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No. 4 Alabama's defense coming off 2 rough games

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No. 4 Alabama's defense coming off 2 rough games

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Alabama spent two months barely seeming to miss all those defensive stars now in the NFL.

The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide has certainly felt their absence the past two weeks when it became evident this defense doesn't quite measure up to the lofty standards set by the 2009 and 2011 national championship groups.

The still-formidable defense has had uncharacteristic missed tackles and struggles getting the opposing offense off the field on third downs against No. 8 LSU and No. 9 Texas A&M. No game-changing pass rusher like linebacker Courtney Upshaw has emerged, either.

Alabama (9-1), which hosts Western Carolina (1-9) on Saturday, was leading the nation in every major defensive category just like last year's group before showing more vulnerability against the Tigers and Aggies. Those teams both managed more yards and points than any other offense had against the Tide this season.

``The last two weeks, lots of issues not getting off the field on third down, which hasn't been a real factor all year long,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ``But in the last two weeks, we gave up 14 points in the second half at LSU, going 0-for-7 on third downs during that time and we started this (Texas A&M) game 0-for-7 on third down and got behind in the game because of it. When you create those situations you've got to get off the field.

``It's not just the pass rush. It's also the discipline of everybody doing what they're supposed to do in rush as well as coverage.''

In those two games, the defense has given up 853 yards, a 55-percent conversion rate on third downs - more than double the success rate going into those games - and scores on all but one of the opponents' seven trips inside Alabama's 20-yard line.

Only Georgia Southern's option attack managed to produce 300 yards against Alabama in 2011.

Most teams would still love to have Alabama's defensive issues this season, especially after losing three NFL first-round picks: safety Mark Barron, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Plus, Upshaw was taken early in the second while noseguard Josh Chapman and cornerback DeQuan Menzie were also drafted.

Alabama still leads the nation in scoring defense and is second in total yards allowed. Plus, cornerback Dee Milliner and linebacker C.J. Mosley are both semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award given to the nation's top defensive player.

However, 13 SEC players have more sacks than the four produced by team leaders C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard.

``I don't think we have a dominant rusher like we had a year ago,'' Saban said. ``I think we have guys that as a unit and as a group can be effective.''

Texas A&M's 29 points was the most allowed by the Tide since a 35-21 midseason loss to South Carolina in 2010.

Of course, Alabama faces few such fast-paced offenses or dual-threat quarterbacks like the Aggies' Johnny Manziel.

Saban said the Tide couldn't get lined up eight times when Texas A&M snapped quickly.

``That's just not good,'' he said. ``It's not good coaching. It's not good for the players to have a chance to be successful and execute. That's something that we need to work on more in the offseason and do a better job of.''

Lester said he can't remember a two-game stretch where Alabama had so many missed tackles, some of them attributable to the slippery Manziel.

Saban said that has become a concern.

``We've had more missed tackles, we've had more yards after catch, after first contact or first missed tackle, especially on space plays,'' he said.

``That's one thing we've always been is a good tackling team and a good tackling secondary. That is something that we need to improve on.''

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 27, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Here is my sunrise view from this morning:

Looking at next year’s free agents

This post was originally published on March 18. 

There is still work that the Redskins can do in free agency and they still have some of their own players they want to retain. But with a lot of the player movement already in the books, we can take a look forward some of the key Redskin who currently are set to be free agents when the 2019 league year opens. 

QB Colt McCoy (Week 1 age 32)—Lots of questions here. Will the Redskins want to keep him around for another year as Alex Smith’s backup? Or will they want a younger and cheaper backup? Will McCoy want to move on rather than back up another QB who doesn’t miss many games?

OL Ty Nsekhe (32)—The Redskins gave him a second-round restricted free agent tender this year so it’s possible that he could be gone or on a long-term contract in Washington. If he is a free agent, his value and the difficulty of retaining him could depend on if he ends the season as a reserve tackle (easy) or as a starting guard (hard). 

OLB Preston Smith (25)—As we saw with Trent Murphy (three years, $21 million with up to $30 million), pass rushers get paid. Smith also makes big plays. Since Smith came into the NFL, he is the only player with at least 20 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. If the Redskins can’t reach a deal on an extension with him this year the franchise tag is a distinct possibility. 

WR Jamison Crowder (25)—This year the supply of quality receivers both as free agents and in the draft sent contract prices skyrocketing. To guard against that happening next year, the Redskin should start talking to Crowder about an extension soon. 

ILB Zach Vigil (27)—As I noted here, Vigil went from being cut in September to a very valuable reserve in November. Both Zach Brown and Mason Foster will still be under contract, but the Redskin still should make an effort to retain Vigil for special teams and as a capable backup. 

Other Redskins who are slated to be UFA’s next year are DL Ziggy Hood and ILB Martrell Spaight. 

It’s also worth noting that WR Maurice Harris and DE Anthony Lanier will both be restricted free agents next year. Both positions were pricey in free agency this year, so both could require at least second-round tenders, which likely will increase to about $3 million in 2019. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler