Former Dallas Cowboys safety Darren Woodson blasted his old team on Tuesday, specifically criticizing the team’s poor tackling. The Cowboys’ defense has ranked in the bottom half of the league in every major category over the past two seasons, which was part of the reason Dallas missed the playoffs both years. Woodson compared the current team’s tackling ability to the way it was when he played in the 1990s until he retired in 2003, calling the Cowboys a “terrible” tackling team.
“They are all trying to make that big play,” Woodson said. “[When I played,] the guy made the catch but the yards [after the catch] weren’t there. There was a sense of embarrassment. Now, there’s no embarrassment. Nobody’s embarrassed if they miss a tackle.”
Woodson also said the Cowboys “are garbage at tackling” and “they won’t hit a soul.” It’s true at all levels of football today; tackling is a lost art. Defenders simply run into the ball carrier and hope he falls down, but that rarely happens.
The tackling that went on when Woodson played was superb; he hit the ball carrier hard, wrapped him up and drove him to the ground. You don’t see that much anymore and it shows when teams like Dallas allow ball carriers to gain 20 yards after they were initially hit at the line of scrimmage.
However, the Cowboys were actually 12th-best team at tackling in 2011. Only 11 other teams had a higher tackling percentage than Dallas, who only missed 5.1% percent its tackles. The top three teams, the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants all made it to their respective Conference Championship game last season with the latter going on to win the Super Bowl.
So why does this stat hurt the Cowboys so much even though it’s not really that bad on paper? The answer? Arm tackling.
Half the Cowboys’ missed tackles this past season weren’t recorded because they were so poor. A missed tackle is only if a defender has a realistic shot of taking down the ball carrier, makes contact and fails to do so. Dallas had a truckload of missed tackles last season in which defenders like cornerback Terence Newman dove at ball carriers with their heads and hands down and never made contact.
Such plays aren’t recorded as missed tackles even though they are just that. If Cowboys defenders would make plays like that instead of shying away from them, this team would have made the playoffs last season.
Woodson is exactly right; the only two players on Dallas’ roster who are sure tacklers are Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware, who both finished in the top 10 among players with the fewest missed tackles in the NFL last year. Until that changes, Dallas will continue to watch the playoffs from the couch.