Orakpo and Carriker, who were both essential in defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s strategy heading into Sunday, are a big part of why the Redskins’ front seven is considered the strength of the team. Orakpo and Carriker played little during a game in which the Redskins squandered a 15-point first-half lead. In the secondary, the Redskins struggled whether playing zone or man-to-man coverage.
Obviously, there are no guarantees the defense would have executed better if Orakpo and Carriker had played longer. But losing two players of their stature, with what Haslett expected from them, was a major setback. Soon, we’ll learn how long Haslett will have to juggle his plans without them.
The offense again dazzled at times as Coach Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle, Washington’ offensive coordinator, showed more of how they plan to use rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Although the Redskins played without top wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who did not dress because of a foot injury, the Shanahans succeeded in devising another innovative game plan.
The Redskins achieved offensive balance (they rushed for 176 yards and passed for 197 yards) and Griffin continued to prove he’s among the NFL’s emerging stars. The offensive line, which was solid in protection against the Saints, did not perform as well against talented Rams defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn. At times, the Rams’ steady pressure disrupted the Redskins.
Still, it was a winnable game for the Redskins, who felt they were prepared for what they faced. Now, it’s time to examine why things ultimately didn’t work out.
Two big losses
If Carriker’s MRI exam reveals the damage to his right knee that is anticipated, he’ll undergo surgery. The Redskins were counting on Carriker to help provide a consistent pass rush against Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. With their strong defensive line, plus Orakpo and outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, the Redskins expect to have an outstanding pass rush each week.
If Carriker winds up missing a lot of games, the Redskins would have to rely on backup Kedric Golston. Although Golston is fundamentally sound, he doesn’t possess Carriker’s pass-rushing skills. Likewise, second-year lineman Jarvis Jenkins, who the Redskins believe is on the path to becoming a standout in his first season back after knee surgery, hasn’t proven he’s capable of winning individual matchups as frequently as Carriker does.
Haslett’s job would become even be harder if Orakpo, as expected, must sit. Although Rob Jackson again filled in well for Orakpo, Jackson isn’t as polished in coverage.
Haslett truly has confidence in all the backups on defense, the Redskins say. But Haslett would have to make adjustments in developing game plans to account for the personnel changes.
To give one example: The Redskins, after impressing in man-to-man coverage against the Saints, struggled to tighten their zone coverage against the Rams. Haslett revels in designing exotic blitzes, but he has enjoyed getting pressure from the front three.
If Carriker isn’t at left end, the Redskins cannot expect the same pressure from their defensive line. It’s really that simple.
A few more wrinkles
Don’t attempt to put a label on the Redskins’ fast-evolving offense. The Shanahans are mixing many philosophies in their attempt to capitalize on Griffn’s athleticism.
Regardless of whether the Redskins run the option with Griffin starting in the shotgun formation or show multiple pro-style sets (several receivers on either side of the line, a running back in the backfield) with Griffin under center, the Redskins’ coaching staff aims to confuse the defense with misdirection plays.
The Shanahans figured the Rams’ coaching staff, after studying film of the Redskins’ quarterback option plays against New Orleans, would focus on trying to contain Griffin in the pocket with their defensive ends and linebackers.
So the Shanahans and Griffin provided a lot for the Rams to consider.
The Redskins ran several plays in which Griffin, starting in the shotgun, would fake a handoff to a back, fake a pass toward one side of the field and then throw to a receiver on the opposite side or downfield.
On Griffin’s 68-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson in the second quarter, Griffin faked a handoff to Alfred Morris, faked an end-around toss to Josh Morgan and then threw a perfect deep ball to Hankerson.
The creative play showed why the Redskins are suddenly so difficult to defend with Griffin at the controls.
Kyle Shanahan has been aggressive in calling designed running plays for Griffin. Defensive players cannot simply pursue runners in the backfield or ignore what’s occurring around the line of scrimmage while they’re engaged with receivers. They always must account for Griffin.
The Shanahans’ creativity, however, comes with risks. By exposing Griffin on designed runs, his risk of injury increases. Just before halftime, Griffin gained 15 yards on a run up the middle and was drilled by Rams defensive back Janoris Jenkins.
On the next play, Griffin, clearly rattled as the pocket collapsed around him, jumped and threw a pass that was intercepted. That’s the kind of mistake a rookie quarterback will make after getting banged around a lot.
The Rams succeeded where the Saints failed: They consistently put pressure on Griffin.
If teams continue to do that, and repeatedly punish Griffin on designed runs, it will be interesting to see whether the Shanahans continue to expose Griffin more than quarterbacks usually are exposed in the NFL.
The Redskins also will have to deal with the injuries to Orakpo and Carriker. As we saw against the Rams, their defense isn’t as good without those two.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.