Defending Super Bowl Champions the Seattle Seahawks have rugby to thank, at least in part, for their recent success in the NFL.
Their coach Pete Carroll has been stressing a mantra of “tackle like a rugby player” over the last few years, and has put even more emphasis on the philosophy ahead of their Super Bowl showdown with the New England Patriots on Sunday.
It is well known that tackling is the most fundamental risk on a football field, especially as it is often done wrong. Players are often seen employing poor technique with little concern for the safety of themselves or those around them.
“I think you’re conscious of it because he beats it into your head so often,” defensive end Cliff Avril said. “He talks about it a lot. Just tackling in general, and style of tackling is something he emphasizes so much.
Subconsciously, you start thinking about it more and more and even though you don’t tackle full-speed in practice, in your head you’re finishing off the tackle. By the time game day comes, it works out for us because we come out fast.”
The video above was released last summer which showed rugby players and their tackling skills. The video was also distributed to high school and college coaches to show “that the game can be played safely at a high level.”
Carroll’s focus on rugby has come as a result of what he perceives to be superior tackling technique in the sport. Where as football players will often lead with their head in the tackle, rugby players lead with their shoulder. Not only does this help avoid major injuries, it is also a sounder way of tackling, with fewer missed tackles.
Carroll believes that the lack of protection in rugby has encouraged players to develop safer, more effective methods of bringing players to the ground. He has therefore encouraged all of his players to adopt similar tackling techniques, and he believes it is paying dividends already as his side prepare to defend their Super Bowl crown.
Asked if he was happy with his team’s tackling overall, Carroll said, “Yeah we’ve been a pretty good tackling group. I don’t know how you measure that, but I feel it’s crucial to our style of play. This style of tackling doesn’t call for the head to be involved.
“It’s right in line with the evolution of the game. The league has recognized that, too. I thought it was worth putting out there. And the feedback we’ve received has been tremendous.
“I’m grateful to the league because they put it out in a big way. They got it into the hands of some of the major youth groups in America. This next offseason, we hope to keep the conversation going because the game has to continue to evolve. I fought it like crazy. And then I said to heck with it, I’ve got to support this and I haven’t looked at it the same since.”
Asked if he feels the different way of tackling has helped curb major injuries, Carroll said, “Our numbers are in good shape in that regard. I hope that’s been one factor. It’s also allowed us to focus on the rule changes and the adjustments to the rules.
“We focus on the ‘strike zone’ and the way the game is supposed to be played. We talk about how the awareness of this needs to be spread around. You try to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, which is below the neck and above the knees. And we use a baseball illustration to teach that.”
Carroll was fascinated by the tackling in rugby. He watched it often. He was impressed by the fact that in a sport in which players don’t wear helmets, the tackling is superb, and safe.
“Rugby players take the head out of the game,” Carroll said. “We practice this without helmets, without pads.”