Rams' Sack Total More Than Just a Number
by Nick Wagoner
A statistic can, on a surface level, provide a certain amount of hope for any NFL team. It can be a sign of progress from the season before. It can represent a rise in performance in the eyes of the rest of the league. It can even become a symbol of a milestone in franchise history.
In the case of the Rams’ 52 sacks in 2012, it was actually all of those things. The 52 sacks represented an improvement of 13 over the 2011 season. That total tied for most in the league with Denver. It also was the most sacks by a Rams team since 1999 when they had 57.
But digging beyond the numbers, while the Rams’ 2012 sack total was certainly meaningful in terms of football development, it meant a whole lot more to a group of people in the St. Louis area.
Through the “Sack Homelessness” program done in conjunction with the St. Patrick Center, the Rams raised $52,000 by dropping opposing quarterbacks with such regularity this season. That money will go toward operating St. Patrick Center housing, employment and health programs for individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
“That’s pretty cool,” defensive end Chris Long said. “That’s probably the biggest deal. At the end of the day, it’s nice to be tied for the league lead in sacks but people forget little statistics like that. Hopefully that money really helps make a difference and that’s the real deal right there. That’s why we play the game.”
Joined by a number of his defensive linemates, defensive line coach Mike Waufle and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, Long led the charge in making a contribution for each sack the defense rang up in 2012, quite literally putting their money where their mouth was.
A portion of the Rams’ donation, along with help from other St. Patrick Center supporters throughout the St. Louis region will go toward helping renovate St. Patrick Center’s Child Center that provides care and activities for children during the day while their parents are enrolled in St. Patrick Center’s housing, employment and health programs.
The “Sack Homelessness” program began in 1997 and after a short hiatus returned this year with a vengeance with sights set on growing further in 2013.
“The St. Louis Rams have demonstrated time and time again how committed they are to people in our community who need an opportunity to improve their lives,” Tom Etling, St. Patrick’s Center CEO, said. “We are excited about the great success of Sack Homelessness, and appreciate the dedication of the coaches, players and staff to St. Patrick Center.”
Based on the way the Rams were able to terrorize opposing quarterbacks in 2012, it stands to reason that there will be plenty more help on the way to St. Patrick Center in the coming years.
With Long leading the way with 11.5 sacks and bookend Robert Quinn chipping in 10.5, the Rams had their first duo to reach double digits in sacks since 2000 when Grant Wistrom (11) and Kevin Carter (10.5) achieved the double-double.
Of course, going over the 50 mark and claiming a share of the league lead wouldn’t have been possible if Long and Quinn weren’t getting plenty of help from elsewhere.
So it was that the Rams actually had 14 players record at least a half of a sack this year with one player at every level of the defense finding a way to the quarterback.
And though it should come as no surprise that Long and Quinn had the gaudiest numbers, they were certainly buoyed by one of the league’s deepest and most talented defensive line groups.
Free agent addition William Hayes finished third on the team with seven sacks and fellow emerging young lineman Eugene Sims had three of his own. So between the two “back up” ends, you had another double-digit contributor.
“We’ve got a solid group up front, first and foremost, with depth,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “I alluded to that last week, and then we also gave them help from a scheme’s standpoint on occasion. You see our numbers are spread out. When your third or fourth end or your backup end has seven sacks, that’s saying something about the depth that you have. For this group to come from where they were last year to be tied in the National Football League for sacks is quite an accomplishment for the group. I think a great job done by Coach Waufle with the guys up front.”
It should also be noted that Hayes and Sims did plenty of their pass rushing damage while playing inside, especially on third down. Employing a four defensive end scheme that Waufle helped create when he was in New York, all four ends wreaked havoc on opposing offensive lines for most of the season when offenses found themselves in surefire passing situations.
All told, the Rams got 14 sacks from the interior of the defensive line – including four from rookie Michael Brockers, two from Kendall Langford and one by Jermelle Cudjo- a drastic improvement from the four they got last year.
“We have a really, overall, a good D line and overall a deep D line and we have guys pitching in numbers that aren’t starters,” Long said. “And guys like William Hayes had seven sacks on the year and can rush inside, rush outside, that’s huge for us. Eugene had a couple sacks and it’s the depth that is really reflected in those.”
The 52 sacks also wouldn’t have come without major contributions outside of the defensive line. The Rams were one of the most effective blitzing teams in the league in 2012, regularly putting defensive backs and linebackers in position to make plays also.
According to STATSPASS, the Rams finished second in the league in sacks when blitzing with 26 and second in success rate as they got home for sacks on 12.38 percent of their 184 called blitzes.
The result saw players like linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar establishing a career high in the category with 4.5 sacks or safety Quintin Mikell coming up with three.
It’s because of that shared success that the Rams view the sack total not only as a referendum on a strong performance by the front four but by the defense as a whole.
“It means a lot,” Long said. “I said earlier in the week when people were speculating whether we’d be tied or winning that statistical battle that it’s a team honor. It’s a defensive team honor. A lot of those sacks are coming with D backs blitzing, linebackers blitzing, I know guys like Jo-Lonn had four sacks or something like that and those numbers matter. It’s a great defensive team honor.”
Waufle informed the members of the defensive line on Monday that they had not only tied for the league lead in sacks but won the unofficial tiebreaker by winning the sack per pass play crown.
The Rams got their 52 sacks on 547 passing plays, meaning they came up with a sack on about 9.5 percent of opponents’ pass attempts. Denver was a notch below, coming up with its total on 559 pass plays.
“Our coach made sure on official stats on sacks per play we are No. 1 so it gave us that,” Quinn said. “It’s something to build off of for sure. It takes a lot of great players to go out there and make plays. With sacks everything has got to go right so you have to give credit to the whole defense because it’s rare you can get a sack on your own without the whole defense working together.”
And working for something bigger.