Chris Long and Robert Quinn are the heart and soul of the St. Louis Rams’ defense (with an honorable mention going to James Laurinaitis). Without the pass rushing ability that the two defensive ends bring, the Rams defense would go from formidable to below average in a hurry. But to call the Rams’ defensive ends one-dimensional players who can only pass rush would be a huge understatement.
NFL.com recently released its top pass-rushing duo’s heading into the 2014 season. A Missouri team brought home the top spot, but it wasn’t the Rams. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs came in at number one on the list with Long and Quinn coming in at number two.
While it could be argued that the combined 27.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and two defensive touchdowns is beyond enough production to take home the number one pass rushing heading into 2014, there really isn’t anything wrong with number two. At this point in the year, everything is speculation and for the Rams to have NFL.com’s support as the second best pass rushing tandem, is great news for Rams fans everywhere.
What’s most impressive for the Rams’ defensive ends is their ability to also help in the rushing game. Robert Quinn ended the 2013 season with 50 tackles and 7 assists (for reference, James Lauriaitis only had 35 more tackles). Quinn was able to put himself in a position to consistently make tackles and do it often. J.J. Watt held the top spot in tackles among defensive ends with 65 solo tackles and 15 assists. Robert Quinn arguably out-produced Watt as Quinn had 9 more sacks and 3 more forced fumbles. As far as defensive line play goes,Watt has set the bar in recent years and Quinn at the very minimum approached a similar level of production.
Long does not have the numbers that Quinn has, but Long isn’t asked to do the same thing as Quinn. The two have separate assignments and Long’s is the less glamorous one. Long is asked to do a lot of things that Quinn isn’t asked to do nearly as much, such as: jamming tight ends at the line of scrimmage, keeping contain on outside runs, meeting the fullback in the running lane—all of which are done with a high rate of success. Long won’t have the sacks or tackles that other defensive ends do, but he is a team player and does his assignments correctly and does them frequently.
The scary part about the Rams heading into 2014 is that the two defensive ends have a supporting cast that trumps most, if not all, of the supporting casts on NFL.com’s list of top pass rushing tandems. Michael Brockers, who stands 6’6 and weighs 325 pounds, lines up next to Kendall Langford, who also stands 6’6 and weighs 310 pounds, and the two provide a huge amount of support in the middle of the defense. Brockers and Langford are able to do many things that help Quinn and Long be successful.
First and foremost is stopping the run. If teams can’t run the ball, the only other option is to pass the ball, which lets Quinn and Long rush freely off the edges. Second is getting their long arms up into passing lanes. There may be a few quarterbacks in the NFL who are as tall as Brockers and Quinn, but there aren’t many. If neither of the two defensive tackles can get to the quarterback, or push the offensive line backwards, they can stick their long arms right into the eyes of quarterbacks to throw off any rhythm, which gives more time for Quinn and Long to reach the quarterback. Third is the ability to not allow teams to double team Quinn and Long. Rams defensive ends will continue to get many one-on-one matchups against offensive tackles because Brockers and Langford are both good enough to demand attention from the interior offensive linemen, who then cannot help to defend the edge.
The Rams then decided that Brockers and Langford were not enough in the middle and that the defense was lacking a pass rusher in the middle. Aaron Donald was the solution to that problem. The Rams drafted one of the most productive and athletic defensive lineman available in this year’s draft. Donald will likely be a rotational player, but he will be a force when paired with Quinn, Brockers and Long.
The Rams were the third best pass rushing team in the league last year accruing 53 sacks, which was good for third in the NFL. With the addition of Aaron Donald and another year of play under the belt of Brockers and Langford, the Rams will likely contend for the top pass-rushing team in the league.
Even though the Rams defensive ends are ranked second going into the 2014 season, they may end up being a lock for the top spot at the end of the year. The Rams have the supporting cast, and a new defensive coordinator, to wreak havoc all around the league.