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Redskins Know Run Defense Must Return To Its First Half Success

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The first solution that pops into head coach Jay Gruden's head when asked questions about repairing the Redskins' run defense is a rather simple one.

"We need to make sure that we tackle better," Gruden said.

That was apparent in last Thursday's game against the Cowboys, in which the Redskins missed seven tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. In their last three games, in which the team has allowed more than 100 net yards rushing, the Redskins have missed 24 combined tackles, including 14 against the Buccaneers.

"It's just something that we have to do a better job of," Gruden said. "We have to wrap up. We have to hold guys up and we have to pursue the ball. I mentioned it many times. We were out of gaps uncharacteristically a couple times. You are talking about the course of a game. You can play good for 55 minutes of the game but for those five minutes the team that makes the plays in those critical situations is the team that usually wins."

Check out these photos of the Redskins' preparing for their Week 13 game against the Philadelphia Eagles Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.

Throughout the offseason, the team's run defense needing improvement was a familiar refrain for the coaching staff and front office. Washington ranked dead last, allowing an average 134 yards per game.

With a healthy Jonathan Allen and Mason Foster (both of whom landed on Injured Reserve early in the season) and drafting nose tackles in Daron Payne and Tim Settle, the first half of 2018 saw marked improvements.

The Redskins went on a stretch to start the year in which they held opposing running backs to less than 60 yards rushing, including three straight games holding Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley to less than 40 yards each.

Things have changed recently. The Redskins have allowed more than 100 net rushing yards against each of their last four opponents. In their last three games, they've allowed an average of 129.3 rushing yards, including a 121-yard performance by Elliott on Thursday.

"I think Matt [Ioannidis]'s injury hurt a little bit and like I said, Jonathan [Allen] was banged up, he banged his knee, [Daron] Payne has been playing with a shoulder issue here and there and then Zach Brown got hurt very early in the game," Gruden said. "He banged up his knee. We missed a couple of runs and hits on a couple of zone reads, they had a couple of cutback runs that were just great runs by Zeke [Elliott], but for the most part you're right. The tackling has got to improve, both when receivers catch and obviously when the backs get it. You can't really put a finger on it. I wish I could but it's a combination of everybody."

Check out photos of the Washington Redskins during their 2018 regular season Week 12 game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Gruden's concern also extends to linebackers missing their gap assignments – sometimes that's even occurred on ill-timed blitzes, in which a running back will find the open hole underneath a cornerback blitzing off the edge.

That's led to more explosive plays – the Redskins allowed a few to Dallas – and it's changed the complexion of the game.

"We can give up plays, everybody's going to get beat once in a while but if you get them on the grass at least you can live to fight another down," linebacker Mason Foster said. "There's no telling what could happen with the way our team's been playing. We've just got to tighten up the explosive plays."

The Redskins will play an Eagles team next Monday without a premier running back. Philadelphia is 21st in the league averaging 100.8 rushing yards per game. The team knows that the best way to end its two-game losing streak is to reverse the past few games' trend.

"We're not going to win football games if we're not stopping the run," safety D.J. Swearinger Sr. said. "I don't care who you is, that's just facts. If you don't stop the run, you don't find a way to stop the run you're not going to win. Simple as that."

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