Washington Redskins' Pass Rush Showing Early Signs of Dominance

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2012

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 30: Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills throws a pass during NFL game action against the Washington Redskins at Rogers Centre on October 30, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

It may only be one preseason game, but the Washington Redskins' defense looked particularly impressive against the Buffalo Bills. Specifically, the pass rush showed the potential to be dominant this season.

The Redskins certainly have the weapons to terrorize any quarterback, with bookend rush linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo presenting a matchup nightmare for most offensive tackles. However, it was the way the Redskins deployed those weapons against the Bills that was encouraging.

With the starters on the field, coordinator Jim Haslett tweaked the base 3-4 scheme and regularly utilized the under front. That placed defensive end Stepehen Bowen over the weakside guard.

This is a smart move, considering Bowen's expertise is creating inside pressure and rushing the passer. The 28-year-old registered six sacks in 2011 and may have convinced the Redskins' coaches that he can be more effective as a one-gap rusher.

The main advantage to sliding Bowen inside is that it created space for Orakpo to position himself on the line. On more than one occasion, Orakpo aligned in a three-point stance, playing as a de facto defensive end.

This is a tactic this author has endorsed for a while. Every time Orakpo is allowed to line up with his hand on the ground and given exclusive rush responsibilities, the Redskins defense will be better for it.

The use of the under front also forced the Bills to slide their protection towards Orakpo, which meant clear lanes of attack for Kerrigan. The effect was instant, with the 2011 first-rounder notching a sack and a quarterback hit on two of the Bills' first three offensive snaps.

Another good use of Orakpo came in nickel packages. Haslett allowed Orakpo to act as a standing, roving rusher behind a three-man front. It's the kind of flexible approach that maximizes an athletic pass-rusher in obvious passing situations and creates protection breakdowns.

These schemes allowed the Redskins to finish with four sacks and apply consistent pressure to the pocket. Haslett remains a little too blitz-happy for this particular writer's taste, but his overload pressures do force quarterbacks into quick decisions and quick throws.

That enables the secondary to play tight and clamp down on underneath throws. It might be the best way to compensate for the lack of elite talent in Washington's defensive backfield.

Most of the attention this season will be on Robert Griffin III and the offense, but it will be the defense that carries the Redskins. The first preseason contest provided a tantalizing glimpse of the kind of pressure the Redskins personnel will be able to create once the real action begins.