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No defense in the NFL is better than the Patriots’ when it comes to tackling

New England fields the NFL’s surest tacklers.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at New England Patriots Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

There is possibly no team in the NFL that puts as big an emphasis on the fundamentals of playing football than the New England Patriots. This approach has served the team well over the years and is a big but seemingly underrated reason why the club is a serious candidate for a deep postseason run every single season. 2018 is, of course, no exception as the Patriots are once again among the league’s best teams when it comes to the basics.

One aspect of the game in which this focus on fundamentals is on full display is tackling. The Patriots defense, as many issues as it had especially early on during the year, is outstanding when it comes to taking down players and limiting yards after contact. All in all, the unit has a missed tackle percentage of just 9.0% (according to advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus) — the best number in the entire league.

“I would say tackling is, obviously, the most important or one of the most important fundamentals in the game,” Brian Flores recently said in a conference call when asked about the Patriots’ performance in this area and the value the coaching staff places on it. “It’s something we talk about every day. It’s something we try to practice every day. [...] We obviously place a great emphasis on tackling in space, in line.”

This emphasis has helped New England become sort of a tackling power house over the years. Between 2010 and 2017, the team’s defenses were consistently among the NFL’s best when it comes to finishing stops: over that span, the Patriots averaged just 11.5% missed tackles per season — and as noted above, this year is even better as Flores’ unit might finish with the best tackling success rate since 2010’s unit missed a mere 8.6%.

How do the Patriots accomplish such a high level of defensive play? According to the team’s de-facto defensive coordinator, it all starts with practice. “We’ve got a myriad of tackling drills where we throw obstacles in front of them, we make them defeat blocks, cut tackles, heel tackles,” Flores said. “I mean, we’re all over the place as far as the different ways you can get a guy down, but they’re all important.”

“I thought the guys did a good job of taking what we practice on the field and trying to execute it in games as a total unit,” he continued when speaking specifically about the Patriots’ game against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. “Now, it wasn’t all perfect, I’ll tell you that. There’s a couple misses in there, but for the most part, I think guys understand how important it is to limit yards after contact.”

Safety Patrick Chung certainly seems to understand the importance Flores is talking about. “Tackling is a lost art, so people forget about that part,” one of the Patriots’ best and most active tacklers — he currently ranks third on the team with a combined 64 stops — said during a press conference on Wednesday. “But we’re getting better. One missed tackle is one too many, so as long as we can keep going in the right direction then we’ll be alright.”

It is likely that the Patriots defense will continue doing just that. Led by Flores and a coaching staff that shares the same views when it comes to fundamentals, the entire team from the top down is well aware of the importance and impact sound tackling can have on a game. “Every yard counts in this league,” Flores said earlier this week. “If we can hold them to one less, that could be the game-winning yard.”