January 31, 2011

2011 Pro Bowl: Hall, Orakpo, Fletcher Shine Bright

A column for SB Nation DC.
Glorified flag football game or not, the Washington Redskins ended their season on a positive note. It wasn't the ideal time to shine, but DeAngelo HallLondon Fletcher and Brian Orakpo silenced the critics who believed them ill-suited to play in the 2011 Pro Bowl at Honolulu Stadium on Sunday.
The voting process may be a farce, and the Redskins may have been undeserving of having three players participate (two made it as alternates for crying out loud), but trio made the most of their appearance, combining for 19 tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a touchdown as the NFC romped to a 55-41 victory over the AFC.
Fletcher made it to his second straight Pro Bowl, replacing Brian Urlacher after he suffered an injury in the NFC Championship game. Until last season, Fletcher had never made the Pro Bowl despite being one of the top middle linebackers in the league. He brings stability, a vocal presence and other intangibles into the locker room that can‘t be measured by simply watching him play. He has played in 208 consecutive games, making 167 straight starts, more than any other linebacker in the NFL. If there's anyone more deserving of a trip to Hawaii, I can't think of him.
Fletcher, one of the leaders in the Redskins locker room, helped new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett begin Washington's transformation to a 3-4 unit. They finished second to last in the league in total defense, but Fletcher managed 136 tackles in another strong season for the ageless wonder.
He only added to his tackling prowess on Sunday, notching six stops and recording an interception. Strangely enough, he had just two picks in his previous three seasons. It is a travesty Fletcher has never been selected outright as a Pro Bowler, but given his performance in the NFC's domination of the AFC, he didn't seem to mind playing as an alternate.
Orakpo's spot on the NFC squad came at the expense of Clay Matthews. Green Bay's star pass rusher is obviously happier to be playing in the upcoming Super Bowl, but Orakpo can't be too upset over playing in two Pro Bowls during his first two years in the league. He led the NFC with seven tackles and also took an entertaining fishing trip with Calvin Johnson and Darrelle Revis.
Expectations for Orakpo to make the list as an alternate were few since his second half performance was so poor. The move to full-time outside linebacker was a rocky one as he struggled to stop the run and was inconsistent in pass coverage. Even his sack totals tailed off in the second half of the season. Seven of his 8.5 sacks came in the first eight games of the year, and somehow he managed to ride the early wave of fan votes to be named an alternate.
While Orakpo and Fletcher both had good games, it was Hall who stole the show. The one Redskin who was actually elected to the Pro Bowl, Hall stood out with six tackles, an interception, and a beautiful play where he stripped Patriots' receiver Wes Welker of the ball, recovered it, and ran it back 34 yards for a touchdown to give the NFC a commanding 28-0 lead in the second quarter.
Hall's playmaking abilities were the reason he was invited to the Pro Bowl in the first place. He scored two touchdowns this season, both of which essentially won the Redskins a pair of games and his four interceptions of Jay Cutler tied an NFL record for most picks in a single game. Shockingly, all four came in the second half of that contest.
However, a look past Hall's interceptions revealed a corner who gave up the second most yards in the NFL only ahead of maligned Cowboys' CB Mike Jenkins. His measurables didn't add up to an All-Star worthy season, but perhaps a previous pair of Pro Bowl trips and a penchant for running his mouth helped land him in Honolulu. After all, Hall did make big news when he told reporters the Redskins were "his team" following a 30-27 loss to Houston in which Matt Schaub torched Washington's secondary for 497 yards.

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