With opponents piling up yards at a dizzying rate, Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said Thursday he takes “full responsibility” for what he called “some ugly football” by his defense in the season’s first two games. Haslett and his players then headed to the practice field at Redskins Park and, with the players in full pads, tried to fix what has been perhaps the unit’s most glaring problem: its shoddy tackling.
“Obviously I’ve got to do a better job in getting these guys to tackle because we had way too many tackling issues the first two games,” Haslett said.
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Fundamentally sound tackling has become, increasingly, a lost art in the NFL. It’s not an issue that’s easily addressed, given that there are strict limitations in the sport’s collective bargaining agreement on the amount of contact allowed in practices. But the Redskins acknowledge that their defense must tackle better if they’re going to find a way to turn around their season after an 0-2 start.
“The missed tackles are huge,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “Huge. The yards after contact have to be a glaring number for us at this point. They lead to big plays, and that’s what’s been killing this defense.”
The defense has yielded 1,023 yards in the Redskins’ first two games. That is tied for the second most in league history through two games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two yards fewer than the 1967 Atlanta Falcons. The Redskins rank last in the league in run defense, based on yards allowed, and last in total defense.
“Tackling has been poor,” linebacker London Fletcher said this week. “Gap discipline hasn’t been what it should be. It’s what happens sometimes with a copycat league: Teams put you out in space, and you’re forced to make one-on-one tackles. We’ve got to get more guys running to the football as well so a guy can’t be relied on having to make one-on-one tackles all the time. . . . It’s just a matter of we’ve just got to play better and definitely tackle better.”
The Redskins’ tackling was an issue during the preseason, especially when rookie safety Bacarri Rambo was outmaneuvered badly by Tennessee’s Chris Johnson on a touchdown in the exhibition opener. Haslett said he thought the Redskins tackled better for the remainder of the preseason, but the issue resurfaced in losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers to open the regular season.
“We actually tackled well the next couple [preseason] games,” Haslett said. “And then the first two games of the season, that’s been an issue with us. From a coach’s standpoint, I’ll wear that because I’ve got to put them through more situations where they’re out there tacking in individual [drills during practices] and make sure that they’re better at it.”
Haslett said things can be done during practices to improve a team’s tackling, even with no full-scale tackling on the practice field.
“You can tackle,” Haslett said. “You can tackle without pads on. You can work on wrap tackling. There’s [tackling] dummies out there. You can do different things. Obviously other teams aren’t having this issue. So whatever they’re doing, it’s got to creep into what we’re trying to do. But we’ll fix that problem. We’ll work at it and continue to try to get better in it.”