FOXBOROUGH - Eyes tend to roll and heads start to shake whenever coach Bill Belichick launches into one of his diatribes about how the Patriots need to improve in this area or that area. But Belichick is looking at his team with the discerning eye of a football coach and what he sees is a defense that is letting far too many ball carriers bounce away after first contact.
Following the Patriots' 49-28 demolition of the Miami Dolphins Sunday, Belichick mentioned the team's tackling woes.
"We didn't tackle very well defensively all day, particularly in the second half," he said. "But overall, when you score those kind of points, you've got a chance, and the guys did a really good job today."
Although the game was never really in doubt, the Dolphins produced their second-highest average per carry total of the season (6.0), rushing 30 times for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Miami's Jesse Chatman came off the bench to replace an injured Ronnie Brown and ran seven times for 73 yards and a touchdown, including a 30-yard run late in the fourth quarter that illustrated the problem. Chatman broke a handful of tackles before finally being corralled by Adalius Thomas.
It was the second week in a row the Patriots defense allowed 6 yards per carry or more on the ground.
The Dallas Cowboys averaged 6.5 yards per rush (15 for 97) with running back Marion Barber pinballing off Patriots defenders. New England, which is allowing only 274.9 yards of total offense per game (92.7 on the ground), beat both Dallas and Miami while missing tackles, but bad habits have a way of catching up with a team.
This week's opponent, the Washington Redskins, have in Clinton Portis a running back known to slip a few tackles in addition to elusive receivers Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El.
Few things irk Belichick more than a fundamental flaw in his defense. For all the awe factor of those Tom Brady-to-Randy Moss highlight-reel hook-ups, the game still comes down to the basics - blocking and tackling.
"We have to get better with that," safety Rodney Harrison said. "It comes from many things. It comes from technique. It comes from being tired, which is no excuse. We know we can do it. It's a matter of just doing it and making sure we have the proper technique and we have 11 guys running to the ball."
Belichick didn't go into specifics on why his defense, which has always been among the most fundamentally sound units in the league, suddenly is letting ball carriers squirt away, but he put some of the blame on himself.
"Well, tackling involves a lot of things and I think there are multiple reasons for it and multiple guys involved in it," Belichick said. "It's not one player or one situation. It's just we have to do a better job. We have to coach it better, we have to tackle better. We just need to do a better job."
One curious coaching call by the Patriots came on the Dolphins' fourth-and-1 play in the first quarter. Despite what appeared to be a running situation, the Patriots had their dime defense (six defensive backs) on the field, with four linebackers and one lineman. The result was the Patriots getting overpowered at the line of scrimmage and Ronnie Brown pounding the ball up the middle for a 19-yard gain.
This might have been what Belichick was referring to when he said some of the breakdowns were a result of coaching.
So, how can the Patriots tackle their tackling problem? Just like a ball carrier, you square up to and approach it head on.
"Some of it's classroom work, some of it's film work, some of it is on the field," said Belichick. "There's no way you can go out there and really play at full-speed game tempo on the practice field [because] it's practice.
"It's as close as you can make it to being a game tempo, but it's not the same. But you still do all of those things in preparation and to adjust the problem and try to improve it. It's certainly something that we can do better and coach better."
Part of the problem Sunday might have been the 42-7 halftime lead the Patriots built, although Miami averaged 5 yards per carry (14 rushes for 70 yards) in the first half. It's simple human nature to let up a bit with such a large cushion.
Harrison dismissed that as being an issue and so did Belichick. Execution is execution, regardless of the scoreboard, and a team is either executing correctly or it's not.
"I think we just have to do a better job," Belichick said. "Our leverage and where we were positioned and the actual technique of wrapping up, all of those things are a factor, and like I said, it starts with - if we don't play well - it starts with the coaching, so I need to do a better job. The players need to do a better job. I think we all can do better than we did in that fundamental aspect of the game, so that's what we'll work on."
Mike Reiss of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.