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LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 6: Linebacker Brian Orakpo #98 of the Washington Redskins is introduced against the San Francisco 49ers at FedExField on November 6, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. The San Francisco 49ers won, 19-11. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Production in the second half of the season has eluded Brian Orakpo over the first two years of his NFL career. The Redskins best pass rusher has yet to string together 16 games in which he is a consistent threat to opposing quarterbacks.
So while there isn’t much left to look forward to this season, it does present Orakpo with a chance for the strong finish he wasn’t able to achieve in his first two years in the NFL.
Orakpo had just 1.5 sacks in the second half of the 2010 season. In his rookie season, aside from a four-sack performance against Oakland, Orakpo posted the same number of sacks down the stretch.
His latest quest to shake off his second half woes began last week in Miami where he spent much of the game in coverage.
“It’s just the way they schemed it,” he said. “If you watch [the] film I was in coverage a bunch. Not blaming anybody it’s just the way they lined up.”
Orakpo was one of the more vocal players in the locker room following the loss to the Dolphins. Three seasons of losing are taking a toll on the young player who almost pleadingly told reporters, “I know we got a good team,” as if he was trying to convince himself of the fact.
The Redskins will receive a prime opportunity to prove they still have some fight left as they prepare to host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. The game won’t come with the same hype that surrounded the teams’ showdown on Monday Night Football earlier this year, but it’s a fierce rivalry nonetheless.
The Cowboys will be accompanied by arguably the league’s best pass rusher in DeMarcus Ware. For Orakpo, it’s another chance to upstage his most prominent rival – something he’s failed to do in five games against Dallas.
Orakpo has never recorded a sack in those games and has just one sack in 15 NFC East matchups. His second half vanishing act and inability to perform against divisional opponents are seemingly holding him back from reaching that elite status the Redskins envisioned when they drafted him.
“In the division, sacks are a lot harder to come by,” Orakpo said. “That’s where I’m kind of really lacking as far as getting there.”
If he wants to make a lasting impression, Orakpo will need a few signature games against Washington’s archrival. Ware has teed off on Redskins quarterbacks with 13 sacks and four forced fumbles in 10 career games. Orakpo has yet to get a lick on Tony Romo, but Mike Shanahan is confident he’ll eventually experience success within the division.
“He’s been very close,” Shanahan said. “Everybody looks at the end result and he probably missed four or five sacks where he had guys right in the grasp of his hands. As he gets older, I think he’ll get those sacks. But he’s there and he’s putting pressure on quarterbacks and hopefully it comes this weekend.”
A big outing against the Cowboys – what better way for Orakpo to end what has been to this point a futile pursuit of second half success?