By Tracee Hamilton
Tuesday, October 12, 2010; 12:06 AM
He doesn't lead the league in sacks, or the team in tackles. He hasn't picked off a pass or forced a fumble (not yet anyway). What Brian Orakpo has done is simply to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. He's become the most disruptive - and perhaps the best - player on the Redskins' defensive unit.
Consider the number of holding penalties other teams commit against Orakpo - including the most famous, of course, which gave the Redskins a win over the Cowboys in Week 1 at FedEx Field. When your opponent has no other choice - no other choice - but to grab on to you and hold on for dear life, you are making a difference.
Asked about leading the league in drawing holding penalties, Orakpo broke out his killer grin and said in his usual basso, "They need to convert those to sacks, man. Go talk to the commissioner about that."
Will do. (Seriously, you tell this guy no. Go ahead.)
All kidding aside, Orakpo admits all the holds do get on his nerves.
"Yeah, man, but I've got to keep playing, being relentless," he said. "Obviously there's frustration, but I've just got to keep going."
That could be the mantra for the Redskins' defense this season. LaRon Landry is indisputably the biggest beneficiary of Jim Haslett's 3-4 system. Redskins fans have yet to fully embrace it, but Landry is all in. It allows him to roam the veldt like a lion, striking anything that moves. He flattened the team chaplain Sunday morning, helped him up, apologized, then flattened him again. He can't help himself.
London Fletcher is still getting it done. He's consistently within range of the ball; he's among the team leaders in tackles, and he's the undisputed defensive leader. Fletcher gave a postgame locker room speech Sunday night, then fulfilled every interview request, striding between TV cameras and media scrums, occasionally muttering, "I've got to get a shower."
(Where are Fletcher's commercial opportunities, by the way? Donovan McNabb is a charming salesman, but if Fletcher looked straight into a camera and told everyone to buy a snow shovel, everyone in the Washington area would finally be prepared for winter.)
But Orakpo, while posting decent but not gaudy numbers, is a force to be reckoned with in just his second season in the league. On Sunday, in the Redskins' 16-13 overtime win over Green Bay, he had two sacks, three tackles (two solo) and three quarterback hurries. He has six sacks overall; the Redskins are seventh in the league in that category.
He's also that rarest of players: a draft pick the Redskins got right. He was chosen 13th overall in the first round in 2009, out of Texas, and he made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. In his second season, he was asked to learn a new role in a new defense. He understands the frustrations with the 3-4, but he sees some real progress.
"Yeah, actually I can," he said. "We gave up 12 [points] last week; we gave up I don't know how many points this week, 13 was it? We're really starting to gel together. I'm not going to start bragging on ourselves yet because we still have a lot to learn, but it's really starting to come together and we're going to keep playing Redskin football.
"I don't know how many sacks we had today but it was a big number [four]. That just goes for guys playing hard, playing relentless, and wanting to get the ball back to our offense to score points."
It's a strange season for the Redskins' defense, which is dead last in the league in yards allowed. The unit was picked apart in the fourth quarter and overtime of the loss to Houston, and looked inept at times against St. Louis, another loss. As the defense goes, so go the Redskins this season.
But there's always a "but." And that is this: In three wins, they've held a trio of teams that were in the playoffs a year ago to a combined 32 points, and they beat them all on the final play of the game. That's not easy to do.
"It's huge, man; it's so huge," Orakpo said. "We played so much good football, but then we'd get to a point in these type of games where we just can't finish, we can't get that luck to go our way. Eventually this game was one of those games where it finally turned our way. [They] finally missed a field goal; we was able to get the ball back, got an interception, get into the red zone and finish the game. It's was a huge boost for us."
Orakpo is quick to point out that the Redskins have yet to play their best game as a team, offensively and defensively. But he and the rest of the Redskins believe it's coming, and that's a sea change from attitudes just one season ago.
"It's a new Redskin era," Orakpo said. "I've seen what we can do if we put four quarters together. We haven't did that yet and we beat three premier teams around this league. It's a huge motivational boost for us and we've just got to learn from this game, look at the mistakes and go from there and get ready for next week [against Indianapolis].
"Doesn't get any easier [next week]. Got to keep rolling."