- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2015

ASHBURN — Chris Baker glowingly recalled the first sack of his NFL career, which happened two years ago against the Chicago Bears and quarterback Jay Cutler. There was even a tinge of remorse in his voice as he talked about the hit, which knocked Cutler out of the game — a 45-41 win for the Washington Redskins.

“I don’t want nobody to get hurt,” Baker said.

Then his voice flickered with excitement as he remembered his celebration. After the hit, Baker got up with his trademark enthusiasm and danced like Cousin Terio, the Vine sensation who become famous for his shimmying moves and the “Ooh, kill ‘em!” line.

Hardly anything has changed since then. Baker has an affinity for dancing after a big play — this year it has been the “Milly Rock” — and he loves to get after opposing quarterbacks. He’s done both at an increased rate during a breakout season in which he’s had a career-high five sacks, 48 tackles and three forced fumbles.

Baker hopes he and the Redskins’ defensive line can continue to bring the pressure on Sunday against Cutler and the Bears.

“A lot of times, sacks are great to get but if you could push that pocket and make it hard on him, that’s just as good as a sack,” Baker said. “[The quarterback] can’t get comfortable. Can’t step into it. You always want the sack, but the main thing is to close that pocket on the quarterback to make him throw out of a tight area. We need to get some sacks so we can dance.”

The Redskins have just 21 sacks this season, which ranks 25th. The pass rush has been better recently — Washington has eight sacks in the last four games — but coach Jay Gruden would like to see more production from the defensive front.

“When you’re talking about satisfaction, when you’re 5-7, there’s not a lot,” Gruden said. “You’re never really satisfied as a coach. You’re always going to demand more. Our run defense has been good as of late, but our pass rush, I think we can get better. I think [Jason] Hatcher has shown flashes of being a good pass rusher, had some good rushes. I think Ricky [Jean Francois] had some good rushes last week. Obviously, I think Preston [Smith] did some good things.

“But, as a group, we do have to get better. In order to get better, we need to get more third down-and-mediums to longs so we can really tee off and rush. But, overall, I’m pleased with the way our defense is playing, but there are areas of the game we need to improve and pass rush is probably one of them.”

Generating a better pass rush on Sunday could get more challenging based on Hatcher’s availability. Hatcher pinched a nerve and sustained an ankle injury on Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys and has yet to practice this week. Gruden is optimistic about his availability, but a lot can change between now and kickoff. Gruden already ruled defensive end Stephen Paea, who played the last four seasons for the Bears, out “at least one to two games” after he sprained a big toe against the Cowboys.

If both Hatcher and Paea are out, that will mean relying heavily on Baker and Jean Francois, who played 61 percent of the defensive snaps — double of what he normally plays — against Dallas with Paea and Hatcher injured.

“I’m usually in on first and second down, so if Hatch don’t play, I’ll be in first, second and third, so my mindset needs to change quick,” Jean Francois said. “It just feels different. On first and second down, I’m coming off the ball, doing what I have to do to get Hatch back on the field on third down and let him do his thing. Now, if he don’t play, don’t look to that sideline, because you’re in the game and have more responsibility.”

Jean Francois also pointed to Hatcher’s toughness and said that if the team’s training staff was not telling him to sit out, he would have came back in the game. Hatcher, who is in his 10th season, has played in 144 of 156 games. He has never played fewer than 13 games in a season, which is why many of his teammates are hopeful he will play against Chicago.

“It’s going to take a lot to keep Hatch off the field,” nose tackle Terrance Knighton said.

The Redskins’ plan won’t change when it comes to pursuing Cutler in the pocket, and it helps that they’re confident in the depth at the position, even with two key contributors potentially out.

“It shortens the depth,” Knighton said, “but Bake has to play more. He’s playing well. The more he’s on the field, the better we are as a defense. Guys like myself, I’ve played 40 or 50 plays in the past, I can do more. Frank [Kearse] has been a starter in this league, he’s capable. Our room is full of starters, it’s just hard, everybody can’t be out there at once. I have faith in everybody.”

• Anthony Gulizia can be reached at agulizia@washingtontimes.com.

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