Brian Orakpo’s Numbers and NFL Pass Rushing Tandems

New York Giants v Washington Redskins

Some excellent research done by Aaron Schatz at Football Outsiders/ (Insider required) is showing a strong relationship between the hurry statistics of one pass rusher, and those of another pass rusher on the same team.  And, perhaps, no place was that more apparent than in Washington, where Brian Orakpo and Andre Carter tied for each other for the team lead with 21 QB hurries, as well as 11.0 sacks.

The relationship between pressure from one pass rusher and pressure from the other side — surely in its infancy — does support things I saw on film earlier this year, regarding DT Albert Haynesworth.  Haynesworth’s excellent season on the field has been well documented, but one of the primary support reasons for Haynesworth is that his command of double teams is responsible for the improvement in Carter’s numbers, and for Orakpo’s excellent rookie season.  That isn’t so much true.  For one thing, it’s based on a premise that Haynesworth is always being double teamed when that was rarely the case.  Haynesworth’s value, which is demonstrated above by KC Joyner in the link above, is that he wins at the point of contact, and is simply devistating in short yardage situations.  He’s also a very versatile player against the pass who is athletic enough to rush from anywhere on the field.  He is not, contrary to believe, responsible for Orakpo’s numbers or Carter’s numbers, and it undersells both the relationship between their numbers and each of their individual contributions to credit Haynesworth with that increase.  Haynesworth is a dominant player, and you can see that in any analysis of Haynesworth.

This relationship between Carter’s sacks and Orakpo’s sacks, and now Carter’s hurries and Orakpo’s hurries remain interesting.  We know from past work done on this that the nomal ratio between a edge rushers’ hurries and his sacks is rougly 2:1 (this is not true of interior rushers, btw), so the production you saw from both Carter and Orakpo was likely very, very real.  In 2008, Carter had 13 hurries and just 4 sacks.  You would have expected him to have 6.0-7.0 sacks last year with that kind of production, but when you add in his 13 QB hits, even that hurries number seems kind of low.  I think he got to the quarterback a lot more than 13 times.  In 2007, however, Carter got 10.5 sacks and just 6 hurries.  So for that time period of 2007-08, Carter’s numbers were pretty standard.  It would have been nice if Jason Taylor could have had more than 7 hurries opposite Carter in 2008, but that would have required him to show up.

A lot of fans have a reasonable expectation for Orakpo to improve from his first year to his second year, and this has caused a plethora of projections for 14.0-18.0 sacks, and presumably the additional 28.0-33.0 hurries, numbers that would make Orakpo a top five pass rusher in all of football.  It’s a given assumption, then, that help opposite of Orakpo will remain equal to last year.  If that’s true, then such an improvement is reasonable.  But how safe is it to assume that the Redskins will be able to get another 32 hurries plus sacks from the right side of the pass rushing formation?  The Redskins didn’t get that production in 2005, 2006, 2007, or 2008.  In those four seasons, the Redskins posted the following Hurries plus Sacks totals from the right side:

  • 2005 — 17.5 (Daniels) [we bagged on Carter for '06, but mostly, Daniels had a great season in '05 that no one knew about]
  • 2006 — 15.0 (Carter)  [opposing rusher: Daniels]
  • 2007 — 16.5 (Carter)  [opposing rusher: Wynn/Evans]
  • 2008 — 16.0 (Carter)  [opposing rusher: Evans/J. Taylor]
  • 2009 — 32.0 (Carter)  [opposing rusher: Orakpo]

Source(s): Pro Football Prospectus 2006-08, Football Outsiders Almanac 2009

Well, I mean, it’s not hard to see what happened here.  Carter didn’t suddenly become a great player at age 30, he was always a really good pass rusher who got to the quarterback a heck of a lot more when Orakpo started coming off the other side.  Orakpo should be capable of such an improvement in pass rush production, but to get it, Andre Carter really needs to play another 16 game season.  If Carter can only play 14 games, there’s really no way that Orakpo can touch the 15+ sacks that many forsee in his future.  He might be able to manage another 11 or 12 sacks, and even that would represent sigificant improvement if the production on the right side goes back to the levels of production it had been at over the last four seasons prior to 2009.

In reality, Orakpo’s numbers are likely going down from this point.  He, as a pash rusher, should improve.  His opportunities, should increase.  Ultimately though, the record efficiency with those opportunities that the Redskins pass rushers flashed in 2009 may not be repeatable.  I think Orakpo, if he’s healthy, should be good for another 8.0-9.0 sacks, and up to 16 hurries.  Some may see that as a regression, but those same people probably overvalued the season that Orakpo had last year, and probably won’t see the fact that he’s sharing sacks more evenly with the other linebackers, particularly with McIntosh and Fletcher this year.  I think he will eventually settle in as a 13-14 sack per year player, and lead the Redskins to many playoff wins.

But in 2009, Brian Orakpo’s pro bowl nomination was as much about Andre Carter as it was about Orakpo.  Likewise, Carter’s 11.0 sacks were made possible by Orakpo’s pressure off the other side.  The tandem returns this year, hopefully closer in effectiveness to 2009 than any of the prior years that the Redskins struggled on the pass rush.  Believe me when I say that the improvements and strides made by the Redskins when rushing the passer are here to stay in this new defense led by Jim Haslett.  The big point is that, even considering additional opportunities for Brian Orakpo, the sack production is going to be spread around to other positions besides the outside linebackers, and Orakpo’s effect will be seen on all four linebackers, not just himself.