Keep in mind, these grades look beyond just the raw pass-rushing numbers, and break down all aspects of a 3-4 OLBs’ play. That means looking at how they generate pressure as well as how they perform in coverage and defend the run to give a complete performance overview.
So who will be No. 1? Let’s start the countdown.
9t. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers: Week 10 vs. Minnesota (+5.7)
9t. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 9 vs. Baltimore (+5.7)
9t. Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins: Week 15 at Buffalo (+5.7)
A three-way tie for the ninth spot sees the only entry for our top-ranked 3-4 OLB from 2011, Cameron Wake. The Dolphin walked away with a sack, three hits, and three hurries and earned a positive grade in the run game. That earned him a score equal to those of Harrison and Matthews, with Harrison dominating on his return from injury in Week 9 and Matthews having some fun at the expense of Phil Loadholt in Week 10.
8. Connor Barwin, Houston Texans: Week 12 at Jacksonville (+6.4)
If Barwin can play like this every week next year Houston fans will soon forget about Mario Williams. He was in on four sacks and even though two of them weren’t extremely impressive–coming unblocked and with Blaine Gabbert holding onto the ball too long–beating Eugene Monroe twice takes some talent. He added five more hurries and two hits in a virtuoso display.
7. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 3 at Indianapolis (+6.6)
As if Harrison wasn’t licking his lips enough at the prospect of a rookie left tackle, the Colts figured that they’d be able to get a tight end to slow down the former Defensive Player of the Year. Harrison walked away with a sack (and forced a fumble) on Castonzo and three pressures on tight ends. The highlight, though, was his work in the run game, which truly stood out. He ended up with four tackles for short gains and one for a loss (with another in coverage) as he bullied Dallas Clark and Co.
6. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers: Week 13 vs. New York Giants (+6.7)
Not a game that Kareem McKenzie will want replayed too many times, Matthews worked him to the tune of a sack (with forced fumble), four QB hits, and three pressures. Throw in an interception returned for a touchdown and you’ve got yourself a pretty good day.
5. Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers: Week 15 vs. Pittsburgh (+7.0)
Smith (who didn’t actually spend that much time at 3-4 outside linebacker, with all but 16 plays in the 49ers’ sub-package) had a field day when the Steelers came to San Francisco. He finished the day with an incredible three sacks (one nullified by penalty), four QB hits, and three hurries on 37 rushes. An remarkable ratio as Max Starks was given his toughest night of the year.
4. Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs: Week 4 vs. Minnesota (+7.4)
When the Vikings came to town it seemed the Chiefs had a plan in place, with Hali attacking Phil Loadholt relentlessly. By the time the game was over, Hali had notched two sacks, two hits, and eight pressures as Minnesota couldn’t handle his speed off the edge. That qualifies as a big day.
3. Mario Williams, Houston Texans: Week 1 vs. Indianapolis (+7.8)
Could Mario Williams play stand-up linebacker? That was the question on everyone’s mind heading into the Texans’ season opener against the Colts. By the end of it, Houston had plenty of reasons to be cheerful as Williams had picked up two sacks (including a forced fumble), a hit, and nine pressures. The Texans’ defense had changed, but they still knew how to get the best out of Super Mario.
2. Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers: Week 13 vs. St Louis (+7.9)
Another big day for Smith who ended up with two sacks, a hit, and four pressures on just 14 pass rushes. That’s a pressure on half the plays he rushed the passer. A truly incredible display here–you’re not likely to see something that efficient any time soon.
1. Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins: Week 4 at St Louis (+8.1)
Three sacks (including a forced fumble) and seven more hurries are always going to earn you some praise. It was thus proven as it pushed Orakpo to this No. 1 spot in our Top 10 individual 3-4 OLB performances of 2011. Rodger Saffold was the primary victim as Orakpo was near unstoppable rushing the passer. He also added some good work in the run game to beat out the competition and top this list.
Here’s the top 10 pure pass rushing displays from 3-4 outside linebackers.
Top 10 Pass Rushing 3-4 OLB performances:
1. Brian Orakpo (WAS), Week 4 at St Louis (+8.5)
2. Tamba Hali (KC), Week 4 vs. Minnesota (+7.5)
3. Aldon Smith (SF), Week 15 vs. Pittsburgh (+7.0)
4. Mario Williams (HST), Week 1 vs. Indianapolis (+6.9)
5. Aldon Smith (SF), Week 13 vs. Seattle (+6.4)
6. DeMarcus Ware (DAL), Week 16 vs. Philadelphia (+5.9)
7. Clay Matthews (GB), Week 13 vs. New York Giants (+5.7)
8t. DeMarcus Ware (DAL), Week 3 vs. Washington (+5.1)
8t. Connor Barwin (HST), Week 4 vs. Pittsburgh (+5.1)
10. Brian Orakpo (WAS), Week 12 at Seattle (+5.0)