When the Pittsburgh Steelers were at the height of their powers in the 1970s on the way to winning four Super Bowl championships, there was a key staple of the offense that defenses could never quite figure out.
Now, it wasn’t the aerial attack with Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, and John Stallworth, though they were incredible together. Instead, it was the tackle trap that head coach Chuck Noll deployed time and time again thanks to some dominant play from bookend tackles Jon Kolb and Larry Brown.
The tackle trap allowed guys like Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Frenchy Fuqua, and Preston Pearson to gash defenses over and over again on the way to a combined four titles in the decade.
Though it may sound complicated initially, Kolb, who sat down with Stan Savran for Steelers.com’s Time Machine segment, broke down the tackle trap and explained the art behind a successful trap.
“Today’s game, you know, they’ll do their version of zone blocking, but essentially everything is the man in front of you. Not only did we trap, but we ran tackle traps. So that’s a different read for the linebackers,” Kolb said to Savran, according to video via the Steelers’ official YouTube page. “…So yeah, that whole trapping scheme, Gerry Mullins, Sam Davis, Steve Courson, those guys…but Gerry Mullins and Sam Davis, they had a Ph.D in running traps.
Kolb had the opportunity to work with a number of greats in the trenches in Pittsburgh, especially Mullins and Davis who, as Kolb stated, excelled in the trap game. When the Steelers started running tackle traps though, Kolb had a tough adjustment to the assignment, especially when he started smashing his nose off of defender’s shoulders, stunning himself.
A subtle adjust from Davis helped Kolb learn the art of trapping though, leading to major success for the Steelers.
“I remember when I first started, I never ran traps and I’m just…my nose is just getting smashed. And Sam said, one day, ‘Jon, you got the wrong target.’ You know, it’s like shooting trap. If you’re shooting at the bird, you’ll never hit it. You gotta shoot in front of it. And when you’re trapping, you know, you want to trap the guy’s hip. You don’t wanna hit the shoulder pads, but if you’re looking at the hip, you’ll hit the shoulder pads.
“And Sam said, one day, ‘look at his knee and trap.’ I tried that one day, looked at his knee, hit the hip and boom, blows people out of the hole. And that’s our term. We want to blow things up, you know, because you don’t want push, you wanna blow it up. And that’s what traps allow you to do.”
It’s always great to hear offensive linemen break down key techniques, especially the tackle trap like Kolb did to Savran, enlightening many fans and analysts as to the key nuance with a staple of football even today.
Run blocking can often feel like brute against brute with raw strength winning out in the end, but with trapping, it was all about angles, leverage, and the target area. What a fun breakdown from Kolb on what made the tackle trap so successful.