ASHBURN, Va. -- When Brian Orakpo was lost for the season in 2012, so was much of the Redskins' pass rush. They eventually generated enough pressure in the second half of the season to help mount a playoff run. But they had to be more creative to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.
That much was obvious. And it was obvious watching the Redskins this summer that Orakpo makes a difference, even if he's not the one getting the sack. No pass-rusher in 2012 could set up anyone else the way Orakpo did the previous year. That will help the interior rushers, Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield in particular, as lines really can only double-team one of them. Otherwise, they risk leaving Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan in one-on-one situations on the outside. Or they'll have to commit extra blockers. That means fewer receivers for the secondary to cover -- and, with more four-man rushes, more to help in coverage. It sounds good on paper, at least.
One number stands out from the past two seasons, with and without Orakpo: The Redskins had 41 sacks out of 509 pass attempts in 2011; they had 32 in 636 pass attempts in 2012. It should be noted, too, that losing Adam Carriker hurt after his 5.5-sack season of 2011, especially from the base package (his replacement, Jarvis Jenkins, had zero sacks). But the guy the coaches really missed in these situations was Orakpo.
After watching every sack the Redskins recorded the past two seasons, here are some takeaways and what that might mean for this season:
Base package: The Redskins recorded 15 sacks from their base package in 2011 but only seven from that look a year ago (all without Orakpo). And of those 15 sacks in 2011, Orakpo recorded one on his own but had a hand in six others, whether from drawing a double-team, applying pressure or by freeing up LaRon Landry on a blitz to his side. Orakpo dropped into coverage five times. So, of the 10 times they recorded a sack from the base package, he helped 70 percent of the time.
Four-man pressures: Once again, a substantial difference. In 2012, the Redskins recorded a sack from a four-man look 14 times, with two other sacks from a three-man rush. They did not get a sack from a three-man rush in 2011, but they did get 22 of their 41 sacks from a four-man rush.
Basic looks: I don't think this will be repeated in 2013, mainly because Kerrigan is more versatile, but: In 2011, of the 41 sacks, Kerrigan and Orakpo were aligned at their usual spots on 29 occasions. Orakpo lined up in a four-point stance on nine sacks and Kerrigan did so three times. Orakpo recorded six sacks when he was either in a four-point stance or aligned somewhere other than as a right outside linebacker. Last season Kerrigan had to move around more, playing Orakpo's role. It helped him because he could rush inside or at a guard. But now having two such players adds to the defensive package. Last year, the Redskins could move Kerrigan around, but having two such players makes the defense more versatile.
"It keeps offenses on their heels," Kerrigan said. "That allows us more versatility in our defense, and having Rak and I have the ability to play multiple positions is good because everything is so well-disguised."
Games: It also made a difference in how they got the sack. In 2011, the Redskins did not get many sacks off a stunt (I counted only four, in fact). In 2012, I counted at least 10 sacks that occurred on a play in which the Redskins stunted or used some sort of game. They were also forced to be more creative in where they placed guys, especially Kerrigan and inside linebacker Perry Riley. Both of them moved around a decent amount in 2012.
That’s not to say the Redskins did not have success running a game with Orakpo and Bowen. They did. One such action resulted in a sack by Bowen. On the play, against the St. Louis Rams in Week 4, Orakpo was aligned over the center about three yards back with Bowen at right end. At the snap, Orakpo ran directly at the outside shoulder of the left guard as Bowen took two steps upfield. Orakpo also caught enough of the tackle to allow Bowen to head inside for a sack.
“When [Bowen] first got here, we used to always talk,” Orakpo said. “He worked with DeMarcus Ware in Dallas and that made it easy with me. We have the same qualities as far as our get off and making things happen. Stephen was used to having a guy on the side like that. He used to tell me what DeMarcus would do to set stuff and I would tell him things. We meshed well together. That’s why he was able to have a great year and I had a good year as well.”
Ware and Orakpo don’t rush exactly the same. Orakpo said Ware has longer arms and uses that to his advantage, whereas Orakpo is more apt to use both hands. Still, he and Bowen clicked because their steps were in sync.
“I’ve been looking forward to Brian coming back,” Bowen said. “We developed a chemistry the year before so we’re trying to build off that.”
It was evident this summer how the two could help one another. On the first sack of the summer against Tennessee, Bowen initially drew the attention of the left guard and center. The guard quickly moved off to help the left tackle. But Orakpo had gone wide, leaving the guard blocking no one. Meanwhile, Bowen collapsed the middle and Kerrigan swooped in from the other side of a narrowing pocket for the sack.
On another rush this summer, Bowen slanted directly at the outside shoulder of the guard. Why is that important? It forced the guard to engage and left Orakpo with a one-on-one situation. More pressure -- and a way to do so minus always sending extra rushers.
They can do that by moving Kerrigan around, pairing him next to Orakpo, as they started to do two years ago and also tried this summer (though they had more success with Orakpo and Bowen on the same side).
“On third-and-long that tackle will be fixated on [Orakpo] so you might be able to accomplish a stunt inside that you wouldn’t be able to do without that edge presence,” Cofield said. “When you have outstanding edge guys, that makes the inside guys’ job better.”