Last Sunday, the Buffalo Bills used a strong running game and opportunistic passes to tight ends to defeat the Redskins 23-0 in Toronto.
Bills running back Fred Jackson rushed for 120 yards on 26 carries, while tight end Scott Chandler caught two touchdown passes, a 20-yarder and a 15-yarder, to seal the Bills' victory.
This Sunday, when the Redskins host the San Francisco 49ers at FedExField, they will face a challenge against a similar-style offense. The 49ers base a lot of their offensive production off running back Frank Gore and tight end Vernon Davis.
Gore leads the 49ers with 675 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, averaging almost five yards a carry. He has moved into second place on the 49ers' all-time rushing list with 7,089 career yards.
Gore's talent is no secret, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is well aware of his playmaking ability.
"He has great explosiveness," Haslett said. "He keeps his legs turning all the time. He's a great running back. He can do everything. He can block, too."
Haslett said he thought the defense played fairly well against the run vs. Buffalo, except for one big play when Jackson burst past the line for a 43-yard run on the first play of the second half.
Overall, he recognizes that improvement is needed, especially this Sunday vs. Gore and the 49ers.
"You'd like to do better," Haslett said. "The 49ers are averaging 200 yards per game rushing the last four games, so this is a great challenge. Anybody that comes in and has almost 800 yards rushing in four games, that tells you you have to step up and do a great job. And not just part of the time, you have to do it for 60 minutes. We have to tackle for 60 minutes."
Head coach Mike Shanahan echoed those sentiments. "When you're going against a great back, you have to be on point the whole game, because if one guy misses a responsibility, all of the sudden there's 50-60 yards. There's a 110 yards in two plays. You can play great for three quarters, then all of the sudden, two plays and they're averaging six yards a carry.
"That's what the great running backs do, and [the 49ers] give their running backs a bunch of opportunities. We've got to be on top of our game for a full 60 minutes, just not three and a half quarters."
Haslett must also make sure the defense's linebackers and safeties work together to keep the 49ers' tight ends in check.
That was a problem last week on Chandler's two tight ends. London Fletcher had coverage and it appeared he was expecting some safety help on both plays.
Davis, a University of Maryland product, leads the offense with 27 catches for 298 yards and three touchdowns.
He is equally big as Chandler at 6-3 and 250 pounds but more of a presence in the passing game. In 2009, Davis had a career-high 78 catches for 965 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The 49ers also boast tight end Delanie Walker, who has 11 catches for 104 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Making the right reads at the line of scrimmage and communicating will be key to pass coverage on tight ends.
One player who continues to impress Haslett is rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. He has improved tremendously in coverage.
"He has done a great job on tight ends," Haslett said.