Shut out by opponents in three consecutive outings, Washington Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan finally ended his sackless streak last Sunday and increased his season total to 41 / 2through eight games.
It came while snuffing out a would-be wide receiver pass, rather than on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But a sack’s a sack, and Kerrigan hopes that the second half of the season brings better results than the first.
Six games into his new role as leading pass-rusher for the Redskins, Kerrigan still is working to produce on a consistent basis. Kerrigan, the 16th overall pick of the 2011 draft, was supposed to team with Brian Orakpo to give the Redskins an imposing 1-2 pass-rushing punch. But when Orakpo was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle in Week 2, Kerrigan was thrust into a leading role.
After recording 11 / 2 sacks in the first two games without Orakpo, Kerrigan hit a rough patch. He went three straight games (109 pass plays) without recording a sack or quarterback pressure.
His struggles reflect those of an entire unit. Other than Kerrigan, no Redskins player has more than 11 / 2 sacks. Halfway through the season, the team has just 14 sacks (20th in the NFL), which, along with a weak secondary, is part of the reason why the unit is on pace to give up more passing yards than any in league history.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said that a bulk of Kerrigan’s diminished impact can be attributed to the extra attention teams now devote to him with Orakpo sidelined.
“He’s getting a lot of double-teams, a lot of chips. Last week because of where he was at, the tight end stayed in and blocked,” Haslett said.
“Obviously, it’s a lot easier on him last year when he has ’Rak running around with him,” Haslett added. “But it’s a different dynamic this year. I think he’s doing fine. . . . He’s going to draw attention because he’s the guy, and he’s going to have to overcome some things. We’ve moved him inside, doing different things with him. But when you’re the guy, they’re going to find ways to neutralize you like that.”
Kerrigan, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure that the attention from opponents has increased significantly from his 71 / 2-sack rookie campaign.
“I’d say a little bit more. Not significantly more,” he said. “But the occasional chip block from a running back or tight end, or the occasional guard working back. But nothing too out of the ordinary.”
Kerrigan had one of his more active games Sunday against the Steelers. Although he missed recording actual hits on Roethlisberger, twice he bull-rushed rookie right tackle Mike Adams and forced the quarterback to scramble forward before re-setting and looking downfield for an open receiver. And he did have the sack on receiver-turned-passer Emmanuel Sanders, who got the ball on a reverse and then looked to pass downfield before Kerrigan got to him.
That sack provided little relief for Kerrigan, however.
“Definitely, the three games I went without a sack, it was pretty frustrating,” said Kerrigan, who is on pace to finish with 11 / 2 more sacks than last season, but wants a more significant increase. “But last week, I felt like I left a couple [more sacks] on the field.”
Kerrigan has gotten a fair amount of one-one-one matchups, but hasn’t been able to capitalize. Unlike last season, when teams had little to go on when it came to his tendencies, this season they have plenty of material to study.
“I think the thing with me is I have to get off of blocks quicker,” Kerrigan said. “I’m getting decent push lot of times on the offensive tackle, but I’m allowing him to hold onto me and kind of drag me by the quarterback. So, the big thing for me is make sure I finish the play and not just create push. I’ve got to get off the block and get to the quarterback.”
Watching from the sideline, Orakpo understands Kerrigan’s plight but believes a breakthrough is possible.
“He’s just got to keep playing his game. Stuff will eventually come through for him,” Orakpo said. “It’s tough when you don’t have a tag-team, as we like to call each other. But basically, he’s going to get a lot more attention now. Teams know what he did last year, so he’ll get extra focus. But he’ll get there.”