Reporting Grant Paulsen
No NFL team has more sacks than the Washington Redskins.
A year after generating just 29 sacks, the Redskins have already brought opposing quarterbacks to the ground 21 times. The Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants are the only other teams with 21 sacks, and Minnesota has played one more game than Washington has.
Outside linebakers Brian Orakpo (4.5 sacks) and Ryan Kerrigan (2.0 sacks) have consistently created pressure off the edges and a revamped defensive line led by Adam Carriker (4.5 sacks) has consistently collapsed the pocket from the interior. New defensive end Stephen Bowen (2.5) and new nose tackles Barry Cofield and Chris Neild (a combined 3.5 sacks) have kept passers from stepping up in the pocket to avoid Orakpo and Kerrigan.
Twelve different Redskins’ players have at least half a sack. What’s more impressive is that Washington’s defensive line has already tallied more sacks than it did all of last season.
There is no denying that Washington’s pass rush is dramatically improved. Generating more pressure and compiling more sacks was half of the reason the Redskins decided to run a 3-4 defense a year ago. But getting to the quarterback is going to be difficult this weekend.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is the NFL’s toughest quarterback to sack.
As a team, the Bills have allowed seven sacks — the lowest total in the NFL. But one of those sacks came on a trick play that involved a player other than Fitzpatrick attempting to pass.
“I think our offensive line has done a good job,” Bills head coach Chan Gailey said. “I think [Fitzpatrick] understands protections, when the ball needs to come out in a hurry and he understands when he can hold it and get a ball downfield. I think it’s a little bit of both of that.”
Fitzpatrick himself has been sacked just six times. That’s 17 less sacks of Fitzpatrick than the Seahawks or Rams have allowed this season, a startling number considering that the Bills operate a pass-first offensive scheme. A seventh-year veteran, Fitzpatrick has thrown 202 passes through six games.
“I think it starts with the guys up front,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’ve done such a good job. Fred Jackson is a very, very good blocker which also ties into it.”
But protection only tells part of the story. There are a lot of good offensive lines in football and no other team has been able to do what Buffalo has to keep Fitzpatrick upright.
The quarterback plays a way bigger role in avoiding contact and preventing pass-rushers from getting home than is often discussed, and Fitzpatrick has mastered that part of his position.
“I think understanding the schemes, understanding where your weaknesses are and understanding when a free guy’s coming and not holding the ball back there not letting them get to you when they’re not blocked,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think that’s been the biggest thing.”
If the Redskins are going to beat the Bills, the team’s defense will have to play a better game than it did against the Carolina Panthers. That doesn’t just mean the unit will have to give up less than 33 points. Washington’s defenders will have to create turnovers (the Redskins didn’t have a single takeaway against the Panthers) and they’ll have to get to Fitzpatrick.
And based on the Bills’ first six games, that’s not going to be easy to do.