In their second game as Washington’s outside linebackers, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan each recorded sacks and the Redskins won.
However, that kind of joint success has been the exception rather than the rule for Orakpo — a Pro Bowl pick as a rookie in 2009 and again in 2010 — and Kerrigan, a Pro Bowl pick in 2012, his second season.
Orakpo missed the final 14 games of last season with a torn pectoral muscle, so the duo has started together only 30 times over three years. When each has taken down the opposing quarterback in the same game, the Redskins are 5-3. When one of them has recorded at least half a sack, Washington is 2-11. And when neither Orakpo nor Kerrigan has gotten to the quarterback, Washington is 2-7.
This season has been a microcosm of the failure of Orakpo and Kerrigan to produce in the same games. Although each has started every week, they’ve only dented the stat sheet together for sacks twice, not once since the Week 5 bye. Kerrigan had six-and-a-half sacks during the first seven games, none during the past five. Orakpo had only three sacks during the first eight games before recording five-and-a-half during the past four games.
“Probably you guys badgering [Rak] the first couple games saying he’s not getting any, now you can turn it and flip it on Ryan [Kerrigan],” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “But the real reason is when you miss a year of football and you come back, it doesn’t click right away. I takes a little bit of time. He’s done a good job in both areas. Beginning of the year, he got chipped, hit and all that. He’s still getting it, but he has an understanding of how to beat all those things. Ryan obviously started off hot. Those things come in bunches. Those guys, both of them, will end up with over 10 sacks.”
That’s hard to see since the ice-cold Kerrigan needs to get hot with three-and-a-half in four games to get there. The third-year man from Purdue said that the opposition hasn’t blocked him differently once the sacks came so fast and furious during September and October.
“You always want to get sacks,” Kerrigan said calmly. “They come in bunches and that’s no more evident than with us two. I had a bunch to start the year. Now Rak’s getting a bunch.”
Indeed, Orakpo had never had a sack in four straight games until now.
“Sacks are hard to get, man,” said the former Texas All-American, like Kerrigan a college defensive end turned 3-4 outside linebacker. “Ryan’s just having a tough stretch right now. He’s still rushing the way Ryan rushes. He’s just not getting there. That’s what happens to me sometimes. If we both get hot at the same time, we can be one of the best, if not the best, tandem in the league.”
The league’s top tandem, Kansas City’s Justin Houston (11 sacks) and Tamba Hali (nine), will visit Washington on Sunday, but the former is unlikely to play because of an elbow injury. The Chiefs (9-3) are almost certainly playoff-bound, as is Carolina, whose defensive ends have combined for 15.5 sacks. However, Buffalo (4-8) is the only team with three players with at least seven sacks, so the stat is far from decisive.
And yet, when the Redskins had Dexter Manley and Charles Mann, the leading sack men in franchise history with 91 and 82, respectively, as their starting ends from 1984-89, they were difference-makers.
Washington was 22-8 (including 2-1 in postseason) when Manley and Mann both recorded sacks. The Redskins were 12-6 (including 2-0 in postseason) when only Mann did so and just 11-10 (including 0-1 in postseason) when only Manley did so. And when neither Manley nor Mann got to the quarterback, Washington was only 13-11.
“I wish we were winning,” said Orakpo, who couldn’t fully enjoy last year’s playoff run because he was on injured reserve and is now on the verge of his third double-digit losing season. “It would make what I’m doing so much sweeter. I’ve been just gradually getting better and better as the weeks progress. The second half of the season [has] been phenomenal for my game. It’s a groove, man. It feels good that I’m finally able to consistently get those sacks that I want.”
If Orakpo can produce three-and-a-half sacks in the final four games for a career-high 12, he’ll tie Monte Coleman and Ken Harvey for third in Redskins history with 41.5. Kerrigan is two shy of tying Wilber Marshall for 10th place with 24.5.
However, with Orakpo headed toward free agency, the hoped-for 21st century version of Manley and Mann could be in its final month. Orakpo has maintained that he wants to remain in Washington, but if he hits the market in March, history says he won’t be back.
“I just gotta keep it up, do the best I can for the defense, make as many plays as I can and make other people’s jobs a lot easier,” he said. “I don’t want to get too high and not be able to continue this streak that I’m on right now. I have to continue to focus, continue to study these [offensive] tackles, continue to attack and play with a lot of high energy. Everything else will take care of itself after the season’s over.”
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.