Brian Orakpo has been ominously quiet in recent weeks. His slump in form has been alarming, given that he is supposed to be the team's premier pass rusher.
Even though he is second on the team in sacks, Orakpo has only managed six takedowns all season. That's hardly the kind of number many would expect from a player who recorded 19.5 sacks and made consecutive Pro Bowls in his first two seasons.
The Washington Redskins current defensive scheme relies on Orakpo to generate the lion's share of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
In the traditional, 2-gap 3-4 employed by the Redskins, the weakside outside linebacker is the primary pass rusher.
The switch to a 3-4 was supposed to liberate Orakpo. The scheme is designed to allow him to use his speed off the edge and attack the open side of a formation from a two-point stance.
But Orakpo has struggled at times this season to produce the kind of threat fans know he is capable of. Here are five methods the Redskins could employ to help return Orakpo to his best.
This is an option which this author has been advocating for a while. The Redskins current tactics with Orakpo are often too simple and predictable.
The rush design usually dictates that Orakpo loops off the edge on the weakside. Running more stunts and twists would be a good way to create increased rush opportunities for Orakpo.
Stunts and twists in a 3-4 can be very effective, particularly with the presence of linemen who pose a genuine threat to the quarterback.
Defensive ends Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker have combined for 9.5 sacks this season. Bowen in particular has the quickness to be effective on outside moves.
One of Orakpo's best attributes is his strength. He has the power to defeat interior blockers, if aided by the speed generated from a running start.
Twisting Orakpo inside would also create additional confusion for opposing blocking schemes and nullify some of the tactics teams use against outside linebackers in a 3-4, such as dropping the guard deep to intercept edge pressure.
One of the most difficult aspects of the transition to 3-4 for former defensive ends to handle, is the coverage responsibility.
The increased reads at the line of scrimmage can seriously hinder players whose natural instinct is to explode off the ball and attack the line of scrimmage.
The weakside outside linebacker is usually responsible for the flats and occasionally the curl zones in certain coverages.
Orakpo has struggled mightily in this area. Reducing the number of coverages he has to participate in would free Orakpo to concentrate more on getting to the quarterback.
The Redskins could tweak their coverage schemes to incorporate a more basic Cover 3 with an underneath and a deep safety.
The underneath safety could be regularly shifted to Orakpo's side of the field and assume his coverage responsibilities more often.
Another option might be to employ some more box and one coverages. The Redskins would have to gamble and rely on DeAngelo Hall to lock down one side of the field in man-to-man coverage.
This would allow the Redskins to roll the zones towards Orakpo's side of the field. The presence of a more conservative coverage shell behind Orakpo, would grant him greater freedom to rush the passer.
Jim Haslett should move Orakpo across the formation on a more regular basis. Orakpo sometimes aligns on the opposite side in certain nickel fronts.
But he spends the majority of his time attacking from the same position on the field. One of the inherent advantages offered by the 3-4 is its increased number of moving parts, granting greater flexibility.
Orakpo needs to be moved around more often. His movements should not be restricted to simply switching sides.
The Redskins could find tremendous benefit to aligning Orakpo in the middle of the defense on certain occasions.
From the inside of the formation, Orakpo would be positioned to run multiple games with various fellow defensive players. His presence in the middle would also split the focus of interior blocking schemes.
One of the best ways to increase Orakpo's production would be to adjust the current defense to include more 1-gap fronts.
1-gap 3-4's are hybrid schemes and often resemble a 4-3 defense. The shifted alignment of the three man front allows for the presence of a linebacker regularly up on the line.
This role is occupied by the best pass rusher on the defense. Players like DeMarcus Ware and Terrell Suggs have flourished in this elephant-style position in recent seasons.
A 1-gap look would allow Orakpo to play more as a pass rushing defensive end, his most natural position. The look might also help some of the members of the Redskins defense whose experience better suits a 4-3.
A player with the quickness and strength of Orakpo would make an excellent A-gap blitzer.
Moving Orakpo into the A-gaps in nickel situations would produce plenty of big plays for the defense.
Orakpo is an extremely powerful player who often relies on a tremendous bull rush. He would have no problem penetrating the gaps either side of the center.
Deputy outside 'backer Rob Jackson could take Orakpo's place in the four-man nickel defensive line, leaving Orakpo free to attack either A-gap.
Utilising Orakpo in this way would pose a major threat to an offense on passing downs.
The Redskins defense needs its biggest playmaker to be in top form. The current 3-4 scheme demands that Orakpo produces monster numbers.
Orakpo has the skill set to post production similar to the likes of Suggs, Ware and James Harrison. His struggles highlight the need to find more ways to set him free.
He has not adapted well to the multiple responsibilities given to linebackers in the 2-gap 3-4.
It is incumbent then on the Redskins to scheme additional ways to utilise what Orakpo does best or risk wasting his talents.