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Chip Kelly recognizes 49ers have a problem with poor tackling

We got a little Football 101 from Chip Kelly about leverage and angles in tackling.

The San Francisco 49ers were bulldozed for 312 rushing yards on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, and missed tackles were a big problem. Pro Football Focus charted Nick Bellore with four missed tackles, and Michael Wilhoite with two. Bellore has nine missed tackles in two games, which is tied for the league lead. And that’s the league lead for players who have played every game this season. It’s safe to say there is a problem.

49ers head coach Chip Kelly had his weekly KNBR interview on Tuesday evening, and the missed tackles came up. The host asked Kelly about the poor run defense. The first thing Kelly pointed to was the missed tackles.

“I think the biggest thing, and we talked about it as a group, is the missed tackles. We’ve got to do a better job. It’s very difficult in practice because you’re only allowed one padded practice during the week. But we have to do a better job coaching those guys in the tackling aspect of things. Because I think we had 21 missed tackles, that resulted in about 200 yards. So, we’ve got guys in position, but we gotta do a better job of teaching tackling, and the fundamentals of the game. Of what we’ve got to do to stop people from running the football the way they’re running it right now.”

Tom Tolbert followed up on that with an intriguing question related to technique, but in a slightly different way.

“What about, and I always say football players should be forced to take geometry classes, just to understand angles. And angles are such a huge part of football, and what could make a five-yard gain a 35-yard gain, based on angles. How much of that is taught? Because guys that are carrying the ball, wide receivers or running backs, they’re all different, some are more elusive than others. How much of that is instinctual, where you just understand where the guy’s trying to get to, and you’re going to try and beat him to the spot, instead of going to where he is and missing him?”

This allowed Kelly to get into his thoughts on tackling.

“No, I think that’s a great point. And I think what you did Tom, and how you played (basketball), there’s so much to leverage, and understanding where your help is, where the sideline is. I think that’s one of the things, it’s not just running full speed from point A to point B and trying to make a tackle. It’s, how do we contain this person. You use the term in basketball all the time, trap. You’re not going to trap in the middle of the court, you’re going to trap in the corners. It’s the same thing from a football standpoint. There is geometry that’s involved in it. There is angles that you have to take, and the word we use all the time is leverage. Where’s our leverage? Not only leverage, the second thing you have to know is where’s your help. So if I’m gonna miss, I need to miss on his outside shoulder because everyone’s coming on the inside. If I’m gonna miss on his inside shoulder, he can go outside, and now he’s down the sideline. Am I a contain player, or am I an alley player? I think those are all things that go into tackling. It’s not just the fundamentals of sinking your hips, and long stride, short stride, shuffle and strike, things that you can do from a fundamental standpoint of tackling. It takes team tackling, and a lot of that is the leverage, who’s got the contain, and what are the angles we’re playing going to the ball carrier?”

Kelly is known for his offensive acumen, but clearly he is knowledgeable on multiple fronts. Whether that actually translates to anything of value this season remains to be seen, but at least there is awareness. I suppose knowing some of the problems is a good step forward. Now it’s a matter of rectifying it. We’ll see if Gerald Hodges and/or Shayne Skov are anything resembling an answer.