By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 3, 2010; 1:42 AM
As opposing coaches game plan for the Washington Redskins , it doesn't take much film study to figure out who poses the biggest threat to their quarterback. The imbalance of the Redskins' pass rush allows teams to expend most of their energy trying to contain linebacker Brian Orakpo, who has 81/2 sacks through 11 games.
"People are really concentrating on him," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "For him to have 81/2 is kind of amazing, to be honest with you, because people are sliding to him, chipping to him. They know where he's at."
Despite the praise coaches heap on Orakpo, the team's pass rush has not matched preseason expectations. With 22 sacks this season, the Redskins are tied for 18th in the league. While some teams might be content to be near the middle of the pack, the Redskins certainly figured to put more pressure on quarterbacks this season by changing their base formation and introducing a variety of new blitz packages.
Asked if he's pleased with the Redskins' pass rush so far, Haslett said: "Not necessarily."
"I would like the total to be a little bit more," he said.
The Redskins are on pace to finish the season with 32 sacks. Last year, playing a more conservative brand of defense, they totaled 40. Most of the pressure has come from Orakpo, whose 36 quarterback hurries are more than double the number of any teammate. Haslett's system is designed to allow multiple defenders to chase the quarterback, and for it to succeed, other Redskins have break to through.
"I think you always have to have two or three [pass rushers] to have a really good defense," he said.
Haslett's best defenses, in fact, thrived on multiple pass rushers. In New Orleans in 2000, La'Roi Glover finished the season with 17 sacks, Joe Johnson had 12 and Darren Howard chipped in 11. Plus, Keith Mitchell had 61/2 and Willie Whitehead had 51/2.
"I don't know if you'll ever get those numbers again, but that's why you had the numbers," Haslett said. "Right now, we got one guy [with a large number of sacks], and then we got it a little bit scattered everywhere."
Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who's only on the field for passing downs, is second on the team with 2 1/2 sacks. Among the linebackers, Rocky McIntosh and Andre Carter each have two sacks, and Lorenzo Alexander and London Fletcher have 1 1/2 each.
Coach Mike Shanahan spent his year away from the NFL studying the 3-4 defense and he brought in Haslett to implement it. The goals were clear: attack, cause turnovers and put more pressure on the quarterback. The team's defensive front is supposed to occupy offensive linemen and create lanes for others to make plays. Linebackers, safeties and corners all thought they might be blitzing more often.
Fletcher concedes he thought he'd blitz more than he has, but McIntosh says compared with last year, linebackers are still getting more opportunities. With LaRon Landry hobbled by an Achilles' tendon injury, defensive backs have rarely blitzed since early in the season.
"From a game-plan standpoint, the coaches have to put the best game plan that they feel in place to stop the offense," Fletcher said. "So if it's going out and playing more coverage, we do that. If it's bringing pressure, we do that. So you just have to adapt and adjust week to week."
Against Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay, for example, the Redskins preferred to keep their linebackers in coverage in an effort to ensure that Michael Vick, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers didn't have a chance carve up the secondary.
This week's game could bring an even tougher challenge for Washington pass rushers. Though the Giants' offensive line has been shuffled often - last week against the Jaguars the team started its fifth combination of linemen this season, using only two of their Week 1 starters - it hasn't seemed to matter.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been sacked the fewest times of any NFL starter (12). "He's kind of like his brother in that he doesn't take a sack," Haslett said. In fact, Manning hasn't been sacked once in the Giants' past four games.
"Their O-line works very well together," Alexander said. "Individually they might not be the greatest, but as far as being cohesive and knowing other guys' strengths, they really work well together."
Another key is Manning's awareness in the pocket. He knows where the rushers are coming from, knows when to get rid of the ball and more often than not, figures it all out before the snap.
"He's been able to get us into a protection any number of times, which would allow whatever pressure is coming to get picked up," Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said.
The Redskins will do their best to break through this Sunday. Orakpo will be on the field for nearly every defensive down. On the other side, Alexander is the primary outside linebacker when the team is in its base defense. When they switch to a nickel package, Carter takes over.
No matter who's lining up on the side opposite Orakpo, Haslett expects the other outside linebacker to have the same play on the quarterback. In the next five games, he needs the production to be equitable as well.