Aug 23, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joel Bitonio (75) and tackle Joe Thomas (73) block St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn (94) in the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Prior to the start of the regular season in St. Louis, the Rams PR department unveiled their newest marketing campaign in an attempt to draw larger crowds the Edward Jones Dome for home games. The ploy was called “Defend Our Turf,” featuring a number of popular St. Louis Rams players drawn as mechanical, Superheros, splashed over a comic book-esque backdrop. Saving the irony of that campaign compared to the St. Louis Rams actual performance at home game this season, the “Defend Our Turf” signage was one of many new offseason developments attempting to get Rams fans excited about the 2014 football year.
Another campaign, of sorts, that gained a lot of steam over the offseason was the nickname “Sack City,” with the St. Louis Rams defense (particularly the defensive line) recording the most quarterback takedowns in the league since 2012. With Robert Quinn coming off his firs Pro Bowl appearance, the addition of Gregg Williams as the defensive coordinator, and the drafting of Aaron Donald, all sights were set on the Rams crushing the league record for team sacks in a regular season.
Sadly, through three game, the St. Louis Rams are sitting at the bottom of barrel in the sack department, having managed only one this season. While those numbers might be a tad misleading to the actual pressure the Rams have been able to apply to opposing quarterbacks, it has raised eyebrows across the league.
One of those eyebrows resides on the face of NFL.com senior analyst, Gil Brandt, who recently wrote an article listing “Faded Stars,” highlight 2013 Pro Bowls that have failed to live up to expectations this season. Not so surprisingly, about halfway down that list, Robert Quinn makes the cut. This is what Brandt had to say about Quinn,
"Through the first three weeks of his breakout 2013 campaign, Quinn racked up four sacks, three hurries, 12 pressures and 11 tackles. Through three weeks this year, he has zero sacks, zero hurries, three pressures and seven tackles — quite a significant drop-off. His first step doesn’t seem quite as quick as it’s been, and he’s not making the hustle plays so far that he did last season. And while we must acknowledge that one of his three games did come against a top-flight tackle in the Dallas Cowboys’ Tyron Smith, the other lines that Quinn faced (those of the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers) aren’t exactly known for their excellence.Yes, I’d expect the absence of fellow defensive lineman Chris Long to have an impact on Quinn’s performance, but not to this extent. That said, I’d still figure that Quinn — who signed a big-money contract earlier this month — has the ability to rack up double-digit sacks this year, but his early showing is cause for concern."
While there is certainly some validity to his claims, merely looking at “the numbers” doesn’t quite paint the whole picture. For one, according to Pro Football Focus, Robert Quinn has managed four hits on the quarterback and four hurries, for a combined total of eight quarterback pressures on the year. While that is certainly not as impressive as his totals at this time last season, he still ranks No.2 overall among 4-3 defensive ends in hits, and is still graded as the No.4 pass rusher among players at his position.
In his second point, regarding the caliber of offensive line, Brandt does make a solid big-picture point, but is not one that necessarily points directly at Robert Quinn.
Last year, the Minnesota Vikings offensive line was ranked No.9 overall in pass blocking efficiency, allowing only 168 pressures on their rotating circus of quarterbacks. However, that was with Adrian Peterson demanding the attention of the defenders and their coordinator, forcing teams to adjust their pressure, as to not catch themselves on the wrong side of arguably the top “your not tackling him from behind” running back in the league. With Peterson out, defenses can not pin their ears back and unload on the Minnesota Vikings, which has inevitably lead to more pressures and a lesser rating for an offensive line that will essentially be under attack all season, from this point on.
Tampa Bay, much like Minnesota, relied heavily on their running back to avoid Robert Quinn. In fact, McCown only dropped back 22 times against the St. Louis Rams, and sported the second-shortest “time to throw” average in the league during Week 2. Much like the previous week, the Buccaneers obviously planned around the quarterback getting the ball out of his hand quickly to avoid the rush. While that may have led to limited sacking opportunities, it also lead to limited offensive production through the air, and even to an ill-timed interception that would end a Tampa Bay drive in the red zone. In this case, the lack of sacks had nothing to do with lack of pass rush, but, rather, an opposing offense formulating a game plan around not getting destroyed in the pocket.
Brandt does mention Chris Long as a potential “excuse” for Robert Quinn, although few, if any, would buy into that at Rams Park. The reality of the Gregg Williams defense, as opposed to the Jeff Fisher scheme that the Rams had been running the last two seasons, is that pressure is coming from a variety of locations; not just the front four. In fact, the Top 5 graded pass rushing defenders thus far include only one defensive lineman (Robert Quinn), with Alec Ogletree, James Laurinaitis, T.J. McDonald, and Jo-Lonn Dunbar all making the cut. The “excuse,” if any, may be that there are more bodies fighting for the same pressures, and less bodies actually defending receivers in short-to-intermediate routes.
While there is certainly some pause when considering the relatively-low sack numbers being accumulated by the St. Louis Rams’ newest $15 million per year player, it is nothing that cannot be, at least somewhat, explained by examining “how” a) opposing offenses have played Quinn and b) how Gregg Williams is game planning on defense. Much like last year in J.J. Watt’s “down year,” offensive coordinators are formulating their entire game plan around the run game and quickly getting the football out of their quarterback’s hand. It also may be unrealistic to expect a repeat of his 2013 production, when Gregg Williams’ scheme heavily utilizes five- and six-man blitzes, keeping defenders in short routes and forcing the quarterback to make quick decisions.
Robert Quinn will get eventually hit home with his pressures. Until then, he’ll have to continue to improve as a run stuffer, within a defense that continues to get worked on the ground by opposing running backs. No need to fear, Sack City.