Brian Orakpo was the most important Washington Redskins player not named Robert Griffin III.
And I use the past tense because while Orakpo is still technically a Redskin, he won't be available to the team for the remainder of the 2012 season after tearing a pectoral muscle in Sunday's loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Making matters worse, it was also announced Monday that veteran defensive end Adam Carriker would be lost for the rest of the year with a torn quadriceps tendon, leaving the 'Skins without two of their top four sack artists from 2011.
The Redskins have too many deficiencies in the secondary to compete for a playoff spot without Orakpo, who was the fourth-most productive pass-rushing outside linebacker in football last season, according to Pro Football Focus, as well as Carriker, who was one of his primary sidekicks.
Without Orakpo and Carriker for much of the day against the Rams, the Redskins defense was torched by an offense that was ranked dead last in the NFL last season and was down three starters on the offensive line. After averaging an embarrassing 12.1 points per game in 2011, Sam Bradford and Co. laid 31 on Washington—a number they've hit only twice since Oct. 2008.
This is a team that simply has to rough up the quarterback to survive. Against the Rams—who gave up a league-high 55 sacks last season and were completely depleted on the offensive line—it managed just two sacks, and one was by Orakpo himself, forcing a fumble in the first quarter.
The wheels didn't begin to fall off for Washington until Orakpo and Carriker were grounded for the day.
Now, they're grounded for the season, leaving second-year linebacker Ryan Kerrigan as the team's only quasi-proven pass-rushing threat. Kerrigan will be a force and has looked exceptional early this season, but he can't single-handedly carry this defense on his back.
Well-coached teams—and I believe the Redskins are a very well-coached team—can be quite resilient in situations such as these. The Houston Texans didn't miss a beat after losing top pass-rusher Mario Williams early last season, for example. But the mountain the Redskins are left scaling is far too high for a team that lacks the necessary resources to do so.
This is a team that made its money rushing the passer last season. It was mediocre in almost every respect, except for the fact it finished top 10 in the league with 41 sacks. And on one defensive series Sunday, it lost 35 percent of those sacks.
Enter Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson, reserves who have a combined eight years of experience but only seven total sacks between them. They'll benefit from playing opposite Kerrigan in Jim Haslett's system, but it'll be pretty much impossible for either guy to replace one of the league's most productive young pass-rushers.
And enter Jarvis Jenkins, who likely takes over for Carriker with unrealistic expectations. The 2011 second-round pick was a beast in the preseason as a rookie, but lost his maiden season due to a knee injury and had yet to earn significant playing time in Year 2.
Can the Redskins still make a playoff run without Orakpo and Carriker?
Jenkins has a lot of upside, but even in college, he wasn't a sack maestro and he probably can't be relied upon to bring Carriker-like heat immediately.
With Orakpo and Carriker last year, the Redskins sacked the opposing quarterback on 7.5 percent of pass attempts, which ranked sixth in the league. And yet they still surrendered a mediocre 7.5 yards per attempt. Already this season, that YPA remains at 7.5 despite a poor opening performance from Drew Brees, and that sack percentage number has dropped off to 4.4.
Without Orakpo and Carriker going forward, those numbers are bound to get worse. And in a division like this one that features such dangerous passing games, that'll make it impossible for the Redskins to overcome their flaws and shock the world in RG3's rookie season.