Ed Bouchette on the Steelers: A weekly look inside the team, the issues, the questions
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NFL needs to step up and tackle its tacklers -- yes, pun intended
It's about time the NFL takes what should be one of the most important statistics of its game more seriously.
Many decades ago, football wasn't merely called football, not the way it is played as we know it. It was called "tackle" football, apparently to distinguish from other versions such as touch football, flag football or the style of football also known as soccer.
The most important aspect of the game is to tackle the opponent. Everything starts from there. Forget the completed pass, the yards rushing, the interceptions, the sacks, the passer ratings, even the touchdowns. Without the tackle, there would be chaos -- a virtual score on every play from scrimmage.
Yet the NFL does not recognize the tackle as an official statistic and there is no uniform way to determine it. The statistic is kept by each team. For some teams, that means the stats crew in the press box on game day, or the public relations office. For others, coaches keep them while watching video.
Statisticians at each game keep tackles in the press box and they issue the totals with the rest of the statistics after the game. The Steelers, though, wait until the coaches review the video of the game and record the tackles before they make them part of their official statistics.
Therefore, tackles and how they are counted, vary from team to team. What's an assist? Two players bringing down an opponent? Three? A gang tackle of five all getting an assist?
Some teams are more liberal, some more conservative and when it comes to players making the Pro Bowl or even NFL Defensive Player of the Year, those tackles can be crucial criteria for voters -- and the position coaches who pad the statistics.
Linebacker James Farrior, playing in a 3-4 defense, leads the Steelers with 145 total tackles -- 97 solo and 48 assists. With one game to go, he has more tackles than any Steeler in 23 years.
Sam Kasan, an intern with the Steelers public relations office, researched the statistic in team history. There has never been a comprehensive list compiled by the team. He got back to 1979 and stopped because he said tackles stats were sketchy before then.
Not surprising, Hall of Famer Jack Lambert led the team in tackles five consecutive years starting in 1979. The most he had in that span was 177 in 1981, including 132 solo, which also represents the high since then. The Steelers played a 4-3 defense in that era and, as the middle linebacker, Lambert was supposed to make most of the tackles.
Now, look at the Baltimore Ravens. Ray Lewis is a great linebacker and also played many years as the middle man in the 4-3. Yet not only did he surpass Lambert's highest total, he topped 200 tackles three times with a high of 225 in 2003. He also had seasons of 196, 187 and 198.
Was Lewis that much more productive than Lambert? Probably not; those keeping his statistics were. Even today, the Ravens dish out tackles more liberally. After 15 games, opponents have run 884 plays against Baltimore and Ravens defenders were credited with 1,076 total tackles, including 754 solo and 322 assists. Steelers opponents have run more plays, 922, yet their defenders were credited with 965 tackles, 698 solo and 267 assists.
No one's saying the Ravens' way is wrong and the Steelers' way right, just that there should be a consistent standard throughout the league for its most important statistic.
Is the fur about to fly in Tennessee?
Adrian McPherson has filed suit against the Tennessee Titans. Football fans everywhere, particularly in Pittsburgh, should pull for the plaintiff.
If he wins his $20 million lawsuit, perhaps more NFL teams will follow the Steelers and get rid of their mascots.
McPherson was a quarterback trying to make the New Orleans Saints' roster this year when, while warming up before the second half of an August exhibition game in Nashville, Tenn., he was blindsided by a golf cart driven by T-Rac, the Titans' mascot. McPherson received a deep bruise in his right knee that caused him to miss the rest of the preseason games. The Saints released him Sept. 2.
McPherson blamed the mascot and filed a civil suit recently.
It could be the end of the silly mascots that prance around NFL fields, all while the league has banned legitimate television news cameras from the sideline for "safety" reasons. When's the last time an NFL player's career was ended because of a TV camera?
The Steelers do not have a mascot and do not allow anyone masquerading as one on their field. In the 1970s, an unofficial mascot, The Terrible Fan, popped up but he stayed mostly in the stands. That's where all mascots belong, if there are to be any. There also was a ridiculous I-Beam macot walking around their stands in the 1980s, a decade that also produced something called Stevie Steeler, not to mention mostly bad football teams.
The NFL tried to assign mascots to each of its teams about a dozen years ago, and that never caught on here either. There also has never been a lawsuit filed by Steelers cheerleaders over peepholes in their dressing room, as happened in Philadelphia. Look at the old Pittsburgh Maulers of the USFL. They had cheerleaders and the team folded after one season.
"I kind of like our style, no mascot, no cheerleaders," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We're just kind of old school and I kind of like that."
No mascots, no cheerleaders, no lawsuits.
First Published December 31, 2006 12:00 am