High expectations and pressure are apparently two things that don't bother Ryan Kerrigan. If anything, they make him elevate his game.
Expectations were raised for the outside linebacker this season, after a solid rookie campaign in 2011 in which he finished second on the team with 7.5 sacks and was named to the Pro Football Writers' Association's All-Rookie Team.
The pressure on Kerrigan grew exponentially in 2012, after fellow outside linebacker Brian Orakpo – the team's leading pass rusher the past three-plus seasons – went down with a season-ending pectoral injury in Week 2.
In the two weeks since, Kerrigan has embraced the pressure of expectations, collecting a pair of sacks for 3.5 this season, knocking down seven passes and continuing to be a menace in opposing teams' backfields.
That trend continued Sunday in the Redskins' 24-22 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Kerrigan notched a third-down sack of Buccaneers (1-3) quarterback Josh Freeman and generated constant pressure up front.
The sack for Kerrigan was the fourth-consecutive game in which he has earned at least a half-sack, a feat not accomplished until Weeks 9-12 of the 2011 season.
He finished Sunday's game with three total tackles, two for a loss, and a key pass deflection with the Buccaneers backed up to their end zone.
"I knew our secondary was going to make the quarterback hold onto the ball longer," Kerrigan said. "So I just knew I had to keep rushing, keep fighting.
"If my initial move didn't work, I had to go to my counter and keep rushing. That's why we were able to have some success."
Kerrigan said the Redskins (2-2) defense was happy to see Freeman become uncomfortable while standing in the pocket at several junctures of the game.
"I don't know if [Freeman] was frustrated, but he was definitely moving around a little bit," Kerrigan said. "We were able to get him off his sport a good number of times – and that's crucial."
Redskins' defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said Thursday that he's been very pleased with how Kerrigan has stepped up in Orakpo's absence.
Haslett reported that Kerrigan will begin to move around the field – including, at times, into Orakpo's usual spot on the right side of the defensive line – as he becomes more comfortable with that aspect of his game.
"Losing [Orakpo], you've got to try to take advantage of it," Haslett said. "[Kerrigan has] got some good pressure. We'll keep trying to get the right match-up for him and for the rest of the group and get him in a position where we can win."
With a successful first four weeks behind him, Kerrigan said he now has another large challenge immediately looming ahead.
Weeks 5-8 were not so kind to Kerrigan last season, as the then-rookie fell into a mini-slump with just 12 tackles and zero sacks combined following the team's Bye Week.
But with a year of experience now under his belt – and the outside expectations and pressures way beyond him – Kerrigan said he's ready to continue his strong start on this exciting team.
"There's nothing I'd rather do than take the momentum of this win over the Buccaneers into the meat of our schedule and just run with it," Kerrigan said. "If we can continue to compete for a full 60 minutes each week, there's no telling how high our ceiling can be."