Brian Orakpo was hunched over on the field for several seconds Sunday afternoon, staring at his hands after letting another opportunity slip right through them.
It was just one play, a dropped interception in the fourth quarter of Washington’s 30-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. But in Orakpo’s eyes, it was a play he should have made, injured left hand and all. It was a play that three-time Pro Bowl linebackers, including those making $11.45 million this season, are expected to make. And he knew it.
“I feel like I cost us the game,” Orakpo said afterwards. “Been a [freaking] frustrating year.”
It was just one play, but it was indicative of the season Orakpo has had so far. Through the Redskins’ first six games, he has 23 total tackles and a half a sack. He has excelled in some aspects of the game at times, from pressuring the quarterback to stopping the run, but ultimately he has failed to produce big plays.
He has influenced games without changing them.
“Obviously he’s probably disappointed with his production,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “We would’ve thought he would have more production — a forced fumble or two or three and a bunch more sacks. He has been around the quarterback, which is good. I think the quarterbacks feel him when they go back to pass. We need more from him. … We need more from everybody.”
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Orakpo is well aware of his lack of production this season but does not want to dwell on it, either. When asked to evaluate his season to this point, he only talked about preparing for Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans, and why the team’s record is more important than his own stats.
“I’m not really concerned with numbers or anything,” Orakpo said. “For me personally, I could care less. I could get zero sacks Sunday but if we win the game, I’m going to be the happiest man in that locker room. That’s just how I feel at this point.”
In Orakpo’s case, however, the numbers are important, too.
Seven months ago, the Redskins chose to use the franchise tag on the 28-year-old rather than sign him to a multi-year contract, a signal that he still needed to prove himself worthy of a long-term deal. The move made it important that Orakpo not only play well but also put up the numbers of a top-tier defensive player.
Orakpo understands all of that. “[When] you’re basically playing for a contract again, you just know it’s there,” he said last month. But he also knows that production is measured in other ways, too.
“It’s just being a force out there,” Orakpo said. “It’s really not about the sacks. It’s just going out there and playing my game. Like I said, I’m not really concerned about numbers and things of that nature. It’s going out there, playing ball, reacting to what you get out there and just trying to make plays. If it’s pressures, sacks, coverage, run game — everything. We do a lot as a 3-4 outside ‘backer.”
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Ryan Kerrigan agreed, saying Orakpo should not be evaluated on his sacks alone.
“Sacks are tough to come by,” Kerrigan said. “So, I mean, I’m sure he’s frustrated with that but he’s playing really good against the run. He’s got a number of tackles, he’s made a number of nice tackles for loss, he’s outstanding in coverage. He’s doing a lot of things well, and if he keeps rushing like he is, keeps sticking to it and not getting too up in arms about the sack total, I think they’ll start coming for him.”
This week in particular, Orakpo and the other outside linebackers have emphasized turnovers in practice. They are focusing on forcing fumbles rather than sacks, targeting the quarterback’s arm and the ball rather than his midsection.
Orakpo has forced six fumbles in his career but none since Week 2 of the 2012 season. One play like that could help get his season back on course.
“Brian’s giving great effort, obviously,” Gruden said. “The production doesn’t say it. He’s getting some pressure. Some of the sacks don’t show up in the stat sheet. He’s created some sacks. But I’m sure he’s a little frustrated — as I’m sure that we all are as far as our team’s production is concerned.”
For Orakpo, it’s a matter of accepting that frustration without letting it linger. That’s why he has already put the dropped interception against the Cardinals behind him, already turned the page on his difficult start to the season, already shifted his focus forward.
“I’m just worried about the Titans, man,” Orakpo said. “I’m just not even worried about individual performance because obviously everybody needs to do a little bit more, man. We’re 1-5. Everybody needs to do a little bit more, myself included.”