Visualizing directional tackle data


Sports coaches are not always interested in the statistics, graphs, and charts that their analysts produce. However, in my experience, rugby and American football coaches are always interested in tackle data.  One on one tackling is the cornerstone of team defense in both sports. Missed tackles lead to big plays. They are usually the difference between a good and bad defense. So it is easy to understand why coaches are so interested in tackle data. But assessing tackle performance is notoriously difficult.

Starting 7s recently published an article on Rpubs describing an approach to visualizing tackle data. It categorizes tackle attempts by the clock face number that corresponds to the tackler’s tracking angle relative to the ball carrier. We plot the data using polar coordinate charts that map tackles to their corresponding clock face numbers. Using this approach coaches can quickly see where the majority of their team’s — or their opponent’s — tackle attempts are made and missed.

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A tale of two (NFL) tackles — JJ Watt and Luke Kuechly

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 4.28.56 PM recently published an article called What the NFL Can Learn From Rugby. It describes the growing trend of American football coaches learning safer and more effective tackling techniques from rugby.

The article does a great job of pointing out the differences between cheek to cheek rugby tackles and across the bow football tackles. However, two tackles made during the 2015 NFL season’s opening weekend do a better job of showing the differences:

Continue reading A tale of two (NFL) tackles — JJ Watt and Luke Kuechly

Should football players tackle across the bow or cheek to cheek?

In football-speak going across the bow means tackling with the head in front of the ball carrier. Rugby players are taught to tackle cheek to cheek with the head behind the ball carrier. Should football players tackle across the bow or cheek to cheek?

This video shows what happened to helmet-less tacklers who went across the bow on Rennie Ranger.

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Argentina rugby open field tackling drill

I don’t use tackle bags because ball carriers (BCs) aren’t sitting ducks. They don’t stand still waiting to get hit. This tackling drill from Argentina rugby makes good use of the tackle bag. The speed and angle of the bag encourages proper tracking and low body height in the tackle.

This drill addresses two common tackling faults:

  1. Breaking down too far from the target, which forces the tackler to dive for the bag
  2. Staying high in the tackle instead of targeting through the thighs

The tackler at -0:08 (red bag) has the best technique.

Coaching points:

    • Head behind shoulder tackle — practice both shoulders
    • Stay tall then power step into the hula hoop same shoulder same foot
    • Tackler should keep head up with good neck position (correct any ducking, diving)
    • Target drags the bag in his far hand so the tackler’s momentum carries the bag away from his legs

Adjust the vertical angle of the bag, the angle of pursuit, and the speed of the BC to moderate difficulty.

NOTE: Do not use this drill to practice tackling from behind the BC. Tacklers approaching from 7-5 o’clock (if ball carrier is running to 12)  will roll up the BC’s legs.

First blood (part one)

First Blood is a movie about a Viet Nam veteran who wages war against the local police that run him out of town. The vet justifies his actions with the famous line “They drew first blood, not me.

This post examines the affect of scoring first in rugby 7s. Does the first score predict the eventual match winner or margin of victory? Do the same patterns hold true in knockout and pool play?

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Superbowl infographic: applicable to rugby?

Today I stumbled across infojocks, a graphic studio specializing in sports infographics and data visualization. This infographic is a complete box score of the 2013 NFL Super Bowl. The author discusses the graphic on This graphic is both informative and intuitive because it leverages a familiar metaphor (the clock) to communicate a variety of simple statistics.

Continue reading Superbowl infographic: applicable to rugby?