When it became apparent Brian Orakpo was too much for Mario Henderson to handle, the Oakland Raiders made what they thought was the proper adjustment, using running backs to help the left tackle in pass protection.
And when it became apparent that wouldn’t work either, Henderson made what he thought was the proper adjustment. He started holding.
Orakpo’s worth to the Washington Redskins’ defense has been obvious since he arrived on the second day of training camp, immediately stepped into the starting lineup and spent August terrorizing his team’s offensive line.
But just when it appeared Orakpo may be slowing because of the long NFL season and his heavy workload, he had a coming-out party Sunday at Oakland.
Orakpo’s four sacks, which tied the Redskins’ single-game record, gave him 11 for the year and moved him into a tie for fourth in the NFL with teammate Andre Carter. A matchup problem for lumbering tackles because of his athleticism and awareness, Orakpo continues to prove he was a steal as the 13th pick in April’s draft.
A week after he was rested on early downs, Orakpo stormed through the rookie wall. His full skill set was on display against the Raiders.
I think he really came on just trying to prove a point, coach Jim Zorn said. He got after their left tackle and came around the end fast, and Andre worked on the right tackle. They were just relentless, both those guys. … I don’t know if it was the rest. Our coaches put him in a really good position to come off the edge.
The Redskins altered their game plan Sunday. Orakpo and safety LaRon Landry were the beneficiaries.
Instead of playing strictly in coverage while at strongside linebacker, Orakpo rushed the passer. Landry moved from free to strong safety to cover the tight end, a better situation for him than surveying the field and acting like a missile.
The breakdown for Orakpo (who unofficially played 62 of 71 snaps):
Strongside linebacker (27 snaps): He rushed the quarterback six times, played the run 16 times and was in coverage five times.
Right defensive end (35): He rushed the quarterback 30 times, played the run four times and was in coverage once.
In the Redskins’ previous win (vs. Denver on Nov. 15), Orakpo played 36 snaps at linebacker and 17 at defensive end, moving to the line on passing downs and in two-minute drill situations. Given a choice, Orakpo would choose defensive end, where he starred in college. He said he has found the transition to playing linebacker on first and second down difficult.
It was frustrating at times, he said. At times, I didn’t want to do it. I just wanted to rush.
Since he is just 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, the concern of Orakpo standing up against the run is legitimate. Carter manages to hold up despite being listed at 253 pounds, and Phillip Daniels (6-6, 305) holds down the other side.
But as Orakpo gains experience, playing more regular downs at end is possible - as is using him as a fifth rusher from the linebacker spot and going against running backs instead of offensive tackles.
The two most impressive parts of Sunday’s sack-fest: the ways Orakpo got to quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and JaMarcus Russell and how damaging the plays were to Oakland’s drives.
On the first sack, Orakpo, playing linebacker, bull-rushed Oakland running back Justin Fargas and turned second-and-10 into third-and-19.
On the second sack, coming from right end, he showed his stick-to-it attitude. He tried to run over Henderson - that didn’t work - so he moved through traffic and stormed up the middle to get Russell and set up second-and-19.
On the third sack, back at end, he showed his speed, blowing past Henderson on the outside and forcing Oakland into third-and-35.
On the fourth sack, he used the outside rush again to get past Henderson for the sack/forced fumble and a 10-yard loss.
Zorn said he isn’t surprised Orakpo has made a big impact as a rookie pass-rusher.
He was pretty skilled at that, Zorn said. But his aggressiveness and his burst [Sunday] - he didn’t seem to get tired. … We’re working on his strengths - no doubt about it - and he’s learning the linebacker skill. There’s a difference in comfort there.
And a difference in the quarterback’s discomfort.