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Successful Pass Rush A Reason Why Defense Has Thrived During Winning Streak

By ZAC BOYER

zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – After he was chipped three times in the first nine plays, Ryan Kerrigan thought he’d have a long day Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Kerrigan

But the Eagles abandoned that plan against Kerrigan after the first drive. And Kerrigan, the Washington Redskins’ top rushing linebacker, made them pay.

Kerrigan finished with two sacks in the Redskins’ 27-20 victory, pushing his season total to 8.5 and topping the 7.5 he had last year as a rookie.

All told, the Redskins sacked Nick Foles five times during the game, with linebackers Perry Riley and Lorenzo Alexander and free safety Madieu Williams also playing a role in dropping the quarterback.

It was a welcome sign for the Redskins, who have struggled to rush the passer for much of the season and had not sacked a quarterback all season as often as they did Foles.

“A lot of the quarterbacks we’ve played are pretty mobile, so that kind of changes how you rush a little bit,” Kerrigan said. “Like [Dallas quarterback Tony] Romo this week, we’ve got to keep him in the pocket and be a little more cognizant on how we rush him. I think that’s one of the things that can slow down a good pass rush – having a good running quarterback.”

Earlier in the year, as the Redskins struggled to get to the quarterback, they attributed the lack of a pass rush to a variety of factors. Several quarterbacks, such as St. Louis’ Sam Bradford and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, work in systems where throwing the ball quickly after the snap is emphasized.

They also faced teams like New Orleans, which has a strong offensive line, and have played nearly the entire season without Brian Orakpo, who tore his left pectoral in the second game and has missed the rest of the year.

Now they’ll face the Cowboys and Romo, whom they sacked just twice in their 38-31 victory on Thanksgiving but hit nine times, which tied a season-high.

“They play that position so well,” Dallas tight end Jason Witten said, referring to Kerrigan and the pass-rushing linebackers. “They give pressure, they stop the run, they walk out and reroute in the slot. They do a lot of different things, but I think that’s where their defense thrives because they can do such a good job with those guys.”

Kerrigan didn’t have a sack in the previous three games, but he was all over Foles on Sunday. He bull rushed right tackle Dennis Kelly, his former collegiate teammate, late in the first quarter and chased Foles down from behind, stripping him of the ball and forcing a fumble recovered by cornerback Richard Crawford.

He also worked his way to the quarterback midway through the second quarter, dropping Foles for a three-yard loss when the quarterback was boxed in by Rob Jackson and his own linemen, and again played a role on a sack credited to Lorenzo Alexander in the third quarter when he pushed Kelly into the quarterback.

“When he chased [Foles] down on the sideline – that was great coverage, and he was able to force that fumble,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “It’s a combination of the defense playing better, and it allows a guy like him to be even more special.”

Jackson and Alexander have also been crucial for the Redskins in balancing out the pass rush. Facing a steady diet of double teams earlier in the win streak, Jackson sacked the New York Giants’ Eli Manning, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden in key situations in consecutive weeks. And Alexander has stepped into Jackson’s old role as a pass-rush specialist, especially on passing downs.

“It’s not because he’s slouching off on pass rush,” Alexander said. “When he’s hot, I ask to leave him in there on third downs, because when he’s playing hot like he’s been doing, you don’t want to take a guy out of a rotation like that and then he ends up getting an interception and stuff like that.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said Kerrigan “has played outstanding these last three weeks,” but was quick to point out the contributions by Alexander, Jackson and defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, who plays on Kerrigan’s side.

“Sacks – a lot of times they’re listed under an individual, but they’re often a team play because rarely do you get there if the coverage isn’t effective,” Kerrigan said. “You know, you’ve got to be able to beat your guy, but you’ve got to have good coverage, too.”

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