Let's play the name association game. I'll say a name and you say the first thing that comes to mind. Ready?
". . . . . . ."
". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ."
I can't hear you but I'm going to assume you said something along the lines of "can't tackle," "sucks at tackling," "hates to tackle," "couldn't tackle to save his life," "allergic to tackling," or some kind of variation of that. For the past week, I haven't been able to mention Rambo's name at all, in any context, without Redskins fans shredding him to pieces. Now I've stepped up to defend him. Keep in mind, this isn't a "Rambo should start in Week 1" campaign, this isn't even a "Rambo had a good season" campaign, this is a "Rambo is a 6th round pick who is one year into development, so stop burying him" campaign. It's like fans saw Chris Johnson make Rambo look silly in the open field in pre-season and already wrote the book on him. Did Chris Johnson make him look silly? Yup. Did LeSean McCoy make him look silly? Yup. But, here's the thing with Rambo: he wasn't known for his tackling coming out of college, he looked better in pre-season than he did in college, he looked better in Week 1 than he did in pre-season and looked better later in the year than in Week 1.
Did he still have ups and downs? Of course, but progress was made from the first day to the last day. He was thrust into a starting spot that he wasn't ready for as a 6th round pick (which tells more about our depth than it does about Rambo), then became a scapegoat and was benched, then was deactivated, then was activated out of necessity, then was benched again. After being bounced around the roster, how can you play confidently knowing you're only on the field because they simply have no one else?
Back to tackling, I disagree with those who say you can either tackle or you can't. There's a difference between hitters and tacklers. Hitters are born. Tackling can be taught. I went back and took a look at Rambo vs. the Broncos because it was later in the season and his first real action after being benched earlier in the season. Here's what I saw:
#1. Let me start off by saying this game started off with E.J. Biggers and Jose Gumbs at the safety positions. I love Jose Gumbs heart but after two series it was clear he was in over his head. That's when Rambo came in. Here he is, 12 yards off the line of scrimmage.
He identifies run, doesn't show hesitation, and comes up to fill the hole.
Rambo could have let the other players around make the play but he gets his pads down and delivers hit that stops all forward momentum and drives the ball carrier back.
#2. Here's another play with Rambo playing 12 yards off the line of scrimmage.
Rambo identifies the run and in a full sprint, runs to the edge again without showing any hesitation.
Rambo gets right into the ball carrier and brings him down very close to the line of scrimmage. Minimal gain.
#3. Here's Rambo 15 yards off the line of scrimmage. This is a delayed draw to Trindon Holliday.
Rambo identifies run and comes out of his drop to full the gap. Holliday takes it outside the tackle box.
Perry Riley gets a hand on Holliday but it's Rambo who lays the hit that puts him on the ground.
#4. Here's Rambo at 17 yards deep off the line of scrimmage. This is going to be a hand-off to Montee Ball.
Ball is going to cut inside this block and that leaves him 1-on-1 with Rambo.
Rambo does just enough to trip up Ball and bring him to the ground. It's not ideal but it was effective.
#5. Here's Rambo again at 12 yards off the line of scrimmage.
He identifies run and comes up but Demaryius Thomas absolutely EARHOLES him. Rambo needs to keep his head on a swivel.
What I like to see though is not only does the blindside hit not take Rambo off his feet, but he shrugs off the hit, squares his shoulders and takes down the ball carrier.
I won't give my full closing thoughts yet, but this should raise some doubt in the theories that Rambo "can't" tackle or that he is afraid of contact. Keep an eye out for Part 2.
(Editor's Note: Some might say that Denver was Rambo's best game so it's easy to show his strengths. Just because he had 10 tackles, it doesn't make it his best game. The reason he had 10 tackles was because the Redskins played a ton of two safeties deep daring Peyton Manning and the Broncos to run the ball. Most other games Rambo saw more looks as the single-high safety so there were less plays to be made. Don't worry, I will be posting on other Rambo performances as well).