Orakpo, the 13th overall pick of the 2009 draft, knows that he needs to get better at beating double-teams.
As a rookie, he racked up 11 sacks, which tied for the team lead and sent him to the Pro Bowl. That production also garnered the 6-foot-4, 260-pounder more attention from opponents, and last season he had to work harder for sacks, and finished with 8.5.
The two-time Pro Bowl player has felt like even more of a marked man this season. One-on-one matchups have been rare, and he hasn’t been able to overcome double-teams as much as he would like or had the impact he knows he is capable of.
“It’s harder to get there, harder to finish that sack,” said Orakpo, who enters Sunday’s season finale with seven sacks, which ranks second to rookie Ryan Kerrigan’s 7.5. “The third year, I learned a lot, I felt like I had a good year. But most importantly, I know that I can get better individually to finish those sacks and get those big plays more often.”
Orakpo this season is an alternate for the Pro Bowl, and ranked among the top five at his position in fan voting. Orakpo said he “couldn’t care less about the Pro Bowl,” and that his aim instead is to lead his team to postseason success.
And to do that, Orakpo knows he knows he must improve his game.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said that Orakpo has had a good season, but that the linebacker will not achieve elite status until he can become more unstoppable, even against double-teams.
“I think he’s got to understand that no matter where he lines up, they’re going to have two guys on him,” Haslett explained this week. “Either they’re going to chip him or they’re going to have two guys on him because they’re going to slide to him. And that’s kind of the way it’s been and he gets frustrated. He’s got to learn, like the other great rushers in the league, the Jared Allens or the [Dwight] Freeneys, they’re always going to have two guys on them. He’s not going to get around it and he’s going to have to learn how to beat two guys.”
Orakpo doesn’t yet know how he will combat the double-teams.
“I don’t really have an answer right now. … It was something that was frustrating throughout the year, but something that comes with the territory,” Orakpo said.
The linebacker’s plan for the offseason is to review all of his games to see what he did wrong, and what he could change. He also plans on seeking out some retired pass-rushing greats to learn different techniques from them.
Says Haslett: “He’s going to have to learn how to take a chip off of him. He’s going to have to learn how to work the edges a little bit more and be better under control a little bit more. I think that’ll come. He’s targeted. When you add another rusher to that, they’re going to take one of them out of the game. He’s the guy they’re looking at right now.”
Although Orakpo’s sack total isn’t what it could be, Haslett does see improvement in the player.
Orakpo this season has played the run better and is more natural in pass coverage. He has tied his career-high of 56 tackles and likely will add to that total on Sunday. And after recording only two pass breakups in each of the last two seasons, Orakpo is credited with five passes defensed this season.
“I think he’s had a really good season. I really do. I think he’s had an excellent season,” Haslett said. “I think he’s gotten better in the run and his coverage has been excellent. He’s just got to take that next step and learn that there is going to be a guy there for him, there’s going to be a chip guy, there’s going to be a running back, there’s going to be an extra tight end.”