Without Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan Becomes Main Pass-Rush Threat
ASHBURN – Life is about to change drastically for Ryan Kerrigan.
The Washington Redskins’ second-year outside linebacker thrived during his rookie season as a complement to Brian Orakpo, the two-time Pro Bowler and his counterpart on the right side. The two combined for a formative pass rush, generating 16.5 of the team’s 41 sacks a year ago.
With Orakpo now missing the rest of the season after tearing his left pectoral Sunday at St. Louis, the responsibility of disrupting the passing game and getting to the quarterback now falls largely on Kerrigan.
“You’ve got to be ready for it, because with Brian out, obviously that’s going to take a lot of attention away from that side of the ball,” Kerrigan said. “I hope they don’t [double-team me], but so be it.”
The injures to Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker, who tore the quadriceps tendon in his right leg and will also miss the remainder of the season, may have derailed one of the Redskins’ primary objectives. The team entered the season believing it had a realistic chance of being ranked amongst the best defenses.
It may be just two games, but the early results aren’t encouraging. The unit has allowed an average of 405 yards against New Orleans and St. Louis, ranking it 28th in the league entering Sunday’s home opener against Cincinnati.
And because the Redskins faced Drew Brees in the opener and struggled against Sam Bradford on Sunday, only Tampa Bay has allowed more passing yards this season.
“We’re going to work on it,” head coach Mike Shanahan said. “We didn’t play one of our better games [Sunday] – that’s for sure.”
The Redskins expected their pass rush to be better against the Rams. Bradford worked for much of the game behind three reserve offensive linemen, including his backup left tackle, and Washington gave him fits a year ago by sacking him seven times.
Instead, Bradford was sacked only two times – one by Orakpo, which led to the injury, and the other by Stephen Bowen – and was hit only three times. He completed 26 of 35 passes for 310 yards and tied a career high with three touchdowns.
“The ball was coming out pretty quick, and Bradford did a pretty good job of getting it out of his hands,” Kerrigan said. “We didn’t get home on a lot of our pressures, which was a problem, and that’s what allowed for a lot of the big gains after the catch, which is something that can’t happen.”
Both Rob Jackson, a seventh-round pick in 2008, and Chris Wilson, an undrafted free agent who was out of the league last year, will fill in for Orakpo, though Shanahan said he will be evaluating both during the course of the game. Jarvis Jenkins, a second-round pick a year ago, will get the bulk of the playing time for Carriker.
Jackson doesn’t have 29.5 career sacks in four seasons as Orakpo does, but his ability to get into the backfield may be his greatest asset.
“I am [ready], definitely, especially in the pass-rush department,” Jackson said. “I’ve got to work on some coverage skills and you know, passing off and stuff like that, but as far as stopping the run and rushing the passer, I feel like I’ve got that pretty much down pat.”
How Jackson and Wilson fare will go a long way in not only assisting Kerrigan, but also the Redskins’ pursuit of their overall goals.
“I think he helped Brian with the type of year he had and I think Brian helped Kerrigan as well,” Shanahan said. “But these guys are guys that are going to compete every down. You always talk about being one or two plays away from being the starter, and these guys are going to get an opportunity to show us what they can do. I think they’ll play well.”