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wiscBy Mike Kuchar, Lead Research Manager, X&O Labs

Research shows that 32 percent of open field tackles are missed. It’s the highest missed tackle rate among all types of potential tackles and we found the deficiencies fall into three main problem areas: defenders come to balance too early on the ball carrier, defenders lose leverage as force players and defenders overrun cutback angles. So in this week’s troubleshooting series, we combed through the annals of our database to find the eleven most effective drills in eliminating these problem areas. It’s a culmination of how various coaches are teaching their defenders to close space and make tackles in the open field in one-on-one situations. These drills range from the NFL through the high school level and can be implemented in your program right now to solve the open field tackle predicament. Read this report here.

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar


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wiscWhile coaches have different perspectives on the correct techniques in open field tackling, we found one constant goal: do what you have to do to get the ball carrier on the ground. Usually, this comes in the form of closing space between the defender and the ball carrier, coming to balance before contact and understanding your leverage on the field as it pertains to other defenders and the sideline. We found the following common errors as it pertains to open field tackling:

  • Coming to balance to early on ball carrier: It seems that more coaches are using the term “come to balance” rather than the archaic “break down.” So many tackles are missed because defenders are not coming in with their eyes at ball level.
  • Losing leverage as a force defender: Whether it’s a squat corner, alley safety or apexed linebacker, these players are responsible for turning the ball into their help. In order to do this, they must be able to stay in a leveraged position to get the ball back to their help.
  • Overrunning the ball carrier when playing cutback: Another way in which defenders are missing tackles is by overrunning the ball carrier in the open field, providing him with cutback lanes that can gash the defense.

We presented the best way to fix these issues by producing what we felt were the eleven most effective open field tackling progressions complete with coaching points and video. We classified them into which of these problem areas they alleviate.

Editor’s Note: The following drills are cataloged in our drill film library. Insiders members can gain access to our entire drill and game film library, which contain more drills done by these programs.

Issue 1: Coming to Balance too Early on Ball Carrier

Regardless of whether you’re teaching the breakdown or shimmy before contact, a decision has to be made on when you start this technique. If you start this technique too early, you can give the ball carrier too much room to make a move and get by you. If you start this technique too early, the higher the chances are of not bringing your hips through contact, resulting in an arm tackle. These are the best drills we’ve found to reinforce this fundamental.

Drill 1: Shimmy Tackle Progression, University of Wisconsin


To see the video component of this drill, click on the video below:

Issue 2: Losing Leverage as a Force Defender

Ask most defensive coaches and they will tell you how imperative it is for tacklers to get the ball into their help. While force defenders all depend on coverage scheme and defensive structure, force tacklers in the open field must turn back ball carriers to support. It’s often more important that these defenders get the ball back into their help than make the tackle themselves. These are the best drills we’ve found to reinforce this fundamental.

Drill 1: Outside In Leverage Tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers


To see the video component of this drill, click on the video below:

Drill 4: Open Field Tackle Drill, Skyview High School (ID)


To see the video component of this drill, click on the video below:

Issue 3: Overrunning the Ball Carrier in Cutback Situations

If you’re not a force defender, you’re a cutback defender, which means the ball cannot cut back inside you. But often times it does because defenders are not leveraging the backside hip of the ball carrier and not controlling their bodies and overrunning the ball carrier. These are the best drills we’ve found to reinforce this fundamental.


Open Field Tackling Drills…

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Here’s a sample of what you’ll find in the full-length version of our exclusive report:

  • The drills Virginia Tech University uses to teach its players when to come to balance in a one-on-one open field tackle situation.
  • The box tackle drill progression used at the University of Wisconsin that teaches its players the correct leverage when making an outside in tackle in the open field.
  • The Rubber Band Drill used at Florida Atlantic University to teach defenders how to close and keep leverage on the near hip of the ball carrier in the open field.
  • The drills USC uses to teach its second and third level defenders how to maintain inside out leverage on ball carriers on the perimeter.
  • The drills Ohio State University is doing now to make teach its defenders how to track the back side hip of ball carriers in the open field and use the sideline as a defender to make a tackle.
  • BONUS: Watch video of all these drills.

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We feel these are the most effective drills in eliminating the three most common issues in one-on-one open field tackling. Our next installment will focus on how coaches are solving issues with making tackles on ball carriers in closed spaces such as the tackle box.



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