Ranking the Redskins Pass-Rushing Duo

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Where do Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan rank among the leagues best pass-rushing duos?

Rushing on Empty

In the dead of football winter (aka early July) there isn't a great deal of truly newsworthy NFL stories to discuss.  This is because there simply isn't much of anything going on during the month long wait between minicamp and training camp.  This is the perfect time for NFL writers to fill the void with articles that review, reflect on or rank the different players and teams in the league.

Count NFL.com's Bucky Brooks among this group.  In a recent article, he ranked the Redskins' receiving corps number one, and said that "It's hard to find a more complete receiving corps in the NFL."  I personally believe that we deserve to be ranked in the top five in that department, but I thought that Mr. Brooks was being a little too generous with his top ranking.  And I don't only say this because we have one of the very smallest receiving corps in all of football.  A little over two weeks ago, when I saw that Brooks was about to publish an article ranking the best pass rushing duos, I thought that perhaps lightning may strike twice in the form of another generous ranking for the Redskins.  Unfortunately, Washington's duo of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan did not make the list.

Statistical Head Rush

I can't say that I was terribly surprised by their exclusion from the list, but it got me thinking about where they actually do rank.  After all, they're probably the two best players on the team's defense (although maybe that isn't saying much).  I decided that the best way for me to find the answer was to take a statistical approach; a deeper one that didn't involve me just simply regurgitating sack numbers from NFL.com.   This way you also don't have to listen to me play make-believe scout, and you won't have to just take my word for it.

I decided that the best way to accomplish this was to use raw totals and efficiency stats for each duo's combined sack and total pressure statistics.  The total pressures statistic is the sum total of players hurries, hits and sacks.  A pressure of any kind is almost as a good as a sack in my opinion.  I chose to look at combined totals for each duo as opposed to each player, because that makes it easier to rank each pair against the other pass-rushing twosomes in the league.

Statistics were collected from 2013 and on a three-year basis from 2011-2013.  I didn't think that only looking at last year's statistics was really the most equitable way to conduct this study.  A one-year view could result in an unfair ranking due to injury or other extenuating circumstances.  A three-year observation doesn't totally rectify that potential bias, but it does help.  Granted, three years is quite a long time in NFL terms, but this does give us a decent sample size to work with, and it only makes sense to use two years instead of three when you consider that Kerrigan arrived in Washington three years ago and Orakpo missed almost all of 2012.  Ultimately, the focus is on determining where Orakpo and Kerrigan rank as a duo, so we need to have a large enough sample from them.

It also did not make sense to rank every team's best duo for a number of reasons, and as such I excluded 11 teams from these rankings.  Here is the criteria that was used to determine if a pair was eligible or not:

1. Each member of the duo must have recorded at least 15 sacks from 2011 to 2013.

  • Pro-Football-Reference's season finder produced this list. My primary rationale here was simple: if both members, or even half of a duo, couldn't average at least 5 sacks per season, then they don't deserve to be in the discussion. In ranking these duos we need to consider the credentials of both players and not just those of the superior player. For example, if you lined me up across from Reggie White I would not call us a "top duo", despite the Minister of Defense's greatness.
  • As such, rookies and many second-year players were excluded from these rankings. In most of these cases there is either no data or the sample size is too small to use.
  • Teams Excluded: Texans (Watt and Clowney), Lions (Suh and Ansah), Steelers (Worilds and Jones), Colts (Mathis and Walden), Jaguars (Clemmons and Bryant), Chargers (Freeney and Ingram), Cowboys (Lawrence and Selvie), Giants (Pierre-Paul and Kiwanuka), Bears (Allen and Houston) and Falcons (Massaquoi and Umenyiora).

2. If one member of the duo had played 1.5 times more games than the other from 2011 to 2013.

  • As was previously mentioned, I did not want the statistics and thus the rankings to be too skewed by just one of the players in a duo. Per game numbers would be too heavily weighted towards one player in this situation. Not only was the single excluded duo's sample size small, but they would've ranked a lot lower than you might expect.
  • Teams Excluded: Patriots (Chandler and Ninkovich)

3. If one member of the duo had played 2 times the number of pass rushing snaps than the other from  2011-2013.

  • The same reasoning from #2 applies here.
  • Teams Excluded: None, but the Bills' Jerry Hughes had to be replaced with Kyle Williams for this reason.
  • Ironically, I created this set of criteria before I realized that Orakpo and Kerrigan were almost excluded based on numbers two and three (because of Orakpo).

This leaves us with 21 passing-rushing duos to look at.  The teams and the players that comprise each duo can be seen at the end of the article.

Did Kerakpo beat the rush?

Let's first take a look at the raw total pressure and sack totals from 2013 and over the last few years to see how Orakpo and Kerrigan measure up.  I'm of the belief that raw totals are vastly overrated, but that doesn't mean that they are without merit.  You have to stay on the field to rack up high totals, and a player's durability and his ability to beat out his competition to get on the field in the first place are certainly worth something.

Duo Raw Totals 2013 Sacks 2013 Pressures 2011-2013 Sacks 2011-2013 Pressures
Orakpo/Kerrigan Total Values 20 103 49 292
Group Average 19.1 115.3 52.7 302.6
Orakpo/Kerrigan Group Rank 9th 14th 11th 14th

Not a great start for Washington's dynamic duo.  They didn't rank higher than ninth (out of 21) in any of the four categories, and they were either below or only slightly above the group average in each area as well.  There is, however, a good reason for this.

In 2013, Orakpo and Kerrigan only combined for 819 player pass rush snaps (total combined pass rushes of each player).  That is the seventh lowest number in the group (15 of 21).  This had a lot to do with the fact that they trailed on the scoreboard more than any other team last year.  The Redskins only led games on 11% of their snaps in 2013 (32nd in the NFL).  Just saying that doesn't adequately quantify just how bad they were though.  They trailed by two scores or more in the first half of eight games (tied for last in the league), and in the second half of nine games last year.

This gave opponents little incentive to air the ball out, and instead prompted them to run the ball more.  Opposing offenses passed against the Redskins 55.39% of the time last year (6th lowest in the NFL).  It also likely kept the defense off-balance in the sense that it was harder for them to anticipate when opposing offenses would pass, thus making it more difficult for rushers like Orakpo and Kerrigan to really pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.

The explanation for the low three-year totals is much simpler.  Orakpo's torn pectoral in 2012 is to blame here.  It kept him sidelined for 14 games that year.  This had a drastic effect on these totals as the Orakpo/Kerrigan duo ranks in the bottom four (18th of 21 or lower) in total player games (81, 18th), Snaps (4028, 18th) and pass rush snaps (2295, 20th).  Perhaps if we look at things on a per game basis we'll get a better idea of where they truly stand.

Duo Per Player Game Averages
2013 Sacks/G 2013 Press/G 2011-2013 Sacks/G 2011-2013 Press/G
Orakpo/Kerrigan Per Game Values 0.65 3.32 0.60 3.60
Group Average 0.64 3.90 0.60 3.45
Orakpo/Kerrigan Group Rank 11th 17th 11th 10th

When you examine their 2013 per game numbers they actually come out looking even worse relative to their peers than they did when only the raw totals were observed.  However, their 2011-2013 per game statistics did slightly improve.  From that point of view they would have a legitimate argument to be ranked in the top 12.  I think looking at things this way gives us a more accurate reflection of where Orakpo and Kerrigan stand, but at the same time I don't think it's the best way to quantify their production.

The most sensible way to do this is to look at their efficiency relative to their combined total pass rush snaps.  This is the best measure of their true opportunity to create pressures and accumulate sacks.  Just because a player makes an appearance in a game does not mean that he will get the snaps of an average starter, and likewise just because a player gets the average number of snaps does not mean that he will get the average opportunities to rush the quarterback.  This is especially true of the Redskins' duo of Orakpo and Kerrigan when you consider their aforementioned pass rush snap total rankings (15th of 21 in 2013 and 2nd to last from 2011-2013).

Duo Per Player Pass Rush % 2013 Sacks/Rush %
2013 Press/Rush %
2011-2013 Sacks/Rush %
2011-2013 Press/Rush %
Orakpo/Kerrigan Per Pass Rush % Values 2.44% 12.58% 2.14% 12.72%
Group Average 2.09% 12.62% 2.05% 11.74%
Orakpo/Kerrigan Group Rank 5th 10th 9th 7th

Now that really made a difference!  They rank no lower than tenth in every category and they are above the group average in three of the four categories.  They come in seventh place, in what I think is possibly the most important measure in this entire piece: 2011-2013 Pressure/Pass Rush Percentage.   Finally, take a look at all of their rankings one more time.  The average of all of their rankings is also included in the following table.  Orakpo and Kerrigan's cumulative ranking is displayed in a second table along with that of each of the other 20 duos that were ranked.  The rankings in this table are based on the average of their rankings from the previous chart.

All Duo Rankings Total Sacks Sacks/G Sack/Rush %
Total Pressures Press/G Press/Rush %
Avg. Rank
Orakpo/Kerrigan 2013 Ranks 9th 11th 5th 14th 17th 10th 11
Orakpo/Kerrigan 2011-2013 Ranks 11th 11th 9th 14th 10th 7th 10.33

Cumaltive Avg. Ranks (sorted by 11-13 Avg.) Duo (Team)
11-13 Avg. Rank 2013 Avg. Rank
1st Miller/Ware (Den) 1.14 14.17
2nd Quinn/Long (Stl) 2.50 1.50
3rd Johnson/Hardy (Car) 3.83 2.83
4th Smith/Brooks (SF) 4.33 11.33
5th Hali/Houston (KC) 6.00 2.50
6th Matthews/Peppers (GB) 7.33 17.67
7th Wake/Vernon (Mia) 7.67 10.33
8th Suggs/Dumervil (Bal) 8.17 8.33
9th Campbell/Abraham (Arz) 9.00 8.67
10th Atkins/Dunlap (Cin) 9.17 14.17
11th Orakpo/Kerrigan (Was) 10.33 11.00
12th Avril/Bennett (Sea) 11.00 11.00
13th M. Williams/ K. Williams (Buf) 12.00 6.17
14th Robison/Griffin (Min) 15.00 12.67
15th Woodley/Tuck (Oak) 16.00 10.83
16th Cole/Barwin (Phi) 16.67 18.83
17th Jordan/Galette (NO) 16.83 5.33
18th Philips/Morgan (Ten) 17.00 14.50
19th Johnson/McCoy (TB) 17.17 12.33
20th Kruger/Sheard (Cle) 18.33 19.00
21st Wilkerson/Pace (NYJ) 20.67 13.67

So, where do they rank then?

Well, according to Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan's cumulative average rankings they are about the tenth best pass-rushing duo in the league.  However, those numbers come from the other statistics that were discussed and they have not been weighted based on their importance.  The pass rush snap percentages are the figures that likely carry the most weight, and they all put the Washington's duo between fifth and tenth.

We also need to consider once again that their effectiveness was negatively effected by game flow and their three-year numbers are pretty heavily weight towards the inferior pass rusher of the pair, Ryan Kerrigan.  Orakpo bested Kerrigan in 7 of the 8 rushing efficiency statistics that were discussed, and he did so by a wide margin in many of them.  Orakpo also ranked in the top six of the over 50 players that I reviewed for this article in both his three-year sack/pass rush and pressure/pass rush percentages.  Kerrigan has played in approximately 45% more games (48 to 33) and rushed the passer approximately 82% more times (1481 to 814) since he was drafted.  He has also never rushed the passer fewer than 444 times in a season, while Orakpo has never done so more than 431 times in a year.  Can someone please explain that to me?

One also must be mindful of fact that Orakpo and Kerrigan did not have a lot of help from their fellow pass-rushing mates in the Redskins front seven.  In a previous series of articles, I used similar statistics to show that the Redskins have possibly the worst defensive line in the NFL in terms of pass-rushing ability and production.  It's reassuring (not as a fan) to know that I'm not the only one that views the line this way.

I'm not going to give the Orakpo/ Kerrigan combination an exact ranking.  I'll leave that up to you.  I do, however, think they should be given a little slack for the reasons that I just listed and that their per-pass rush percentages are the most telling numbers.  So, with all of that being said, I have to side with Bucky Brooks and say that they are not a top five duo.  They aren't too far off though.  I agree with the numbers, and the numbers are telling us that Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan combine to form one of the NFL's ten best pass-rushing duos.

Pass-rushing statistics provided by Profootballfocus.com

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