Big plays, long drives, demoralizing results: The passing yards allowed have added up for the Washington Redskins. Dead last in the league at 314.2 a game, they’re on pace to have the worst pass defense in the history of the NFL.
And while the secondary has been much-maligned for an inability to cover, the lack of a pass rush deserves at least part of the blame. Defenders are eager to avoid setting that kind of record.
“That definitely would bother me because I’m part of that defense and a pass rush is every bit a part of a defense as the secondary. And we haven’t gotten to the passer very well this year,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “That’s been as big a problem as anything. We need to improve on getting to the quarterback and make sure we keep those [passing] numbers down.”
The onus is on Kerrigan to make a difference. He can’t totally compensate for a defensive line that has combined for two sacks, but the second-year pass-rusher needs to find ways to create more pressure, especially in the absence of Brian Orakpo.
“He’s going to draw attention because he’s the guy. He’s going to have to try to overcome some of the things,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “We’re moving him inside and doing different things with him. But when you’re the guy, they’re going to try to find ways to try to neutralize you, if you’ve got one guy like that.”
The attention is a “little bit more” since Orakpo went out for the season in Week 2, Kerrigan said. Statistically, Kerrigan is doing better than his rookie season; with 4½ sacks he’s on pace to beat last year’s total of 7½ .
“Even with teams focusing on him, he’s still getting the job done,” defensive lineman Kedric Golston said.
But not to Kerrigan’s standards and not enough for the defense to be successful. Orakpo’s not around to draw extra attention from opposing offenses, and as much as Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson can do against the run, they’re not as intimidating against the pass.
Injuries happen, though, and it changed the way Kerrigan had to approach his role.
“There’s definitely a greater sense of urgency now,” he said. “That sense of urgency has been there but even more so now that I need to pick it up, not for myself but just for the defense in general.”
But since it hasn’t performed close to preseason expectations, it’s worth considering what Kerrigan hasn’t been able to do.
“I think the thing with me, I’ve just got to get off the blocks quicker because I’m getting a decent push a lot of the time on the offensive tackle, but then I’m allowing him to hold onto me and just kind of drag me by the quarterback,” Kerrigan said. “So I think the big thing for me is just to make sure I finish the play and not just create the push. I’ve got to actually get off the block and get to the quarterback.”
In Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kerrigan was around the ball but couldn’t make a significant impact. Haslett said the 24-year-old got moved around plenty but was often dealing with extra protection.
“He’s doing all right with it. He still gets his pressures in different ways,” Haslett said. “Obviously it’s a lot easier on him last year when he had ‘Rak running around. It’s just a different dynamic right now and he has to deal with that. I think he’s doing fine.”
Golston said Kerrigan “is still playing at a Pro Bowl level.” Jackson said Kerrigan looks more “comfortable” in his second NFL season. And while his coverage and run-stopping abilities have certainly improved, being an all-around force requires more.
“Ultimately, I need to get to the quarterback more,” Kerrigan said.
If he does that, it could be the start of the Redskins‘ defense backing away from the brink of some dubious history.
How that happens could just be part of Kerrigan’s progression.
“Just keep grinding. It’s a long season,” he said. “We’re only halfway done, so anything can happen in these last eight games.”