While the quality of the dances might not be enough to replace an entire reality show like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ or ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ the Rams defense has offered enough variety and creativity to earn at least a cameo in 2012.
Playing defense doesn’t allow for many opportunities to strut your stuff but there is one play that stands above the rest and allows for a short celebration afterward.
“There ain’t nothing better than getting a sack,” Rams defensive lineman William Hayes said. “But I think the fact that we are winning some this year, they feel a lot better. As a whole, we are really just enjoying the tradition that we’re building here more so than anything.”
That tradition is one that has, on 46 occasions this season led to a little jig from a wide range of cast members. With one game to play, the Rams sit tied for third in the league with 46 sacks, putting them in striking distance of league-leading Denver, which has 48 heading into week 17.
Going against a slipper quarterback like Seattle’s Russell Wilson and an offensive line playing well together for the Seahawks, it might be difficult for the Rams to catch and/or surpass Denver to claim the league’s sack lead.
And while that crown isn’t taking priority over getting a victory, it is a little extra incentive for the Rams defensively as they add to an impressive resume for the season.
“It’d be great for our unit,” end Chris Long said. “I think we have a lot of good, unselfish guys. Down the entire line, we have good depth and good talent and everybody just plays for the unit. There’s no selfishness and we are like a group of brothers. It would be awesome for us to have that and that does motivate us.”
When Long speaks of the unit, he’s not just talking about the defensive line, he’s talking about an entire defense that has found ways to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks all year long.
Among the top five teams in the league in sacks, only the Rams are without a player who has recorded double digits in the category. Ends Robert Quinn (9.5) and Long (8.5) lead the way and receive most of the attention in opposing blocking schemes but the Rams have enjoyed contributions from all over the defense this season.
In fact, the Rams have eight players have recorded at least two sacks this season and seven with at least three. They’ve gotten sacks from every position on the defense as well, including three from safety Quintin Mikell, 3.5 for linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar and one each for corners Cortland Finnegan and Bradley Fletcher, not to mention the wrecking crew job done by nearly all members of the defensive line.
“One thing about that number is it’s a team statistic,” Long said. “It certainly does fall on the D-line’s shoulders if we didn’t have a lot of sacks people would say ‘Well, what’s wrong with the D line?’ I’m going to go the other way and say it’s a team statistic and I really do believe that while we have a hand in it, we have some corners and safeties that are really good at blitzing and work hard at that stuff. It matters the way they bring it and the calls are great. It’s a by product of all those things so it’s really a team statistic.”
While Long, Quinn, Hayes and the rest of their defensive line brethren are the first line of defense in getting after quarterbacks, the Rams have generated other ways to get after the quarterback that make it hard to account for everyone. On any given play, the pressure can come from anywhere.
To wit, according to STATSPASS, the Rams rank second in the league in sack rate on blitzes. According to the statistics they keep, the Rams have blitzed on 178 occasions which is just the 13th most in the league.
But when the Rams do unleash a blitz, they’ve had an impressive amount of success, getting home for sacks 24 times (second most sacks from blitzes in the league), a success rate of 11.88 percent, which is also second in the league.
“We’re spreading the sacks around,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “When we need to generate pressure, we can manufacture pressure. When you look around and the DBs and linebackers have some sacks here and there it means that you’re multiple on defense.”
Of course, the sack production coming from blitzes only tells half the story. During the offseason, the Rams made two bold moves to bolster the interior of their defensive line in drafting Michael Brockers in the first round and signing Kendall Langford to a lucrative free-agent contract.
Sprinkle in one of the most underrated free-agent additions in the league in Hayes and the continued development of youngsters Eugene Sims and Jermelle Cudjo and the Rams defensive line has been able to create havoc in its own right.
In 2011, Long and Quinn combined for 18 sacks but that number could have been more had there been a more consistent inside rush to keep quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket and getting rid of the ball or taking off running. Defensive tackles notched just four sacks, three quarterback pressures and seven quarterback hits.
This year, Rams defensive tackles have generated consistent push in combining for seven sacks, 37 quarterback pressures and 16 quarterback hits and those totals don’t even include the work done by Hayes and Sims, who regularly line up on the interior.
“Those big bodies in there push the pocket and smaller, speedier guys like me can come around the edge,” Quinn said. “Everything works together. They are either going to step back to me or step up to our D tackles. As a D line, you have to work as a unit and someone has got to make the play.”
According to coaches’ review of the film, the Rams have 141 quarterback pressures and 100 quarterback hits to go with their 46 sacks. They’ve also drawn 11 holding penalties on pass plays.
Those little things make a difference as well.
“It’s not even all about the sacks, it’s about putting pressure on the quarterback as a whole,” Hayes said. “That’s just as good as a sack sometimes. That is speaking volumes about our team.”
The results also speak for themselves and sometimes even provide a little music to dance to whether it’s Hayes thumping his chest, Quinn doing the ‘Bernie,’ Long doing the ‘Joel’ or one of his other dances, Sims breaking out the air guitar or any other number of dances the Rams defense has pulled out this year.
“I think we just keep offenses off balance,” Quinn said. “You can’t focus on one guy really so everybody gets sacks. We are just trying to get back there and whoever gets it, we are just happy for them.”