Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry said despite restrictions placed on padded practices, his team must improve its tackling efforts, starting Sunday vs. the Patriots.*
Maybe Joe Barry is not good with names, or perhaps the Washington Redskins' defensive coordinator simply does not like to waste time getting caught up with them.
Barry cycled through the New England Patriots' myriad of offensive weapons on Thursday, mentioning them by number only. He does it every week, but it particularly stood out as the Redskins prepare for the test that awaits them this Sunday in Foxborough.
"Obviously, the guy that wags the dog is No. 12," Barry said. "He's the guy. He's phenomenal, he really is, watching him and what he's able to do, what he's able to dictate."
That would be Tom Brady, four-time champion and three-time Super Bowl MVP.
"You take 87 away and 11 away," Barry continued, "then you've got to deal with 33."
That would be Rob Gronkowski, on pace to break the single-season record for most receiving yards by a tight end since he set the mark in 2011, followed by wide receiver Julian Edelman and running back Dion Lewis.
The point is, the Redskins know the Patriots' offense is highly explosive. If Washington's defense hopes to be effective against New England, it has to emphasize the fundamentals, like good tackling, which has escaped the Redskins the last three games.
It does not matter if it is No. 11 on the Patriots or No. 22 on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"Forget all the jersey numbers of their weapons," Barry said. "Whatever we have called ... we've got to go do what we do the best that we've done all year and there's no margin for error because that's what they do better than anyone.
"They take advantage of a team when they make a mistake and they cash in on it. The thing that we've really preached about all week is 'Yes, they have a great system. Yes, they have a great quarterback running it. Yes, they have great players in the system.' But it's about us. It's getting the call, getting lined up and going and making a play. That's what they rely on — you screwing up. That's what we can't do. We've got to do our job better than we've done it all year long."
Check out these photos of the Redskins' defense and special teams preparing for their Week 9 match up against the New England Patriots Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
Some weeks, the Redskins struggle to finish plays in the backfield. The members of the defensive front generate good pressure, but have a hard time wrapping up the quarterback.
Other weeks, the missed tackles come at the second level, when an elusive running back like Doug Martin — No. 22, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — slips past a linebacker or a safety for a 40-plus yard gain.
The run defense has struggled the last three games, allowing 587 yards to the Atlanta Falcons, the New York Jets and the Buccaneers. Often, it allows an explosive play such as Chris Ivory's 54-yard gain for the Jets — the result of several misses.
"Tackling is all about proper positioning, understanding how you need to tackle people," defensive end Kedric Golston said. "Tackling anybody one-on-one in this league is tough. As a defense, you never want to put the defense in that position. That's about guys getting off blocks, guys holding at the line of scrimmage so you can get free runners to the ball.
"Even if a guy does make a stellar tackle one-on-one, as a defense you don't want to make a living doing that. As a defensive front, it's up to us to make the plays when they present themselves and allow our linebackers to run free and help out."
Tackling is such a fundamental part of the game, but some coaches contest that it is often difficult for teams to practice it because of restrictions mandated by the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement in 2011.
Teams are allowed only 14 full-contact padded practices for the year and 11 of them must be conducted during the first 11 weeks of the season.
"The amount of time we have and the amount of opportunities really to do that, sometimes the risk of doing live tackling, there's definitely a risk to that," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "You've got to try and balance all that out. I'm sure every team in the league is having the same conversations. How do we improve our tackling, how do we practice it without taking too much risk?"
That said, Redskins cornerback Will Blackmon said there are other ways to improve tackling in practice without going full speed, whether it be focusing on getting better angles or leverage.
Blackmon, a nine-year veteran, said he has also been on teams where coaches emphasize creating turnovers, perhaps to a fault.
"Sometimes we fall into the trap of being so conscious of punching the football out instead of just tackling the guy," Blackmon said. "You still gotta try but the emphasis, at the end of the day, should be all about blocking and tackling."
Whatever the solution may be, the Redskins are well aware they need to find it on Sunday, whether it be when trying to bring down No. 12, No. 87 or No. 11.
"In the NFL, everyone should know the fundamentals of tackling, but it's about getting back to the basics of football and getting your nose dirty," inside linebacker Perry Riley said.
"It's the most important part of the game. If you can't tackle, you can't win."
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