There was an encouraging sighting at practice at Redskins Park on Thursday: Matt Ioannidis’ left hand.
The second-year defensive lineman was off to a very strong start this year before suffering a broken hand in Week 8 against the Cowboys. He was out of the lineup for the next two games and since then he has been practicing and playing with his left hand in a large, club-like cast.
On Thursday, he practiced with less protection on the injured hand, a setup that allowed him to use both of his hands. Those are important assets when it comes to shedding blocks and making effective pass-rush moves.
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“It restricts him a little bit,” Jay Gruden said when asked about the effect that the cast had on Ioannidis’ effectiveness. “I think he would have had a sack last week, actually. He escaped on his cast hand, which he couldn’t grab any cloth, so it does have an impact without a doubt. I’d be lying if it didn’t, but I think he’s been gutting it out and doing the best he can with what he has to work with and he’s been playing effectively. Just not quite as good as he would without it.”
His sack numbers bear out that assessment. With two usable hands, he had 3.5 sacks in the first five games of the season. Since then, he has played in five games without a sack.
Ioannidis’ injury, along with the loss of first-round pick Jonathan Allen to a foot injury, have had ripple effects through the defense. Edge rusher Preston Smith had 4.5 sacks in the first five games and just a half sack since then.
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“Probably a little bit,” said Gruden on the effect that the loss of the strong interior pass rush had on the edge rushers. “Jonathan and Matt, Matt has missed some time and then he is playing with that club, so a little bit. That internal pass rush is hard to replace, quite frankly.”
The Redskins will need all of the pass rush they can muster against the Chargers. Philip Rivers is not a mobile quarterback but he has been sacked only 13 times this year. If a less-encumbered Ioannidis can pick up his game, Smith and Ryan Kerrigan could disrupt the comfortable pocket in which Rovers has been able to operate.