NEWARK, N.J. – The best defense in the NFL has borrowed some of its tricks from athletic pursuits other than football. Namely: baseball, rugby and steer wrestling.
Yes, steer wrestling.
In order to adjust to the changing rules of tackling, and to teach hard hitting without causing players to draw penalties and fines, Seattle Seahawks defensive coaches showed a series of videos beginning back in training camp.
The goal was to show that well-executed (and ferocious) tackling can be done without using the head or the helmet if proper technique is followed. And it turns out rugby players and certain rodeo cowboys are very good at that.
Standing in a makeshift bullpen at Super Bowl Media Day here on Tuesday, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn raised his right elbow mimicking a cowboy's form when hopping off a horse to wrap up a steer and bring him down. The equivalent on a football field doesn't involve animals or twisting necks, obviously, but the tackling procedure on a large running back is similar: wrap up a runner's waist or upper legs rather than trying to knock him over.
The rugby videos are even more valuable, because they show helmetless players leading with their shoulders, hitting an opponent in the torso, then wrapping him up. So the videos are both instructive and designed to excite the Seahawks about laying an opponent out the right way.
"That way it's safe for them," said defensive passing game coordinator Rocky Seto, "and for opponents too."
The Seahawks' coaches also talk about the "strike zone," which they define as the area from the shoulder blade to the upper thigh. "Just like in baseball," Seto said. "From the shoulders to the waist area. We want that to be the focal point." Call it the Region of Boom.
"I don't want to hit someone with my head and injure myself," said Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. "So I like the way the rules are, and you just have to adjust to them. You have to use your shoulder, change your target area and adjust."
Is it working? Well, Seattle was flagged for 12 unnecessary roughness penalties this season, compared to a league average of a little more than 7, according to nflpenalties.com. So there's still some work to do. But it's hard to argue the Seahawks aren't the most aggressive defense in football and maybe the most feared. If Seattle wins Sunday, it will be because of the defense.
And, in some small way, because of the steers.
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