Prior to the 2013 season, St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn had always been viewed as a boom-or-bust player. Some games he would string together a multi-sack performance, and then other games he would find himself stonewalled by the opposing team’s left tackle.
Quinn’s inconsistent nature must have drove head coach Jeff Fisher nuts in 2012. Of the 16 games he appeared in last year, the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) only awarded him with a positive pass-rush grade four times.
As you can see in the chart above, Quinn played in eight games where he didn’t record a sack. His longest drought without a sack was from Week 11 to Week 13. His midseason slump ended up being the third-longest sackless streak of his career.
After enduring such crucial streaks in back-to-back seasons, pundits wondered if 2013 would be the year where he finally put it all together. If this past Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals was any indication of the type of season he will have, Rams fans are in for a real treat.
Quinn abused Cardinals left tackle Levi Brown to the tune of three quarterback sacks and three quarterback hits. In three career games against Brown, the first-round pick out of North Carolina has managed to tally five quarterback sacks and four quarterback hits.
However, Quinn’s relentless ability in Week 1 went well beyond his impressive stat line. His statistical accomplishments only tell a part of the story. The other part is told when one takes the time to examine his superior play on film.
On Quinn’s first sack, defensive coordinator Tim Walton sent four rushers and dropped seven off into coverage. St. Louis’ 4-2-5 look was used to counter Arizona’s “11 personnel” grouping. Two wide receivers lined up on the right side of the formation, one lined up on the left side of the formation and the tight end was on the line of scrimmage.
Based on the fact that both the tight end and the running back went out on routes, the Rams had a clear advantage against a below-average offensive line. Quinn was matched up one-on-one against Brown.
As Quinn (circled) came around the corner, it was obvious that his speed was simply too much for Brown. Moreover, Brown lacked the ability to bend at the hips. This, in turn, made Quinn’s path to quarterback Carson Palmer much shorter.
Quinn not only beat Brown like a drum for the sack, he also knocked the ball out of Palmer’s hand when he met him in the backfield.
Without a doubt, Quinn looks faster than he did in 2011 and 2012. One could attribute his newfound speed to offseason conditioning, yet more than anything, it’s safe to say he’s playing faster because it is his second season in Fisher’s system.
Quinn’s second sack looked almost identical to his first. The Rams defense deployed a 4-2-5 look while rushing four defensive linemen. Again, the 23-year-old pass-rusher was matched up against Brown, one-on-one.
Instead of solely relying on his speed, Quinn dipped his head when he came around the corner. Staying low helped him gain momentum. As soon as he saw Brown standing straight up and down, he turned on the jets.
The end result was a beautiful eight-yard loss. Quinn coupled a good dip move and speed to torch Brown for the second time in the first quarter. After the first sack, it was surprising to see the Cardinals leave the seven-year tackle all alone on an island.
They should have chipped Quinn with the running back.
On Quinn's third and final sack, the Rams defense deployed a 4-2-5 look where it rushed four down linemen. This defense proved to be a staple to their game plan whenever the Cardinals sent three or more wide receivers out on routes.
Instead of dipping his head and going for the speed rush, Quinn opted for a new move. After initially faking to the inside, he immediately kicked it back outside and beat Brown with a swim move.
This was by far his most impressive sack of the day. Not only did Quinn strip the ball for a second time, he used a pass-rush move that we rarely saw him use in 2011 and 2012.
These are the types of things the Rams coaching staff wanted to see from Quinn. It wanted to see him diversify himself as a rusher. Everyone knows about his speed and quickness off the edge. Yet no one knew about his swim move or his violent hand usage.
When a young defensive end can get to the quarterback using a myriad of pass-rush moves, that player is well on his way to superstardom. Which is exactly why Quinn will be revered as the next great sack artist by the end of the 2013 season.
Aside from his new-look pass-rushing repertoire, Coach Fisher credits Quinn’s improvement to working against All-Pro left tackle Jake Long on a daily basis. Here’s what Fisher had to say about the budding superstar, via Brandon Birkhead of TurfShowTimes.com:
He's improved with the run skills and techniques, but I think he's also improved as a pass rusher, too. So, he's improved in both areas. When you get an opportunity to work against somebody like (T) Jake (Long) day-in and day-out even though it's been a short period of time - that consistent battle day after day ends up being a good situation for both.
As the season progresses, you would have to think Quinn is only going to get better. Teams may start scheming against the third-year pro, but don’t expect him to see many double-teams. Double-teaming him would result in defensive end Chris Long seeing more one-on-one matchups.
There’s a reason the Rams led the NFL in quarterback sacks last year. They have one of the most potent defensive lines in all of football. The opposition will have to pick its poison. And as of right now, Quinn appears to be the most poisonous player of them all.