Finding ways to still create pressure without his best pass-rusher is the challenge facing Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. There's no doubt that outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is a major loss for the Redskins defense.
In fact with both Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker out, the Redskins are attempting to replace 15.5 sacks. Their 3-4 front is dependant on the outside linebackers for most of the pressure, and neither Rob Jackson nor Chris Wilson is likely to match Orakpo's production.
To compensate, Haslett is likely going to have to expand his already aggressive blitz schemes. That will certainly put big pressure on an already shaky-looking secondary.
Back in July, this author wrote an article calling for Haslett to play simple coverages and reduce the blitz calls. However, playing basic schemes only works with athletes capable of winning up front. This problem was exposed against the St. Louis Rams in Week 2.
One option for Haslett is to re-introduce the controversial Cover 0 house blitz he often utilized last season. The play is not a particular favorite of this writer and was rightfully vilified for its Week 3 failure on 3rd-and-21 against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.
However, when the play works, its chief benefit is forcing quarterbacks to make quick throws. A great example is from Week 1 of the 2011 season against the New York Giants. Look at the Redskins' alignment in the screen shot below.
The alignment uses nickel personnel and has seven men on the line, covering every gap in the Giants' blocking scheme. On the weak side, inside linebacker London Fletcher aligns between Brian Orakpo and Barry Cofield. Over on the strong side, the inside linebacker and free safety line up on the inside shoulder of Ryan Kerrigan.
At the snap, all seven defenders blitz. This means each Giants lineman is attacked and the Redskins have outnumbered the pass protection. The numerical advantage creates lanes for at least one free rusher, shown in the screen shot below.
In this example, it is free safety O.J. Atogwe who gets the free path to the quarterback. This immediate pressure right in the face of the quarterback forces him to quickly get rid of the ball on a short pass, which theoretically protects those in single coverage.
Notice also how running back Ahmad Bradshaw is forced to turn inside to block Stephen Bowen, who has come free because the Giants are overmatched on the weak side. The play resulted in Kerrigan's tip and interception return for a decisive touchdown.
Aside from taking greater risks schematically, Haslett must also find ways to create one-on-one matchups for Orakpo's replacements.
Rob Jackson is a leading candidate for that role, and his lone career sack, against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16 of the 2010 season, is a prime example of how to do it.
In the screen shot below, the Redskins are again aligned in basic 4-2-5 nickel personnel. The key is that one inside linebacker has joined the line, over the center, shown in the highlighted portion. This gives the Redskins a five-on-five matchup, creating one-on-one rush opportunities along the front.
At the snap, the inside linebackers run a cross blitz, with the man on the line going first and London Fletcher looping around him, shown in the screen shot below.
This occupies every member of the Jaguars offensive line and forces the running back into pass protection. This means that if one member of the rush front can win his one-on-one matchup, he will have a clear route to the quarterback.
In the screen shot below, the highlighted portion shows Jackson clearly winning his matchup on the edge and coming free to the quarterback.
With one inside 'backer occupying the center and Fletcher preventing the quarterback from escaping through the middle, Jackson is free to beat a single block. He wins on the outside and produces a crucial sack/fumble.
Injuries will force the Redskins to take risks, but simple scheming can also make the job easier for the replacement players. Additional blitzing will be needed without the defense's best pure pass-rusher.
It may lead to big plays, both for and against, but the Redskins will take an even greater risk if they don't try to compensate for Orakpo's loss.