The Redskins shocked the world when they made the playoffs with a spectacular offense in the 2012 season. However, the early part of the 2012 season was characterized by a bad defensive unit. Many pointed to the defensive backs as the problem for the struggling defense early in the season. This thought puzzled me during the season. Logically, it made no sense to me that the defensive backs were the problem. They were the same group we had from the previous year, and they were not terrible by any standards. So what changed? Lets compare the Outside Linebackers, our premiere pass rushers, between 2011 and 2012.
Brian Orakpo 9 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Ryan Kerrigan 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles
Brian Orakpo: 1 sack, 1 forced fumble (injured)
Ryan Kerrigan: 8.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Rob Jackson: 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles (also 4 interceptions)
Lorenzo Alexander: 2.5 sacks, 0 Forced Fumbles
While some were eager to point to defensive backs as the problem, many realized the real problem with the defense was the lack of a consistent pass rush during the season. During the 2011 season, the Redskins defense was tied for 10th best in the league with 41 sacks and tied for 7th in forced fumbles with 14. The 2012 defense was tied for 23rd best in the league with 32 sacks and tied for 23rd in forced fumbles at 12. This drastic drop in production is likely due to two major factors, the absence of Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo. In 2011 Orakpo had 9 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. In 2012, Orakpo only recorded 1 sack and 1 forced fumble before being injured in week 2. Many were hoping previously productive Kerrigan (7.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles in 2011) would step up in a big way, but he only had 8.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in 2012.
While Kerrigan was productive in 2012, the absence of Orakpo hurt the pass rush. Teams were able to focus on Kerrigan entirely, while Orakpo’s back ups (Rob Jackson and Lorenzo Alexander) only accounted for 7 sacks and forced 2 fumbles during the 2012 campaign. This lack of pass rush productivity was glaringly evident when the Redskins failed to record one sack against Eli Manning and the New York Giants during Monday Night Football. I am sure Jon Gruden was not amused with that defensive performance.
Because of this lack of production from the pass rush during the season, the pass defense was being attacked relentlessly by opposing offenses. During the 2011 campaign, the Redskins defense was 15th highest in the league for passes defended at 85. In 2012, the defense jumped up to 3rd highest in pass defended with 109. This drastic increase of passes defended shows the increase of passing attempts of opposing offenses. Defensive backs can only do so much when they have to defend passes all the time. They are easy scapegoats for team problems when the pass rush struggles. Quarterbacks playing the Redskins became "must starts" in fantasy circles because of the lack of pass rush and because of the high number of opposing offensive pass attempts (Thanks for that Fabiano). Even though passing attempts increased against the defense in 2012, the number of interceptions for the defense did increase from 13 (22nd highest in the league) in 2011 to 21 in 2012 (3rd highest in the league). So while the defense did struggle initially with the lack of pass rush, they did still find a way to win games through turnovers.
While the high number of turnovers is encouraging for the 2013 season, interceptions are not guaranteed year-to-year. If the Redskins are going to be successful in 2013, they need to return to their 2011 pass rush numbers and dominate the line of scrimmage. A healthy Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker should certainly help with that cause. Orakpo is going into a contract year and is looking to rebound from his pectoral injuries from last year. I for one am looking forward to him "orakpoing" people next year. You know what being "orakpoed" means, right? According to Orakpo, it is another word for sacked. I’m going to enjoy his next run of GEICO commercials too.