Pass rushers boosting Washington's playoff bid
Washington seized the top spot in the NFC East with a big win against the Giants on Sunday. A big reason for their victory was the pressure they applied to Eli Manning.
The Redskins recorded a +6.7 pass rush grade as a team in that game, sacking him three times to go with six QB hits. Overall, they pressured Manning on 18-of-54 dropbacks. Although Washington lacks an elite player to push the pocket, their depth enables them to consistently run fresh bodies onto the field. None of their defensive lineman or edge defenders have pass rush grades worse than -0.3. The six defenders that have taken the majority of rush snaps have grades of +3.9 or better. Although they lack the star names, Washington has a good group up front.
Ryan Kerrigan isn’t flashy, but he’s a consistent pass rusher off the edge. His 31 hurries are seventh-most among outside linebackers, and he’s added a further 10 quarterback knockdowns (seven sacks and three hits). Kerrigan’s 41 combined pressures are eighth-most, too. Overall, he has a pass rush grade of 78.5 (+6.9).
Washington opted against re-signing Brian Orakpo this offseason, and in hindsight, that decision looks like the correct one. It’s not that Orakpo is playing poorly, necessarily (he has a 77.6 pass rush grade this season), but 2014 second-round pick Trent Murphy has improved significantly. After recording a -2.1 grade as a rookie pass rusher, he has a 76.1 overall grade this year, having recorded three sacks, three hits, and nine hurries. In fact, Washington invested consecutive second-round picks in edge rushers, adding Preston Smith with the 38th overall pick this April. He’s flashed serious ability as a rookie with three sacks, two hits, and 15 hurries so far this year. Smith is the third of Washington’s outside linebackers with a pass rush grade of 74 or better (74.3).
The highest graded pass-rushing Redskin is on the interior. Jason Hatcher has been terrorizing guards in the NFC East for nearly 10 years now, and he’s having one of his best seasons in 2015. Despite recording a solitary sack, Hatcher has an additional eight hits and 29 hurries. His 85.1 pass rushing grade is ninth-best in the league amongst interior defenders, and he holds the fifth-best pass rush productivity ranking amongst 3-4 defensive ends. Partnering with him, Chris Baker has also contributed as a pass rusher, even if his strength is defending the run. He’s more boom-or-bust, having recorded more QB knockdowns (13) than hurries (12), but his 77.9 rush grade illustrates the impact he can make when opposing teams look to pass.
Finally, the addition of Stephen Paea continues to look like a shrewd move. He’s made plays as a nickel rusher with three sacks, three hits and eight hurries and a 75.9 grade.
Granted, the Giants were missing four of five starters on the offensive line on Sunday, but Washington still had to take advantage. Taking an early lead was crucial, as it forced Manning to be more aggressive downfield, and enabled their pass rushers to crank up the heat. Although they might not have any players traveling to Hawaii come season’s end, Washington has a very strong pass rushing unit—it may end up being the key reason they win the NFC East.