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Rams Defense Putting it on the Line

Posted Oct 9, 2012

If you tuned into last Thursday night’s Rams victory against Arizona at the Edward Jones Dome at about nine various points of the game, you might have thought you had your days mixed up or your channel tuned incorrectly.

Instead of watching a football game, you might have thought you were mistakenly watching a newfangled version of “So You Think You Can Dance?” But you weren’t mistaken, what you saw was a Rams defense enjoying the fruits of its labor at the expense of Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb.

Leading the charge was second-year defensive end Robert Quinn, who posted three sacks and performed his signature sack dance “The Bernie” after each one.

“When you make a play you have got to celebrate,” Quinn said. “This is a hard game, plays are hard to be made but when you make a big play for the defense, enjoy it and your team will celebrate with you. That helps keep the fun out there for us and helped us continue to make plays.”

Making those kinds of plays was precisely what Rams coach Jeff Fisher and defensive line coach Mike Waufle envisioned when they arrived in St. Louis. With bookends Quinn and Chris Long wreaking havoc off the edge and new additions Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers pushing the pocket, not to mention talented backups such as Jermelle Cudjo, William Hayes and Eugene Sims, the challenge to harass and ambush quarterbacks all season was presented early on.

“Our coach wants us to be elite, the best of the best,” Quinn said. “We try to take stepping stones to show that we can do that and tried to play one of our best games. We know we can be a dominant defense. We don’t try to talk too much. Just go out there and execute and let our play do the talking for us.”

While the secondary also received its share of upgrades in the offseason, the Rams hoped to build a defensive line that could serve as the foundation of the defense, allowing the Rams to blitz only when they wanted to.

“Our front four is just great,” linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “Those guys can really get after it, especially with Chris and Quinn providing that pressure from the edge and the two guys in the middle pushing the pocket. Those guys get after it. If you’ve got a combination of us playing well on the back end and those guys doing that up front, that’s how you get it done.”

While Long and Quinn had been persistent in the first four games in creating pressure, they weren’t getting home for sacks as much as they’d hoped. They rank among the league leaders in terms of pressures and quarterback hits but the statistic that everyone wants to see is production in the sack column.

Against Arizona, everything seemed to click. Of a possible 50 passing plays the Cardinals ran, the Rams got a sack, a pressure or a hit on 42 snaps. Long had a sack, five pressures and four hits in what for him amounted to another dynamic day at the office.

“We’ve been waiting for that game where the numbers kind of tipped our way,” Long said.  “Up front we’ve really been getting after it.  I know the numbers haven’t been where we want them to or expect them to be, but I’d say we made up some ground tonight.”

But with the Cardinals throwing constant extra attention at Long to keep him from sacks, Quinn enjoyed what amounted to a coming out party.

Quinn posted five pressures, three hits and the aforementioned trio of sacks. It was his first multi-sack performance as he regularly took advantage of one-on-one matchups against Arizona left tackle D’Anthony Batiste.

“His statistics and his plays were a result of everybody around him,” Fisher said. “He did a great job on the edge, we got inside push, we had coverage downfield, and he took advantage of it. They elected to chip and turn protection towards Chris and so Robert had a big day. Robert, along with our entire defense, had a very productive day as far as pressure was concerned.”

Quinn also answered the call when Waufle challenged him late in the game to come up with the play that sealed the win.

With less than two minutes to go and Arizona trying desperately to piece together another miracle comeback, Waufle approached Quinn on the sidelines and told him some of the game’s greats – guys like Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware and New York’s Osi Umenyiora – find a way to make a play to finish an opponent.

Quinn promptly went on the field, burned past Batiste and caused Kolb to fork over a fumble, the first of the year for the Rams.

“I think everything is finally starting to click over,” Quinn said. “Things don’t happen overnight. Just working with Coach Waufle’s techniques and his things, we definitely want to make the whole group of D linemen an elite unit and hopefully keep putting up numbers like that.”

With the defensive line creating so many problems with a combined 33 sacks, hits and pressures, Fisher and his staff were able to dial up timely, exotic blitzes to further complicate matters for Kolb.

Taking away one penalty play, the Rams brought the extra heat more against Arizona than any point in the season, coming at Kolb with more than four rushers on about 20 plays. According to Pro Football Focus, those blitzes yielded a completion percentage of 43.8 and five sacks, including one for Dunbar and cornerback Cortland Finnegan’s key fourth down stop.

Adding the extra confusion that comes from blitzing to an already dynamic front four could make the Rams among the most dangerous pass rushing groups in the league. “Man, we’ve got a great front four,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “We just try to get after it, and when you know you can get a team to start throwing the ball all over the field and try beat you that way, you can say we don’t need to play the run, we can just pass rush. That’s a beautiful thing for them and it plays into our hands, because we have a great secondary and a great D-line. I mean, nine sacks is a huge defensive effort. I know they’re proud of it and they should be.”

Getting sacks from linebackers, corners and safeties also opens up another world of possibilities in terms of creative sacks dances.

In addition to Quinn’s version of “the Bernie,” Long unveiled what he calls the “Joel,” a tribute to a friend of his that might resonate at a certain college campus near Charlottesville, Va. and Dunbar brought out the old school version of the “Swim,” among others.

Of course he’s biased but Quinn thinks he is working with the best of an ever-expanding lot.
 
“I still think the Bernie is the top of the top,” Quinn said.

If things go according to plan, Quinn and his teammates will get to keep the contest going all season long.