Quinn reaping the benefits of Rams' resurgent defensive line

Quinn reaping the benefits of Rams' resurgent defensive line

Published Dec. 10, 2014 4:38 p.m. ET

ST. LOUIS -- Statistics haven't always told the full story of Robert Quinn's impact on the Rams' resurgent defensive line.

He started the season without a sack in his first five games while often attracting double teams and still putting plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Then shortly after telling any reporters who would listen that it just took a "snowflake" to cause an "avalanche," the former Pro Bowler took down Russell Wilson in a surprising 28-26 win over Seattle to start a stretch of 10 1/2 sacks in eight games, including 4 1/2 in the last two, according to coaches' review of the tapes.

Those who haven't been watching St. Louis play every week might be tempted to conclude Quinn finally returned to form after a slow start. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams would love to say his genius schemes provided the key to unlocking a monster talent, but he's not one to take credit where it isn't deserved.

"He's sacked a lot of people before I got here," Williams says. "He's always had that. The guys have knocked the pocket in his direction a little bit, too, and he's been able to finish some plays."


A year ago, Quinn led the NFC with 19 sacks, shattering his previous career high of 10 1/2 in 2012. He hadn't gone more than two games without a sack since his rookie season in 2011, so that naturally brought up plenty of questions during St. Louis' dismal 1-4 start.

But neither coaches nor Quinn ever expressed any serious concerns, though they shared plenty of frustrations about missed opportunities and effective offensive game plans against the defensive line formerly known as "Sack City." It turns out they knew what they were talking about all along, and Quinn's quiet start can be blamed much more on other factors than any of his failures.

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The problems began with injuries in the secondary to starting cornerback Trumaine Johnson and others, leaving the Rams with a young group unable to apply much pressure and stop short, quick passing routes. One of the league's worst run defenses made it even easier to avoid leaving quarterbacks exposed in the backfield in obvious passing situations.

"We decided as a defense to stop the run and really put an emphasis on that and make teams get third-and-longs and do better on first and second downs," linebacker James Laurinaitis says. "It's really made them do their deep passing game, and I'll take our front four any time a team does a deep passing game."

The Rams have 26 sacks in six games when allowing less than 100 rushing yards, compared with just 10 sacks in seven games when teams reach the century mark. The pass rush gets a significant boost from playing with huge leads, which St. Louis has done much more often in the second half of the season.

Teammates matter for Quinn's production as well, and opponents surely focused more on stopping him after Chris Long went down with an injury in the season opener. Eugene Sims and William Hayes, the team leader in quarterback pressures with 37, performed better than most backups, but Long's presence clearly made an impact.

Sure, it came against Oakland and Washington, but 13 sacks in the past two weeks with Long on the field can't be ignored, even if he's not yet at 100 percent. Coach Jeff Fisher says he's hopeful Long's foot will hold up for Thursday night's game against Arizona, a team that gave up three sacks to the Rams in a 31-14 loss earlier this season.

The emergence of rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has seven sacks of his own, has surely taken some attention off Quinn as well. He has still turned in another Pro Bowl-quality season, and Williams offered another thought that should strike fear into offensive linemen and quarterbacks across the league.

"Robert's an unusual talent in that area and he's just scratched the surface with how good he can be," Williams says, knowing that may be hard to believe. "Really, I'm serious with that. I think he's going to continue to improve with years to come."

This seems like a good time to remind fans the 24-year-old out of North Carolina signed a six-year, $65.6 million contract extension in September, so he'll be wreaking havoc in the backfield for the Rams for many years to come.

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.