- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2016

Ryan Kerrigan firmly believes the Washington Redskins exited the preseason with a better pass rush than the team had in 2015. It was an area in which they struggled to find consistent production, most notably in their wild-card loss against the Green Bay Packers when they only got to quarterback Aaron Rodgers for one sack, despite the fact he was playing with a battered offensive line in front of him.

What Kerrigan has liked this year is the burst the Redskins‘ pass rushers have shown when getting off the ball and the physicality with which they rush the passer. The more revealing measuring stick, though, will come on Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I like to think we’re improved based on training camp, but you really don’t know until that first game when you go against live bullets and you’re actually tackling a quarterback,” Kerrigan said on Thursday.

That challenge gets more difficult against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who stands at 6-foot-4, weighs 240 pounds and has made a career of making it difficult for defenders to bring his sturdy frame to the ground.

“An underrated part of the pass rush is getting the quarterback on the ground and it’s going to be an even bigger emphasis against Ben Roethlisberger,” Kerrigan said. “Everyone thinks you’ve got to just beat the guy that’s blocking you and then you’re guaranteed a sack, but that’s hardly the case. You’ve got quarterbacks that are real mobile, some are real big and refuse to go down. It’ll be good to see us rushing with live reps.”

Aside from his sheer size, Roethlisberger’s keen awareness in the pocket makes it difficult to get a hold of him. Often times, he’ll shake loose from a defender with a subtle step to his left or right, or step up in the pocket in anticipation of where the pass rush is coming from.

The Redskins defense managed just 27 sacks last season, which tied for the fourth-lowest production in the league. Often times, the defense struggled to finish the play once they got to the quarterback, something they hope to change on Monday night.

“Well, it’s one thing having a good pass rush, it’s another thing getting them on the ground,” coach Jay Gruden said. “That’s what Ben is so good at. You can have a great pass rush but he has a great knack for finding holes and breaking tackles and keeping plays alive. But it’s just a matter of the ‘want to.’ We’ve just got to keep coming.”

As the Redskins prepare for Monday’s matchup, defensive coordinator Joe Barry has preached a different technique to his defense. Rather than focusing on bringing Roethlisberger down, Barry said he’s emphasized for the defenders to focus on aiming on tackling the football instead.

“I think the No. 1 thing with him is that he’s such a big body back there,” Barry said. “He’s a big man to come in and tackle. We talk about — and every time I’ve ever gone against him — the thing that we preach is you want to tackle the ball, you don’t necessarily want to tackle him. Because he’s been doing it for however long — 12 or 13 years. He’s proven he’s tough to tackle just because he’s so big. Especially you see undersized linebackers or [defensive backs] literally just fall off him and bounce off him. He’s able to make the unbalanced throws so well just because he’s so big and so strong.”

Another challenge on Monday will be how the Redskins defense responds to keeping pace with the Steelers‘ up-tempo no-huddle offense. Throughout the preseason, most of the Redskins starters have played limited snaps, aside from the third game against the Buffalo Bills in which they played the first half.

“They do a lot of no-huddle,” Gruden said. “The biggest concern I probably have is how tired are we going to get on Monday night, because if they’re doing no-huddle and he’s dropping back to pass and they’re having to chase him around all day, we’ll see what kind of shape we’re in. I think we’re in good shape and I think we’ll be up to the task, but we’ll have to see.”

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