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Redskins need to wrap arms around tackling problems

- The Washington Times - Monday, September 16, 2013

There is no one answer for the Washington Redskins. If there was, the problem would already be fixed.

The defense has struggled through the first two games of the season, allowing 1,023 yards of total offense, and the search for exactly why is underway. They need to figure it out this week in practice. At 0-2 and with a home game Sunday against the Detroit Lions, there is no time to waste if the Redskins want to make a return appearance in the NFL playoffs.

But a solution isn't as simple as just working harder. Take missed tackles, which happened time and again in losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers. Improving that in one week is tricky.

"You can't really practice [tackling] a lot," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "You're only allowed to have pads on one day a week. And normally you don't take people to the ground But what you do, is you do have the sense of urgency to have your gap responsibility."

There's also no one player responsible for this mess anyway. Linemen have struggled to bring down running backs at the point of attack and secondary players, including rookies Bacarri Rambo and David Amerson, haven't always done their part. Both were responsible for whiffs on Sunday as the Packers piled up huge yardage en route to 38 points.

"We're going to take the blame up front for the rush yardage and they're going to take blame for the pass yardage," Washington nose tackle Barry Cofield said. "But in reality we all have to point the finger at ourselves. Big plays come from a combination of things and until we limit them we're going have a hard time being successful."

How dominant was the Packers' offense on Sunday? Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw 21 passes that went for at least nine yards. Six of those catches were for gains of 20 yards or more, with the longest a 57-yard throw to James Jones in the second quarter. Green Bay also had six runs that went 10 yards or longer, including the 32-yard touchdown by James Starks in the third quarter.

"We've got to fix the tackling. The tackling is one thing," Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "[Green Bay] had over 100 yards rushing. We've just got to address getting guys down and getting aligned correctly."

And while the Redskins at times put pressure on Rodgers early with three sacks in the first quarter alone, including two by linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, they were not able to adjust when Green Bay began firing off quicker throws on short routes. Rodgers, one of the NFL's elite passers, put the ball exactly where he needed it and his receivers were able to run after the catch unopposed.

"We had some negative-yardage plays. We had some tackles at the line of scrimmage," Cofield said. "But when you give up the big, long runs that negates it all. Really just got to limit the big plays. We're making a lot of our own and that's positive, but when you're allowing big chunk yardage plays it's hard to be successful. We've got a lot of work to do."

Washington ranks last in the NFL in yards allowed. It ranks 23rd in pass defense (621 yards) and 32nd in run defense (402 yards). Only the New York Giants have allowed more points than the Redskins' 71.

To Shanahan, the issue starts with working on those gap assignments in practice at full speed. And if the linemen and linebackers up front do miss a tackle then the secondary has to provide help. Too often this season that hasn't happened.

But the coaching staff isn't going to put the Redskins through punishing tackling drills, either. This isn't training camp. Players either make the play or they don't and at this point that issue isn't solved with a handful of drills.

"I've been with a lot of football teams that didn't tackle at all [during practice]," Shanahan said. "A lot of very good defensive football teams. Just practicing at full speed to get guys the ball gives you a chance to be pretty good."

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