Can Orakpo revive the Redskins' pass rush?

Can Orakpo revive the Redskins' pass rush?
September 6, 2013, 10:45 am
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Tandler - Tarik

By Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler

Countdown to kickoff question 4: Can Orakpo help make the Redskins pass rush a disruptive force?

Robert Griffin III is back. So is Brian Orakpo. In all, the Redskins retained 21 of the 22 starters who led them to the NFC East title in 2012. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any potential pitfalls as the new season approaches – because there are. Over the next week, Redskins Insiders Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir will identify and examine seven areas of concern going forward.

Without Brian Orakpo for 14 games last season, the Redskins’ pass rush sagged. In fact, the unit mustered only 32 sacks (23rd), down from 41 (10th) in 2011. Orakpo’s absence also created a trickle down effect throughout the unit, according to Coach Mike Shanahan, who said this week: “I don’t care how good your secondary is, if you don’t have a pass rush, you are going to be in for a long day.” So will Orakpo’s return help the Redskins’ defense enjoy some shorter days in 2013?

El-Bashir: Orakpo’s return will absolutely give the Redskins’ pass rush a big boost. I can also tell you this: Orakpo is in excellent physical condition, he's chomping at the bit after missing nearly an entire season and he’s motivated more than ever, knowing that a big year also will mean the long term security of a lucrative contract extension. Orakpo’s presence will also have a tangible impact on other players in the lineup, most notably Ryan Kerrigan. Although Kerrigan had a career-best 8.5 sacks last season, it wasn’t easy. Kerrigan faced more double teams and chip blocks than ever before because opposing offenses didn’t have to worry about stopping Orakpo. This season, they’ll have to pick one or the other. Orakpo’s return has also allowed defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to implement a “speed” package that puts Orakpo, Kerrigan and rookie Brandon Jenkins on the field at the same time. “Getting Rak back is going to be huge for us as a defense in general,” captain London Fletcher said. “He’s a very disruptive player. Offenses have to game plan him. And it helps the guys along the front – Kerrigan, Barry, all those guys – it creates some more one-on-one matchups for those guys.” 

Tandler: A lot of factors go into a team’s sack total in addition to having a group of 3-4 scheme linebackers who can get after the passer. Even though the defensive line does not necessarily need to get a ton of sacks for the scheme to be effective they can contribute to a healthy pass rush. In 2011 the line combined to get 18 sacks; last year that total fell to 3.5. If Barry Cofield can get some push up the middle on passing plays, he can both force quarterbacks to move into the arms of Orakpo or Kerrigan and pick up a few sacks himself. Stephen Bowen had six sacks in 2011 and just one last year; if he can get back to the 2011 form quarterbacks won’t know which way to turn. One more factor that can boost the sack total is the Redskins’ offense. If RG3 and company can build some comfortable leads and force the opposition into passing situations, the sack count could soar.