ST. LOUIS — After he dragged down Carson Palmer three times, twice knocking the ball from the Arizona quarterback’s hand in the process, Robert Quinn’s phone went off.
“He texted me, and we were going back and forth for a while,” Quinn says Wednesday. “He was like, ‘You know, if you keep that up …’ I was like, Come on, really?”
The soft-spoken Quinn laughs, then explains one of his agents, Sean Kiernan, crunched the numbers after the Rams beat the Cardinals. If the right defensive end could continue a pace of three sacks per game, he could snap Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record (22.5) in no time.
“He was doing the math for me,” Quinn said. “I don’t realize how realistic 27 sacks in nine weeks can really be. But hey, if it happens, it happens.”
Chances are it won’t. But Quinn’s shining start — he now leads the league in sacks and forced fumbles — still made a statement. On Wednesday, he was named NFC defensive player of the week.
The honor is another piece of tangible proof that backs up a theory Quinn’s teammates have been swearing by for quite some time. Quinn is on the rise, they say. Just watch. You will see.
“Probably the first day he was here and we did one-on-one pass rush,” Rams left defensive end Chris Long says. “Just seeing him bend the corner. Anybody can see it. I believe nobody in the game can turn the corner like him. I really do.”
Long, 28, led the Rams with 11.5 sacks in 2012. He will tell you his game has, for the most part, peaked. But Quinn, 23, is a different story.
“Between me and Rob, I’ve always said there’s no contest between who the better pass rusher is and who the better player is,” Long said. “He is going to be something special. You are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.”
Quinn’s bend is his best asset. A wrestler in high school, his 6-foot-4, 265-pound frame possesses a balance and flexibility that can seem downright unfair. That athleticism helped him earn five sacks as a non-starter his first year, and 10.5 in 2012.
“A lot of tackles are tall guys,” Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. “They can’t get that low. He just runs around them because he is so fast. That combination of him having a low center of gravity, being 6-4, and being able to bend as well as he can really frustrates tackles.”
Quinn has worked to increase that frustration. The natural pass rusher has improved against the run so he can spend more time on the field. And his natural tendency to get to quarterbacks has been sharpened thanks to a repertoire of moves he’s learned since landing in St. Louis, moves that were on full display when he tormented Cardinals’ tackle Levi Brown last weekend.
“I’m starting to incorporate more of an inside move, working a chop and club, stuff like that,” Quinn said. “Just diversifying to be a better pass rusher. That way an offensive lineman doesn’t just have to focus on one thing.”
Three sacks per game is impossible, right?
Quinn thinks so.
But his teammates on the defensive line like to brag. They’ve been predicting this rise. They’re not about to set a ceiling.
“I don’t want to throw out numbers,” Brockers says. “I don’t want to put a target on his back. But, you know, if he keeps this up, rushing the passer as well as he can, who knows if he can break it, sustain it?”
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at email@example.com