The Washington Redskins are at a loss, and no, it’s not because of their disappointing defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Rams, 31-28.
In devastating news, the Redskins announced that they would be without premier defensive studs Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker for the remainder of the season.
The loss is unquestionably a heartbreaker for the Redskins and their fans, who will be faced with a much more difficult 2012 campaign than originally planned—as if competing in the feisty NFC East wasn’t enough! However, how the Redskins will bounce back is going to be one of the team’s most intriguing storylines moving forward.
Orakpo was easily the Redskins’ top pass rusher. His prowess in three seasons since entering the league has placed him as one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing linebackers, recording 29.5 sacks in 49 games. Carriker, meanwhile, was developing into another dominant pass rusher for the ‘Skins, posting a career-high 5.5 sacks in 2011. Combined with Ryan Kerrigan, the Redskins have pieced together one of the league’s elite pass-rushing groups capable of achieving a vaunted status held only by the division-rival New York Giants.
Unfortunately, the Redskins will have to make do this season without both men.
The first signs of how the defense will handle operations without those two players were not positive. The St. Louis Rams—who finished last in total offense last season—racked up 31 points against the Redskins defense. If nothing else was evident in the Redskins’ loss, it was their desperate need to bring the pressure up front to alleviate some of the burden placed on a subpar secondary.
So far, the Redskins have proven they cannot do that without Orakpo and Carriker on the field. The defense recorded just two sacks of Sam Bradford—sacked 55 times in 2011—and struggled to get any pressure on the quarterback for much of the afternoon. The team that finished 10th in the NFL with 41 sacks and ranked eighth overall in pass pressure by Pro Football Focus, appeared to be nothing more than a shell of their former self.
Thankfully, the NFL season is a long one.
For now, though, it’s the quarterback—a rookie mind you—Robert Griffin III, who must put the team on his back and lead them through this tough journey. The Redskins are allowing 31.5 points per game in two games this season and have matchups with high-powered offenses such as the Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants (twice), Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles (twice) and Dallas Cowboys (twice) still on the schedule.
Griffin has shown a surprising ability to match those high-powered offenses, though, guiding the Redskins to put 68 points on the board and accounting for 30 of them (five touchdown passes and two rushing). The second-overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft has been highly accurate and near-unstoppable, fulfilling expectations much sooner than many could have possibly predicted.
Griffin is playing out of his mind and doing it all for the Redskins on offense with 526 yards passing, three touchdowns, a 70.6 percent completion percentage and just one interception. To top it off, despite a glorified group of running backs on the roster, the rookie quarterback is also the team’s second-leading rusher with 124 yards on the ground.
But how long can the Redskins hinge on Griffin’s success, especially when the rookie is overdue to face some growing pains as all rookies do? The Redskins have already dropped a game against one of the NFL’s worst, despite being without their two best pass rushers, can they find a way to bounce back and overcome this adversity?
As big as Griffin should continue to be for the Redskins, the team’s success will be delivered only through the experience of respected head coach Mike Shanahan. Shanahan has been around the park once or twice, and though these injuries are a crushing blow to the Redskins defense, no one can find a way to overcome the losses quite like the Redskins coach can.
Shanahan has made a career out of making Joe Nobody into Tom Somebody. He will have his opportunity to do that once again this season with the Redskins. Jarvis Jenkins and Rob Jackson—the players replacing Carriker and Orakpo—could be the next two guys in that long list.
Neither has proven to be a force in the pass rush, appearing to be less than half of what Carriker and Orakpo had to offer, but stranger things have happened. Olandis Gary once rushed for over 1,000 yards under Shanahan. It’s the duty of the next guys in line to step up, fill the shoes that came before them and do whatever they can to contribute to the team’s success.
Though things look bleak now, Redskins fans should not lose all hope just yet. The momentum gained by a huge Week 1 upset of the New Orleans Saints may be wiped away, but there are 14 games remaining in the 2012 NFL season and things change from week to week. What seems terrible on paper is not always the case. At 1-1 with winnable games on the slate, a rookie quarterback determined to win and a veteran coaching staff with the experience to make that happen, the Redskins have just as great a shot as any team to open eyes and put those wins on the board.