The biggest loss on Sunday for the Washington Redskins wasn’t the game against the St. Louis Rams, but rather the loss of two defensive starters (Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker) for the season due to injury. With a defense that has already given up quite a few yards and points this season the loss of two starters could have serious ramifications throughout the rest of the season.
Of the two injuries, there is no question that the loss of Brian Orakpo is the bigger blow to the Redskins defense. He was the Washington Redskins second most talented defender behind London Fletcher, and was probably their most important defender since his ability to rush the quarterback is so coveted in today’s NFL. Orakpo was without a doubt the Redskins best pass rusher, capable of giving even the best left tackles in the league something to be concerned about.
Now some may point to Orakpo’s sack number (9.0) as something that isn’t particularly great, and could come close to being replaced. The problem with that is looking solely at sacks is short-sighted and not seeing the bigger picture. Sacks make up only one part of the equation of a pass rusher, as you also have quarterback hits, hurries and penalties forced (i.e. holding calls an opposing line has to do to stop you). To judge a player just on sacks and ignore the rest would be like judging a slugger in baseball on home runs alone and ignoring all the singles, doubles and triples a player adds.
Now I know it seems odd since he went to the Pro Bowl his first two seasons, but 2011 was Brian Orakpo‘s best year. He had a combined 59 sacks, hits and pressures last season, which was not only a career high, but good enough for 10th in the league among all 3-4 rush linebackers and 4-3 defensive ends. While 10th is obviously very good, keep in mind that just two of the guys ahead of him (Trent Cole and Aldon Smith) had fewer pass rush snaps. Due to the fact that the Washington Redskins were down late in most games, teams stopped throwing against them a number of times in the 4th quarter. In addition in the scheme that Orakpo is in he has more coverage responsibilities than most rush linebackers (and of course 4-3 defensive ends). Orakpo rushed the quarterback just 74% of the time (among passing snaps) last year, well below the 85%+ that guys like DeMarcus Ware, Tamba Hali, and Cameron Wake rushed the quarterback. Take for instance DeMarcus Ware who had 20 sacks last season. In 450 rushes, he combined for 71 pressures/hits/sacks, or one every 6.33 pass rushes. Brian Orakpo had 59 combined pressures/hits/sacks in 383 pass rushes, which breaks down to one in every 6.49 snaps.
Another interesting stat comparison is looking at Brian Orakpo‘s numbers versus two defensive ends, Terrell Suggs and Jason Pierre-Paul, who are widely considered among the best in the league. Take Suggs for instance, who had 14 sacks last season. He obviously had a far better year than Orakpo right? Well Suggs had 100 additional pass rushes (483) to Orakpo, but finished with two fewer (57) combined hits/pressures/sacks. Now even if you normalized the snap count and gave Orakpo 483 rushes he would have only ended up with roughly 12.5 sacks, but his combined total would jump from 59 to 74 (which would have been good for 3rd best in the league among ends and rush linebackers). Sure Suggs ends up with more sacks, but is an extra sack and a half worth all the extra pressures and hits Orakpo would have brought to the table?
Believe it or not the split between Jason Pierre-Paul and Orakpo is even worse. Pierre-Paul may have had 16 sacks, but he only had 56 combined pressures, in 558 pass rush snaps (175 more than Orakpo). Given the same snap count Orakpo would have been on pace for 14.5 sacks and 86 combined pressures, a full 30 more than what Pierre-Paul produced. Now of course guys like Pierre-Paul and Suggs were better at getting sacks, which is a valuable commodity, but it seems clear that Orakpo was perhaps a bit more of an impact player than many give him credit for, making him a major void that will need to be filled on the Redskins defense.
Now Adam Carriker can’t come close to boasting numbers anywhere in the range of Brian Orakpo, as he is primarily a run defender and fairly average at that, but that doesn’t mean his loss won’t be felt as well. Despite being an up and down player, Carriker was an extremely sure tackler. He may not have had the instincts or athleticism to get to the ball carrier at a high rate, but when he did you could be sure that the runner was stopped cold. He also had been with Jim Haslett since their days together in St. Louis, giving him a good understanding of his role as a clogger in this defense. Carriker also showed himself to be an oportunistic pass rusher last year, taking advantage of some snaps where teams either forgot to block him, or use a TE to keep him out of the play. He wasn’t a consistent pass rusher, but he could make team’s pay if they paid too much attention to Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Stephen Bowen. The biggest issue with his injury is that it puts quite a bit more pressure on the Redskins depth, which while solid is no longer as deep.
Replacing Carriker will be some combination of Kedric Golston, Jarvis Jenkins and Chris Baker. Now on paper that looks pretty good, but there are still quite a few question marks. Last year in a reserve role (before suffering his own season ending injury) Golston looked really solid. Unfortunately the year before when asked to play a starting role he struggled. If Golston is forced to play more than 15-20 snaps a game, it’s very possible that he’ll get exposed like he did in 2010. Jenkins was drafted by the Redskins in the 2nd round in 2011, but a knee injury forced him to miss the season. Expectations for him were high this year, but there has been a noticeable lack of explosion from him this year, which is a major part of his game. So far in preseason and through the first two weeks his performance has been pretty lackluster. The idea of giving him even more snaps, isn’t one the Washington Redskins would have entertained until he showed that his explosion was back. Now they might not have much of an option. Baker is an interesting case as he’s been bouncing around the league since going undrafted in 2009. He showed a lot of promise and power during preseason and training camp (though primarily against back-ups), and could help out in run defense. Baker was inactive the first two weeks recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in the preseason, but is fully healthy now. No single option is really ideal for the Redskins, but hopefully between the three the Redskins can make up for the loss of Carriker and still have the depth to give starters Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield enough plays off.
Replacing Brian Orakpo of course won’t be nearly as easy. Chris Wilson and Rob Jackson have both shown the ability to get pressure against back-ups in preseason, but haven’t shown (albeit in limited chances) that same skill against starters when it counts. Now they should be able to garner average pressure, especially if they can rush more often again right tackles (though that of course could impact Ryan Kerrigan‘s numbers going against LT’s). The problem is of course getting average pressure to replace what was essentially elite pressure, is a significant drop off. The Redskins are likely going to need to blitz more , and get even more creative with disguising their blitzes if they hope to not fall too far behind in the pressure department. Though he’s not considered particularly good in either defending the pass or stopping the run, Orakpo had improved to at least an average level in those areas. Jackson/Wilson will need to show that they aren’t liabilities in those areas, or it will make it very hard to keep them on the field, which would further hurt the pass rush..
The losses of Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker won’t be easy for the Redskins to overcome, and the idea of relying on Rob Jackson, Jarvis Jenkins, Chris Wilson and Kedric Golston is far from ideal, but the Washington Redskins will have to make due. That will mean guys like Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield, London Fletcher and Ryan Kerrigan will need to step up their games and produce at even a higher level. If the Redskins want to prove that they are a good NFL defense, that is exactly what they will need to do. It will of course be easy to make excuses for the Redskins defensive performance each week, but good teams overcome these types of injuries, and perform at a high level. So what happens over the final 14 games will determine exactly where the Redskins stand defensively.