John Harbaugh Sends Clear Message on Ravens’ Tackling Issues

Ravens Lions Tackling

Getty Detroit Lions running back D'Andre Swift scores a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens.

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh may have been ecstatic on the field and in the locker room after his team’s 19-17 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, but he made it clear that he’s still not satisfied with their performance.

“Fundamentally, we have a lot of work to do,” said Harbaugh on Monday, September 27, whose Ravens struggled with missed tackles against the Lions.

Missed tackles were an issue against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, as the Ravens were unable to bring down Travis Kelce and Byron Pringle on a pair of short completions that resulted in touchdowns.

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“The fundamentals are our responsibility,” said Harbaugh, but added that tackling is “easier said than done at full speed,” against NFL ball carriers.

Ravens’ Tackling Among Worst in NFL

Pro Football Focus credited the Ravens with 12 missed tackles on Sunday, with linebackers Patrick Queen and Tyus Bowser responsible for six of them.

Through three weeks, Baltimore has missed 33 tackles and earned a 40.8 tackling grade from PFF, fourth-worst in the NFL. Tackling was an issue last year as well, as the team finished the year with 140 missed tackles and a 47.7 tackling grade.

Despite several injuries and COVID cases, the Ravens still have a talented defense with a blitz-happy scheme that can force opponents into mistakes. But blitzes also isolate defenders in the open field, forcing them to make tackles to prevent big plays.

Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic noted that this problem played out in real-time on Sunday against the Lions.

He wrote:

The Lions had no answers for the Ravens’ third-down blitzes in the first half Sunday, but their offensive fortunes changed when they went to a quick game and started getting their backs and receivers the ball and taking advantage of Baltimore’s tackling issues.

Harbaugh Vows to Improve Tackling

When asked about the missed tackles on Monday, Harbaugh agreed that it was a concern, but acknowledged the Ravens’ limitations in addressing it so far this season.

“You’ve got to put the pads on as much as possible,” he said, adding that injuries and travel timing have prevented the Ravens from practicing in full equipment this season.

After all, the only way to get better at tackling is to, well, tackle. But with more than a dozen players on injured reserve, the Ravens cannot risk any additional injuries, so fully padded, full-contact tackling is out of the question. Instead, the team has to work with drills and equipment that prevent player-to-player contact, such as tackling donuts that have become commonplace in recent years.

“All the drills are fine,” said Harbaugh, “Roll those donuts out there all you want, but that’s not going to make anybody a great tackler. We can all go tackle a donut.”

Despite all the talk about missed tackles, the Ravens’ defense still put in a solid performance against the Lions, holding them to 17 points, 285 total yards and just 4.8 yards per play. The Lions are by no means a top-tier NFL offense, but it’s an encouraging result after giving up more than 30 points in back-to-back games to start the season.

Still, Harbaugh knows that missed tackles can make all the difference in close games, and all three of the Ravens’ 2021 contests have been determined by one possession. If the team truly has Super Bowl aspirations this season, they’ll need to improve their ability to take down opposing ball carriers.

“We’ve just gotta get a lot better at it and we’re all very determined to get it done,” Harbaugh concluded.

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