While the drastic swoon in the Washington Redskins' play the past two seasons can be linked to the health of Robert Griffin III's knee, the true key to the team's 2014 campaign isn't the franchise quarterback.
Instead, that distinction belongs to its franchise player, Brian Orakpo.
Now, to say that quarterback play holds no bearing on a team's performance would be a fallacy.
Just in the NFC, of the six teams that qualified for the postseason in 2013, each had a quarterback who registered a total QBR—an ESPN statistic that measures quarterback play on all play types—above 50.0, the benchmark for average play.
Under this premise, Griffin's QBR of 40.1 played a key part in the team missing the playoffs last season.
Even with that said, let it be noted, this is a stat that works two-fold.
After allowing opposing quarterbacks to tally a QBR of 63.4 on the season, the Redskins defense is more to blame for the team's 3-13 record last season. It's a statistic best translated like this, Washington's defense was poor enough to make Christian Ponder look Matt Ryan-esque in 2013.
Enter Orakpo. With a secondary that didn't undergo a massive overhaul—a much-needed one, at that—the onus will be on Washington's front seven to stifle opposing quarterbacks.
A unit that had just 36 sacks last season, Orakpo is the key to upping that total.
The lone consistent pass-rushing threat opposing teams had to game-plan for, Orakpo's 10 sacks were hard to come by.
Taken out of plays by double-teams, Orakpo lacked the supporting cast to maximize the one-on-one matchups his presence provided them.
First, there was Ryan Kerrigan. While Kerrigan did have 8.5 sacks last season, he was miscast as the team's second-best pass-rusher.
After a torrid start, seven sacks in the first seven games, Kerrigan only mustered 1.5 sacks the final nine games.
Then there's Washington's defensive line. As SB Nation's James Dorsett duly notes, the team's defensive line was one of the league's worst at rushing the passer in 2013:
|Sacks||QB Hits||QB Hurries||Total Pressures||Pass Rush||Pressure %||Sack %|
|Redskins' 2013 Totals||7||21||66||94||1347||7.0%||0.52%|
|2013 NFL Average||24.13||35.91||116.25||176.28||2054.19||8.4%||1.14%|
|Redskins' 2013 NFL Rank||32nd||24th||28th||30th||30th||25th||32nd|
But consider this history.
One of the marquee signings this offseason, defensive lineman Jason Hatcher projects to steer some attention away from Orakpo.
It's a sentiment Orakpo himself acknowledged in an interview with CSNWashington.com's Tarik El-Bashir.
"With that type of presence inside, myself and Ryan (Kerrigan) are going to be even more of a force on the edges,” he said.
Last season with the Dallas Cowboys, Hatcher registered 11 sacks.
While he did recently undergo knee surgery, Hatcher made a promise on his Twitter account for the upcoming season:
My knee is ok. It's minor I'll be ready to kill quarterbacks when the season starts. Just a Lil bump in the road. God is good!! #HTTR— Jason Hatcher (@hatcher97) June 17, 2014
Factor in the presence of veteran Barry Cofield, promising rookie Trent Murphy and the emerging Chris Baker and the ingredients are there for Orakpo to have a career year.
Even with a potentially potent offense featuring the likes of Griffin, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Alfred Morris, Washington can't just bank on its offense making it the latest worst-to-first team.
It's going to take a sack total in the high teens from Orakpo for the Redskins to make the jump back into contention.
With a pass rush that can stymie opposing passing attacks, keeping Washington's offense within striking distance, there isn't a game on the 2014 schedule the team won't have a shot at winning.