'Nobody wants to miss tackles': Falcons rely on video, D-coordinator for help

Cornerback Desmond Trufant and the Falcons are working on their tackling techniques. Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons continue to have issues with tackling opponents. So, maybe it's time to look harder at the defensive coordinator?

Now, that's not an indictment of Marquand Manuel, by any stretch. It's actually more an endorsement of a guy who played strong safety in the NFL for eight years and knows the proper way to tackle. Manuel has the film to prove it.

When Manuel was a defensive assistant with the Seattle Seahawks, he was one of the primary characters demonstrating different techniques in a 20-minute tackling video, narrated by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.

Manuel, who joined the Falcons in 2015 as the secondary coach, showed the tape to his defensive backs upon arriving in Atlanta.

"We still do some of those drills, individually," Manuel said. "I do some where I show them exactly how to do it. It's just the first fundamental that we all learn. You have to have a passion to do it.

"The passion is to finish. I can't be lazy. I have to bring my feet every single time. So it's just the consistency of doing it and just talking to the guys about what happens at that point of contact, what happens to my feet, what happens to my eyes, just those finer points."

It might be time for Manuel to dust off that old film.

The Falcons are coming off another shaky tackling effort despite defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and ending a three-game losing streak. There were at least 13 missed tackles since coach Dan Quinn also counts missed sacks even if a defensive lineman gets good penetration into the backfield.

The most glaring misses were cornerback Desmond Trufant whiffing on Bucs running back Peyton Barber on the opening drive, leading to Barber's 28-yard gain, and then strong safety Jordan Richards getting trampled by Barber on a 10-yard, fourth-quarter run. Quinn said each play is "equally bad" in his eyes.

On the flip side, Kemal Ishmael came off the bench and had a textbook tackle of Barber for no gain in the red zone, while newcomer Michael Bennett did the same in dropping Barber for a 2-yard loss.

Next up is the New York Giants on Monday night (8:15 ET, ESPN) and rookie running back sensation Saquon Barkley, who is sixth in the league in rushing with 438 ground yards and fourth with 227 rushing yards after initial contact. Maybe the Falcons will get defensive tackle Grady Jarrett back from an ankle injury, but they'll still be without their top two tacklers from a year ago in Deion Jones (foot surgery) and Keanu Neal (ACL), as well as their surest open-field tackler in Ricardo Allen (Achilles).

"I do know about Barkley's speed," Quinn said. "That was evident on tape from him coming out of Penn State, even when a good player had an angle on him."

Since no team can take players to the ground in practice, it's hard to simulate the tackling situations that occur on game day, even during the 14 padded practices allowed during the regular season (11 of which have to happen in the first 11 weeks of the season). Watching proper tackling on film certainly shouldn't hurt the cause. Besides the Manuel tape from Seattle, Quinn, in unison with the NFL, put together a video to promote safe tackling based on the new emphasis of not leading with the head.

"I feel like anybody can learn from film," said cornerback Robert Alford. "I always feel like I can improve. I've missed a couple tackles, also. Nobody wants to miss tackles. But me, I'm always my hardest critic. I always feel like I can improve in all aspects of my game, including tackling."

Manuel said he doesn't necessarily single out one individual as a poor tackler in the meeting room.

"When we sit in there, and we talk about it, and we put it up on tape, it's for everybody in the room -- even D-linemen -- because it's somebody at some point," Manuel said. "Collectively if you watch us on the screen, a lot of people miss the tackles. It's not just one guy. We just really have to get better as a unit. That's the way I see it. If you get one guy better, we all fall in unison."