New Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan is tasked with rebuilding a roster that lacks both top-end talent and depth, and one of his first jobs is to evaluate the current players. We’re doing the same. Previously, I’ve covered the secondary and the offensive line. Today, its back to the defensive side of the ball with the outside linebackers.
Kerrigan has been one of Mike Shanahan’s most successful draft picks. He’s been an impact player on defense since he entered the league, accounting for a number of big plays from sacks to interceptions and everything in between. But with the help of departing outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, Kerrigan took a step forward, becoming one of the top pass rushers in the NFL.
In previous years, Kerrigan has relied on his bull-rush technique, which while effective at times, became predictable and less effective as tackles were more prepared for it.
This was a typical pass rush from Kerrigan back in 2013. He lines up tight to the tackle, although that is somewhat down to the scheme and the offensive formation.
Kerrigan rushes up the field and actually goes wider than his starting point. This gives the tackle time to get into position and get his feet set for Kerrigan’s rush.
Kerrigan does a nice job getting his hands inside and gaining leverage on the tackle for his bull rush.
He actually manages to drive the tackle backwards towards the quarterback. But all of this takes too much time, as Eli Manning is able to make a throw from a clean pocket before Kerrigan can get pressure on him.
But with the introduction of a specialist pass rush coach, Kerrigan’s rush improved. He’s taking better angles and using his hands to knock away the tackles, instead of fighting for inside leverage.
This is from the Colts game this year. Already we can see Kerrigan starts his rush from a wider angle, instead of lining up directly over the tackle. Some of this is, as I said, is down to the formation and the defensive scheme, but it’s a better position for him to be in as a pass rusher.
Rather than rushing up the field, Kerrigan angles his rush towards the tackle, closing the gap between the two and giving him less time to get himself set. Kerrigan baits the tackle to reach for the block, extending his arms towards Kerrigan.
Kerrigan uses his hands to bat away those of the tackle and get to the edge.
From there, Kerrigan is able to turn the corner and close on the quarterback for the sack.
This improvement from Kerrigan took him a step closer to becoming one of the top pass rushers in the NFL. He was able to use this type of rush on more than one occasion to get sacks.
Here against the Eagles, Kerrigan again lines up wide.
The angle and get off Kerrigan uses on this rush forces the tackle to reach to attempt to get his hands on him to slow him down.
But again, Kerrigan is able to knock the hands away and quickly work to the edge.
The tackle does a nice job recovering and does his best to delay Kerrigan, but he fails. Kerrigan turns the corner and closes the gap between himself and the quarterback. Kerrigan reaches out for the ball and strips it loose, recovering the ball for a turnover.
This technique has given Kerrigan more variety to his arsenal of pass-rushing moves. He’ll no doubt look to refine his technique and perhaps attempt to add another move to further improve himself as a pass rusher. His overall game is hugely important to the Redskins. He’s their top pass rusher at the moment, but also one of their most consistent run defenders. Kerrigan should only improve, and will likely soon be considered as a defensive captain. Washington would be wise to sort out a contract extension in the not-too-distant future, as Kerrigan is one of the few building blocks to the foundation of this defense.
Conversely, Orakpo failed to take the step forward that the Redskins had hoped for when they franchise-tagged him last offseason. Orakpo’s reputation as a pass rusher is all bark and very little bite at this moment in his career. Sure, he’s suffered with a number of injuries, but just about every player in the NFL does. Orakpo is an athletic freak, but relies on that far too often in a league full of athletic freaks.
Orakpo’s biggest problem is his lack of moves. He doesn’t predetermine anything, instead he appears to read and react to the tackle. That would be fine if he could read the tackle quickly and make a decisive rush following his read. But he doesn’t do that.
Orakpo lines up as a wide-9 rusher. He’s lined up in the widest possible gap, giving him the best angle to the quarterback.
But he doesn’t take advantage of that angle. By his third step, he should be level with the hip of the tackle or cutting back inside. But instead, Orakpo stutters to get a read on the tackle.
The indecisiveness allows the tackle to get to the edge and cut off the speed rush. But Orakpo gets lucky, the tackle bends from the waist and lunges at Orakpo. All Orakpo has to do is get his hands on the tackle and pull him off-balance to get past him.
But Orakpo fails to do that, instead slowly working back inside, which is easily cut off by the tackle.
Orakpo works back outside and ends up getting the tackle down on one knee, but still can’t beat the block.
The tackle gets back up and hooks Orakpo, giving Manning all day in the pocket to make his progressions and get his throw off.
Someone with Orakpo’s athleticism should be bursting to the edge, knocking away hands of the tackle like we saw from Kerrigan, and turning the corner. But Orakpo negates his athleticism by stuttering on his third step to get a read on the tackle.
At this point in his career, I think the Redskins should move on from Orakpo. He’ll be 29 entering next season and hasn’t really improved as a pass rusher from his rookie season. Orakpo’s athleticism will no doubt interest some teams and he’ll get a solid deal on the open market. But with the Redskins in rebuilding mode, I would let Orakpo walk.
Murphy took a while to get going in his rookie season, but he improved as the season went on. When Orakpo went down with his injury, Murphy was forced into a starting role. There were concerns over his run defense, but he proved to be a solid edge defender against the run.
Here, the 49ers run the ball right at Murphy. They pull the left guard, Mike Iupati, to block Murphy on the edge and kick him outside to create a running lane.
But Murphy reads the play excellently. He spots the guard pulling around the corner and explodes into him. Murphy plays with terrific strength, and does a fantastic job here keeping his pad level low and getting under Iupati to stand him up.
With Iupati blown up, the edge is set by Murphy, forcing the run back inside to the rest of the defense.
Brandon Meriweather comes from his safety spot and makes the tackle for a minimal gain.
Murphy ended up proving to be a more effective run defender than pass rusher. As a rusher, he showed up well as a versatile third rusher who can be moved around the formation and rush from a variety of different positions. But when asked to rush from the edge, his lack of burst hurts him. He relies on his strength and good hands to beat tackles.
He only managed three sacks for his rookie season, but that was still two and a half sacks more than the man they paid $11.5 million on the franchise tag. What is encouraging is that Murphy showed signs of improvement as the year went on. He got more comfortable with his position and, while he failed to register many sacks, he still managed to get pressure on the quarterback and help those around him.
Going forward, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Murphy as the starting outside linebacker opposite Kerrigan. Murphy still has room to grow as a rusher, but I do feel his ceiling is limited due to his lack of explosion off the edge. He won’t beat too many left tackles for speed running the arc. If someone like a Randy Gregory or Shane Ray is available for the Redskins in the draft, I suspect they will be highly considered. That would move Murphy back to his situational pass-rusher role, and allow him to provide relief for the starters in spot snaps.
Depth at the outside linebacker spot is a question for the Redskins entering the offseason. If they are banking on Kerrigan and Murphy as their starters, then they need two backups they can rely on, as injuries do happen. I think the Redskins might be better off looking to add a starting rusher and having Murphy as the backup and third rush linebacker in pass-rushing sitautions. Whether that opportunity presents itself, remains to be seen.
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