PHOENIX – Count Todd Bowles in the camp of those vehemently opposed to instituting a rule in the NFL that would ban the dangerous hip-drop tackling technique.
“We play the game at 100 miles an hour,” the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach told USA TODAY Sports during the NFL annual league meeting. “It’s a physical game. You’ve got to tackle how you’ve got to tackle.”
Bowles, who played eight seasons in the NFL as a defensive back, realizes the safety concerns that have prompted the league’s competition committee to explore measures to get the controversial technique out of the game. The technique, similar to the horse-collar tackle that was banned in 2005, was highly visible last season as defenders yanked ball-carrier’s to the turf – and in many cases land with their full body weight on the back of the legs of their opponents. According to Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president for football operations, the technique resulted in an injury rate that was “20 times higher” than other tackles, though the NFL has yet to provide exact data.
But Bowles still doesn’t support adopting a rule that would limit defenders who already are punished for blows to the helmets, hits around or below the quarterback’s knees, collisions against defenseless players and other violations.
“There’s going to be collateral damage,” Bowles said. “You want to limit it as much as possible. You don’t want nobody getting hurt, but it’s hard to tell somebody how to tackle. The angles are different. The speed is different. I don’t know how you stop it. ‘Don’t tackle high. Don’t tackle low. Don’t hip-drop.’ What are you going to tell a guy? Some guys are more athletic than others. Where does it stop?
“I mean, goddamn. Just play 7-on-7 and the game will be over.”
After extensive discussions since Super Bowl 57, the competition committee opted not to propose a rule for owners to consider at the meetings concluded this week. The committee pledged to further research the issue and last week discussed the technique with coaches.
In lieu of a rule, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel said it’s possible that the technique can be “coached” out of the game. The injury risks escalate when tacklers land with their body weight on the back of the ball carrier’s legs, as was the case when Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard was knocked out of the NFC divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers with a broken leg and high ankle sprain.
“A lot of the time these tackles are in space,” said Vrabel, who played 14 seasons in the NFL as a linebacker. “If you’ve ever been with one of those kitty-cats out there in space, sometimes they’re hard to get to. Sometimes, when you have an idea that you want to take the helmet out of the game, sometimes that ends up on the back side. You either end up with a Gator roll to get them down or players drag them down.
“We have to be able to identify these and say, ‘Hey, take care of your fellow player. Can you get him down without coming down on the back of him?’ I don’t know if we can put that in a rule right now. We just have to keep identifying it. I know the injury rate is significant.”
Which also means the debate over the controversial tackling technique won’t end anytime soon.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.