The Philadelphia Eagles were quickly closing in on the Ravens' goal line late in the second quarter Sunday when cornerback Lardarius Webb made the kind of textbook hit that we might still be talking about today had the second half not been such a disaster. Blitzing from the slot as he does a few times a game, Webb honed in on LeSean McCoy and put his helmet on the football as he wrapped up the Eagles' Pro Bowl running back.
The ball bounced to Ray Lewis, and moments later, Justin Tucker made the score 17-7 with a long field goal.
The hit was one of a team-high seven tackles that Webb made in the 24-23 loss in Philadelphia, though Webb uncharacteristically missed a pair of tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. He was not alone in that regard, as the Ravens missed 12 tackles overall in the loss. Webb has made 12 tackles in 2012 and missed those two.
Regarded by many as an ascending player with the potential to become a shutdown cornerback (if he hasn't already), Webb mostly gets attention from fans and media for his interceptions, his punt returns and his blanket coverage on slot receivers.
But Webb's tackling is an underappreciated aspect of his game -- especially when you factor in his slight build. He made 67 tackles last season and missed just seven tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. That was as many missed tackles as linebackers Jarret Johnson, Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo and one fewer than Ray Lewis. So what makes him such a reliable tackler? It is aggressiveness, according to his defensive coordinator.
"He goes after the tackle. He is not tentative," Dean Pees, who is in his first season as the Baltimore defensive coordinator, said Thursday afternoon. "Most guys that miss tackles go up there, and they start to break down three yards away from the guy. If the back is a good back in the open space, he is going to make you miss. The thing about Lardarius is he goes up there and is aggressive and goes after it. … He tries to run through the guy."
That may come from his background as a safety. He played the position at Nicholls State -- and wore No. 20 in homage to his favorite player, Ed Reed -- and attacks running backs and receivers like a free safety would, firing out of his backpedal and flying up to either trip up the ball-carrier or wrap him up and drag him down to the grass. The fourth-year cornerback is listed at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, though he usually doesn't play like it.
But Webb, who signed a five-year, $50 million extension this spring, says he doesn't take any pride in his tackling -- at least that's what he said Wednesday between questions from other reporters about the vulnerability of the Ravens defense.
"I take no pride in that. I'm a corner. My thing is to defend the pass," Webb said. "If they happen to run the ball, make a play. And that's something that I've done. I've been able to get the guy on the ground. But tackling is tackling. I really don't take pride in that. I take pride in my coverage, my 1-on-1 matchup. Tackling is just something than you've been doing since you were five years old playing football. I think everybody should be able to tackle."
As we saw against Philly, it is sometimes easier said than done.