What Can Brian Orakpo Bring To The Tennessee Titans Defense?
One of the more underrated moves of free agency was the signing of Brian Orakpo by the Tennessee Titans. Injuries have sort of marred his reputation, but Orakpo (when healthy) is one of the best pass rushers in the league. A prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker, he fits perfectly into Ray Horton and Dick Lebeau’s defense. But how much of an impact can one man possibly have on a defense coming off a laughably bad season?
Through his career thus far, Orakpo averages a little over 0.56 sacks per game (40.0 in 71 games). In near-complete seasons (15 or 16 games played), his sack totals are: 11.0, 8.5, 9.0, and 10.0, to go along with five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Orakpo is a top-notch pass rusher, but that has never been the problem with him.
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The problem is obviously durability.
He came away unscathed through his first three seasons, but he played in only 23 of a possible 48 games in the three years after. Two pectoral tears severely shortened his 2012 and 2014 campaigns. It’s tough to expect a full season out of him, but that’s not the focus of this article. Let’s focus on what he brings.
Firstly, he’s going to fill a position of need that delivered near-zero productivity last year. Kamerion Wimbley was a below average starter, Shaun Phillips was cut midseason, and backup Quentin Groves didn’t provide much resistance against any offense. All together, this collective combined for a total of 5.0 sacks, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries, and no interceptions. So the threshold for an impact to be made is already very low.
Orakpo is a bit of a one trick pony. He’s a powerful pass rusher, using mostly bull rushes that push back offensive lineman and cause them to lose their equilibrium. He makes for an uncomfortable block on every snap, but he can get too predictable against some better tackles, as he lacks much of any finesse. Strong tackles with a compact base and strong anchoring skills can neutralize him with relative ease. That said, there aren’t many tackles that possess the qualities to completely shut him down.
This video from Hogs Haven of SB Nation does a great job of breaking down where he wins and loses in pass rushing:
His skill set is a great fit for the Titans defense for two reasons: consistent pass rush from the right side of the defense and help for the other defensive lineman. Whether his pass rush is doing anything or not throughout a game won’t matter as much as long as he is giving the left side of the opposing offensive line something to think about. Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey was completely on his own against left tackles and left guards last year, mainly because our triumvirate of world beaters at right outside linebacker couldn’t move a pebble. Casey should have more room to operate in the trenches with Orakpo next to him.
His presence will also detract attention away from Derrick Morgan, his counterpart on the other side. Morgan is more finesse than power, but uses a solid combination of both to defend the pass and run very well. With both Orakpo and Morgan needing to be checked, they’ll both have more freedom to beat their men in their own ways. Our interior defensive linemen will then have the opportunities to win their battles in one-on-one situations; something that wasn’t possible last year, crippling the pass rush and run defense.
A better pass rush helps the secondary by speeding up the quarterback’s clock and forcing him to make quicker throws. A quarterback with five seconds to throw has many more options than one with two seconds, mainly because receivers have more time to get open and the quarterback has more time to make the right decision.
It might seem unrealistic to think that one player can have such a lofty impact for a defense that consists of 10 other players. But that’s the reason that it isn’t. There are 11 players who have to work together to stop an offense on an every-down basis. If one player makes it easier for another, then that one makes it easier for another, and so on. Football is a team sport, and for a team to work in sync, each player must do their job. Brian Orakpo doing his will greatly benefit the Tennessee Titans defense as a whole.