FOXBORO, Mass. — One of the most important aspects of playing defense in the NFL is tackling, and the New England Patriots have been the class of the league in that regard this season.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Patriots have a missed tackle rate of just 9.0 percent through 12 games — the lowest mark of any team in the NFL.
“Tackling is a lost art,” safety Patrick Chung said Wednesday. “People forget about that part.”
If that statistic holds through the end of the regular season, it would be the Patriots’ lowest since 2010, per PFF. They’ve missed on at least 10 percent of their tackle attempts in each of the last seven seasons.
Why have the 2018 Patriots been so proficient in this so-called “lost art”?
“Because we preach it,” Chung said. “If you can’t tackle, you can’t play. You have pads on for a reason. We preach it, we practice it, and we want to see that carry over to the game. If we can do that, then we have a good chance to win.”
Fellow safety and co-captain Devin McCourty concurred. After jokingly crediting the arrival of his twin brother, cornerback Jason, for the team’s improvement, McCourty detailed the emphasis the Patriots place on tackling each day.
“We work on tackling a lot,” he said. “In 25 yards of space, in close quarters — we do a ton of tackling. We’ve had games where we haven’t tackled well and we kind of come in here everyone’s hearing about it. We’re watching it. We’re watching the missed tackles. So I think everyone takes pride in the work we put into tackling, and we want to go out there and tackle well.”
The Patriots had one of their best tackling efforts of the season Sunday evening, missing just two and making several key stops in the open field in a 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings. They also missed just two tackles in the previous game, a 27-13 road victory over the New York Jets.
“I think it’s communication, knowing where your guys are at and effort,” McCourty said. “Like, (defensive tackle) Malcom Brown had a couple plays from the line of scrimmage in the (Vikings) game where he’s putting his foot in the ground, ball’s thrown and he’s running. Guys are cutting back and trying to make moves, and he’s running them down from the D-line.
“We don’t know that, but as we’re coming down (from the secondary), we see him, so we’re feeding off his leverage. Guys know that our D-line is going to hustle, and I think that effort and then the willingness to communicate and know where each other are at through repetition has helped us a lot.”
(Patriots coach Bill Belichick singled out one of those Brown plays during his weekly “Belichick Breakdown.”)
The Patriots’ defense underwent a leadership change this past offseason, with Brian Flores succeeding Matt Patricia as the team’s new de facto defensive coordinator. Multiple players have remarked on the stylistic differences between the two coaches, but Chung and McCourty haven’t seen an increased emphasis on tackling under Flores.
That, they said, always has been a Belichick staple.
“It’s Flo and Matty P, but it’s Bill,” Chung said. “You’re not going to go out there and be a little softie. You’ve got to go out there and be physical, play tough, play hard. You might have to hit some people, and it is what it is. You’ve got to be tough out there and go play ball.
“That was one of the things when guys told me about the NFL and I got here, I was like, ‘Dang, we tackle here,’ ” McCourty added. “We do a lot of tackling drills. That’s one thing Bill really, truly believes in. It’s a key fundamental of the game, so we’ve tackled a lot since I’ve been here.”
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, go to ProFootballFocus.com.