In order for the Redskins defense to take that next step as a unit and make Washington a contender, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan must become one of the best pass rushing duos in the NFL. Obviously, when we invested two first round picks on these players we expected for them to bring us a dominant pass rush. These two are going to be the keys to this defense performing up to the level they need to to compliment the high powered offense.
As has been reported before, Rak is 100% healthy now, 5 months before the season so we should look forward to a big year from him. Having a healthy 1-2 punch from your rushers is extremely important, and the impact the Orakpo injury had on this defense last season can’t be understated. If Kerrigan can continue his progression the way he did from his rookie year to last year, he should have double digit sacks this season. Having Orakpo back will make the entire front 7 better as teams will key on slowing him down and that will free up other pass rushers. Hopefully, our pass rush returns to getting 40+ sacks this year, as they did in 2011 when Orakpo was healthy opposite Kerrigan, instead of staying only in the low 30s as they did in 2012 w/o Rak. Also, without Orakpo our pass defense dropped from 13th in 2011 to 30th last year. His pressure was greatly missed as quarterbacks had more time to find open wide receivers.
Before last season began, their was already a heated discussion amongst media and fans if Orakpo could ever elevate his game to the next level and become an elite lass rusher. Pro Football Focus ranked Orakpo as the No. 4 rush linebacker in the league in 2011 behind only Aldon Smith, DeMarcus Ware and Cameron Wake. Still to most media members and fans alike, nine sacks didn’t feel like enough for a player drafted as high as he was, especially when playing on a defense that always makes stars out of outside linebackers.
Kerrigan was picked 16th overall in the 2011 draft. As I said, he has steadily gotten better in each of his two seasons. When the Redskins selected Kerrigan, their vision of a hyper-athletic pass-rush from each side of the defense came true. In 2011 offenses were forced to have to focus on stopping either Orakpo or Kerrigan with double teams and thus freeing the other one to go one on one vs an offensive tackle. The Redskins haven’t had that kind of effective pass rush since the 80s when they had Mann and Manley. Teams did what most expected in 2011, they committed extra blockers to Orakpo. When they did that, it allowed Kerrigan to face just one blocker and with his great pass rushing skills he was able to take advantage of less athletic right tackles.
Kerrigan had 7.5 sacks as a rookie in 2011 and 8.5 in 2012, in spite of having to play without Orakpo in the final 14 games. Without Orakpo, teams were able to commit those extra blockers to Kerrigan last year but it didn’t slow him down as he tallied one more sack on the season than he had as a rookie. Kerrigan has flashed playmaking ability in each of his first two seasons in DC. He had an interception returned for a touchdown in both 2011 and 2012.
Despite how well both players have played as Redskins, the team still hasn’t gotten get the consistent, week-to-week quarterback pressure needed for the defense to become one of the best in the NFL. The Redskins need their young duo of pass rushing outside linebackers to take the next step in their development and become the best pass rush in the division. If Kerrigan and Orakpo can take the step from being good to elite, then Redskins as a team should take the next step as well and start winning playoff games.
It all starts up front with these two on the defense though.