(AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)
We are back from vacation, but the Redskins are still on their extended summer break. Training camp is coming soon now that the calender has officially turned to July.
Last month, we examined one significant way the Redskins could get better besides talent acquisition and "better" coaching, even though I believe that is an overrated part of the blame/credit game.
If the Redskins improve on first down as we detailed, the offense will be much more lethal. It will not only improve the offense, but the defense as well. Less need to bail out or be reliant, would be a nice change.
That being said, the Redskins defense needs to take a major jump and they have decided that rushing the quarterback is the number one avenue to that success.
So how can the Redskins get better? They need 50 sacks to be the defense that can truly make an impact and alter games.
Did he say FIFTY?? Yes. In 2013, they had 36. In 2012, they had 31. In 2011 (arguably the defensive unit's best year under Jim Haslett) they had 41. In 2010 (Haslett's first year) they had a meager 29 as the conversion was made from a "43" to a "34" front.
Going back to the pre Mike Shanahan/Bruce Allen era, The Redskins had 40 sacks in 2009, a pathetic 24 sacks in 2008 and 33 in 2007, the last year that a Redskins defense exceeded what the Redskins offense yielded in sacks.
For those that don't remember, in 2006 (under Gregg Williams) the Redskins only racked up 19 sacks during a 5-11 campaign, but somehow only managed to yield 18. In 2005, it was only 32 sacks and in 2004 (first year under Joe Gibbs/Gregg Williams) it was 40 sacks.
You see, you can go back a decade for the Redskins and come nowhere close to that magical number. You can go back to just last year and see the Carolina Panthers at a whopping 60 sacks, followed by Buffalo at 57 and St. Louis at 53. New Orleans and New England just barely missed the mark.
Only San Diego, Tampa, Dallas, New York (NFC), Pittsburgh, Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago and Jacksonville had less than the Redskins in this key statistical category.
Clearly, sacks does not guarantee team success (Buffalo/St.Louis) nor does it preclude you from making the playoffs (San Diego) but nobody else below the Redskins made the NFL's postseason dance.
I don't know about you, but I'll take my chances at fifty sacks plus and hope that balances a much improved offense as opposed to the other way.
So how do the Redskins get to this ridiculous (for them) number? Well that's easier said than done, but I have some legitimate reasons for hope.
1. Brian Orakpo in another contract year (presumably).
2. A healthy Ryan Kerrigan
3. Jason Hatcher and Chris Baker added as full-time starters to the defensive line.
4. Trent Murphy and Brandon Jenkins developing into rotational depth.
5. Brian Baker and Kirk Olivadotti
Orakpo and the Redskins have until July 15th to work out a long-term deal that is satisfactory to both sides. My belief is that won't happen, but who knows. Orakpo has handled himself with absolute class during the process and turned a possible drama into a footnote.
I've always believed that Orakpo has the potential to deliver a big year, and EVERYTHING is in his favor right now.
Redskins fans have been disappointed in Orakpo, and I understand all of the arguments but here's something to keep in mind. Ryan Kerrigan and Orakpo (at full strength) have only been on the field together for essentially one full season of games, because of Orakpo missing most of 2012 and Kerrigan being hampered by his knee last year.
That sounds like excuses and maybe it is, but in order for players to fully perform, health and a tag-team partner to feed off of is a needed reality. Robert Quinn is great, but would he be as good if he didn't have Chris Long? Greg Hardy is a terrific pass rusher, but how much does Charles Johnson help him? You get my point.
As of right now, and I realize we have a long way to go, both Orakpo and Kerrigan are healthy. They won't have to completely carry the load either. We'll get into that as we go along.
One area that will absolutely be a reality for certain is that Orakpo and Kerrigan will both get to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback more. In 2013, Orakpo was credited by ProFootballFocus.com as only rushing the quarterback 363 times out of 465 passing snaps for a 78.1 % ratio. Kerrigan had 544 passing snaps and rushed the quarterback and rushed the quarterback 426 times for a 78.3 % ratio.
So even though Kerrigan played more snaps than Orakpo in pass rushing situations according to PFF, the rush percentage was almost identical. I would have thought these numbers would have been closer in terms of snaps, but remember the Redskins were trying to get Orakpo back up to speed during the first part of the season, and then Rob Jackson took his share of snaps after the first quarter of the season was completed.
Kerrigan really didn't have anybody (Jenkins) that could take away snaps on his side.
Whatever the numbers were - I would almost be willing to guarantee that when 2014 is done - Orakpo and Kerrigan will be at or above 85 %. Jim Haslett and the defensive staff are going to attack. That is clear.
Orakpo was credited with 11 sacks by ProFootballFocus.com, while Kerrigan was credited with nine sacks.
For comparison, Tamba Hali rushed the passer 87.3 % of the time (500 out of 573) but only had 12 sacks. A very good year, and nobody would even question his impact - he had one more sack in 137 more opportunities than Orakpo did.
We could play the name game all day, but Robert Mathis of the Colts had a career best 18 sacks last year, while rushing the quarterback 92.1 % of the time (455 out of 494).
PFF has a "signature stat" (part of a premium package) that measures "PRP." The statistic is designed to measure how many sacks, hits and hurries a pass rush rusher has relative to the amount of opportunities he is given.
You know how was slightly ahead of Mathis last year? Orakpo. 11.3 to 11.2, which gives you some idea of the big picture.
They also no longer have to be as reliant on their outside linebackers holding up the edge against the run, because the thought would be if they disrupt enough plays in the backfield - somebody will be able to clean up or that teams will be in more long down-and-distance passing situations.
Not to mention, if Keenan Robinson can stay healthy, he is a enormous upgrade from a talent perspective over London Fletcher. Sorry, that's the truth. Perry Riley appeared to be a different player in coverage during OTA's and mini-camp. We'll see if that continues, but if the Redskins can trust Robinson and Riley more in coverage and of course with run fits, that will allow the two outside guys to be more attack oriented.
Here's the bottom line. It's more than reasonable to think that Orakpo gets 15 sacks this year. That would be an educated opinion of mine, if he plays in 16 games. I believe Kerrigan can get to 12. If both hit their marks, that's a total of 27.
Jason Hatcher, assuming that he is the player he has been for the Dallas Cowboys the last three years will be a huge addition to the defensive line.
Yes, he's already undergone knee surgery and will have to be eased in during training camp. I don't expect him to play before the third preseason game, if he even does that. The first time you see him in a Redskins uniform might be in Houston.
The thought that Hatcher was a one year breakout star for the Cowboys is quite misleading. He was a player that was steadily developing and lurking in the shadows of higher profile rushers like DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
I will admit that i didn't know much about Hatcher until early 2011, but after getting a tip on him from a source, you could see him start to emerge. One of the big reasons why the Redskins went after him was because of what Hatcher has done in NFC East play and what he has done against Washington.
Hatcher had a breakout season in terms of sacks last year, after the Cowboys made the conversion from a 3-4 to a 4-3. To which everyone said, "that's the reason he had all of his sacks." Those people couldn't be more wrong, but let's take a look at some of the reality.
The Redskins were in a four-man front 62% of the time last year according to team sources. Essentially, they played two down linemen with two standing in nickel situations. It's a nickel defense league, and that trend will continue to become more of the story.
Assuming that Hatcher is healthy, he'll be paired in all likelihood with either Chris Baker or Barry Cofield in most "nickel" four man fronts. The Redskins have other packages of course that will vary these looks, but that will be the primary package.
One concern would be that if Hatcher and Baker are the two primary down linemen, they could run out of gas often. To counter, Jim Haslett can play Jarvis Jenkins and Kedric Golston on first down more, with Stephen Bowen in the mix when healthy or he can kick Kerrigan inside with Trent Murphy standing up outside.
Hatcher likely won't have 11 sacks like he did in 2013. If he does, obviously that would be a steal. Say he gets seven sacks, that would put the Redskins in my projections at 34 overall.
Last year, Hatcher played on 459 passing snaps for the Cowboys and in those situations was getting up the field on 98.5% of the time (452 out of 459). He had seven hits, and 33 hurries for a "PRP" of 9.1, which placed him in 5th amongst 4-3 defensive tackles. Hatcher was a tenth of a percentage point behind Geno Atkins and Jurrell Casey, while trailing Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy.
As for Baker, he will start at the left defensive end position barring something unforeseen. Baker has been blowing up run plays by knifing thru the right side of the offensive line with ease during some practices I've been able to see.
With all of the attention of Orakpo, Kerrigan, Hatcher and perhaps other 'exotic' packages that Jim Haslett can create - Baker should be able to get to five sacks on the year. He has very good athletic ability, he's quick off the snap and by playing on the left side of the line, he will draw more favorable match-ups than he would on the right side.
The Redskins have very high hopes for Baker and they are more than reasonable. Every indication is that he only gets better with more opportunities. See that's the thing that good companies and teams do. They reward their own, who have demonstrated an ability to get better and improve. Baker is a perfect example of that.
So if my projections are correct about the above mentioned four individuals - I have the Redskins at 39 sacks already.
So where do those other 11 sacks come from? I have to believe that a combination of Barry Cofield, and a contribution from another defensive lineman or two gets Washington in the 42-43 range.
How about Trent Murphy and Brandon Jenkins? Murphy should be able to get two or three sacks in his rookie year. He'll be on the field in many nickel situations. I believe he's strong enough to kick down inside and jack unsuspecting offensive linemen off their stance.
Jenkins is interesting because he still has a long way to go, but as a pure pass rusher, he could be very dangerous.
At the end of the Redskins June workouts - ESPN.com & ESPN 980's John Keim and I walked with Brian Baker for a while and I asked him directly about Jenkins' potential.
John wrote up an excellent post on Baker's comments that shows where Jenkins is at in the minds of Baker, and as a extension, Jim Haslett.
"Jenks is a young man that as much as I get on him, I get on him because I love him and want him to be a great player," Baker told us in June. "I want him to be really good. Sometimes you have to pull it out of a guy. We're starting to get on the same page as to how that can happen so those episodes have become fewer and fewer."
I think the battle for the fourth outside linebacker position in August will be one of the most interesting on the entire roster. Do the Redskins go with the veteran Rob Jackson who offers better pass coverage and a better grasp of the defense or do they go with the young buck who might have the higher upside and could have the best array of pass rushing moves on the unit?
If Jenkins is the choice (I believe he will be) that could bolster the Redskins into the 46-47 range in terms of sacks, based on my projections.
To get to the magical number of 50 - the Redskins are going to need contributions from others like Perry Riley who had three sacks last year and corners/safeties off the edge. The Jim Haslett that I know loves to pressure from the secondary and the defense was at their best when they were able to generate extra heat from different spots.
Clearly, Haslett is front-and-center and he knows that it is time for his unit to deliver. I know that many have taken umbrage with the notion that Mike Shanahan held Haslett and the defense back.
It is clear that some of that happened. How much? Nobody knows for sure. It wasn't just in games, it was personnel decisions and philosophy. It was also coaches.
With no disrespect to Bob Slowik or his son, it was quietly known in the building that players were not getting better in many areas under Slowik, a longtime friend of Shanahan's. Slowik was let go along with Shanahan and make no mistake, Bruce Allen knew this was an issue.
The Redskins hired two coaches (Brian Baker and Kirk Olivadotti) that are by all accounts upgrades and the people that Haslett wanted. Kirk Olivadotti returns to the organization to coach the inside linebackers. He was here before Haslett, worked with Haslett for one year (2010) and then left for a position at Georgia.
He now is responsible for the continued development of Riley and Keenan Robinson. I've been able to see tangible improvement in Riley during limited media access. Robinson is a thoroughbred who has size and can run. He seems to be more that competent in coverage and should get better in all phases. Here's what I know. If he can stay healthy, and that is a huge if, he will be a significant upgrade.
Baker has already had a very positive impact from working directly with the Redskins edge rushers on a variety of techniques that we have wrote about and mentioned on radio. It truly is a pleasure to see him coach. Will it automatically lead to better results? Of course not, but I can't help but believe that the Redskins linebacking corps will be significantly better.
I am predicting a total of five sacks combined between Robinson and Riley, to go along with my predicted total of 27 between Kerrigan and Orakpo. If that works out, the Redskins are at 32 just from the four projected starters. Last year, they had 23.5 sacks from the starting four linebackers.
Is my prediction unreasonable? Maybe. I don't think so. Either individually or collectively. I would honestly be let down if this unit combined does not get to 50. It's a major emphasis, and nobody is asking for them to be the 1984 Chicago Bears (72) or even last years Carolina Panthers (60), it is more than reasonable to expect 50.
In case you are curious, the last time a Redskins defense achieved that mark? 1991. A (14-2) season with a even 50 quarterback takedowns. I don't think I need to remind you what that team did as the calender turned to 1992. Perhaps a little Redskins deja vu?
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
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