What went wrong/How to fix it: pass rush

What went wrong/How to fix it: pass rush
February 8, 2013, 9:15 am
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Over the next week, Redskins reporter Tarik El-Bashir will examine what went wrong in 2012 and weigh possible solutions to the issues. Today, we’re looking at the Redskins’ pass rush, which saw a significant decrease in sacks. 

Key players: Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Rob Jackson, Lorenzo Alexander, Adam Carriker, Stephen Bowen, Jarvis Jenkins

The problem: Losing Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker for the season in Week 2 did more than subtract a combined 14.5 sacks from the lineup, it created a ripple effect throughout the front-7. Opposing teams, for example, now could focus more of their attention on stopping Ryan Kerrigan and Stephen Bowen.  

By the end of regular season, the Redskins had mustered a meager 32 sacks, a total that was tied for 23rd and lagged 20 behind the league-leading Broncos and Rams. A year earlier, Washington was tied for 10th with 41 sacks.

It should also be noted that nine of the Redskins’ sacks in 2012 came against Eagles’ rookie Nick Foles, a mid-season injury replacement. And that in Weeks 4-9, the unit mustered multiple sacks only once and was shut out once.

The team’s five defensive ends combined for a single sack, just a season after Carriker and Bowen combined for 11.5. Meantime, linebackers Rob Jackson and Lorenzo Alexander recorded a combined 7.0 sacks. Both notched career highs and provided timely rushes during the team’s seven-game winning streak, but their combined total still was two fewer than Orakpo's total in 2011.

Injuries certainly played a major role. So did a secondary that struggled in coverage, which gave quarterbacks open targets and pass rushers less to time to get there. But this much isn’t up for debate: despite some late season improvement, the pass rush, far too often, wasn’t enough of a factor.

The potential fix: A return to full health is a good start.

The only positive about the injuries suffered by Orakpo (torn pectoral) and Carriker (quadriceps tendon) is that they both occurred early in the season, providing both players plenty of time to rehab. In late September, Coach Mike Shanahan said Orakpo would need four months and that Carriker’s recovery would take closer to five.

Assuming there are no setbacks, that should mean both will be full participants this offseason and up to speed by Week 1. And if they return on schedule – and at 100-percent – there’s no reason the Redskins’ pass rush can’t regain its place in the upper third of the league.

But one has to wonder how worried the Redskins are about Orakpo. The 26-year-old former first round draft pick has undergone surgery on the same muscle twice in nine months, and when he returned from the first procedure, he played cautiously, fearing re-injury.

In summary, the decline in sacks and inconsistency in the number of quarterback hits and hurries last season is worrisome. But the fact that Orapko and Carriker are expected to return – and their backups received ample experience – should mean it was a short term issue not a long-term problem.

At least the salary-cap strapped Redskins had better hope that's the case.