in our sport that we can to make it as safe for our players as possible, and we’re going to continue to do that.”