The Rams’ 2011 season was a woeful one – full of despair and disappointment. Expectations were set during the preseason, and the team failed to meet them. Amongst the failed expectations was the regressed performance of the Rams defense.
Heading into the season, many thought one of the defense’s strengths was the defensive line – the defensive ends to be more specific. And after signing two veteran linebackers – Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga – in the off-season, some assumed that corps would have improved too.
Here is a look at how those two positions fared this season:
As a group, the defensive ends played pretty good. The main responsibility the ends have is to rush the passer, and the group did that fairly well. Savvy vet James Hall posted another solid season with six sacks. It’s a drop off from the 10.5 sacks he had last season, but at his age (34), six sacks are welcomed.
The 2011 first round selection of Robert Quinn also played exceptionally. Quinn got limited time at the beginning of the season, only coming in as a pass rush specialist. As the season wore on, he began seeing more playing time and even starting a few of the last games. Quinn was known as a pure pass rusher in college, and that translated into the pros as he tallied up five sacks.
The one player at this position that really stood out is, of coarse, Howie Long’s kid – Chris Long. After reaching a career high 8.5 sacks last season, Long exploded this season with 13 sacks. This number placed him among the league’s leaders. Long also put constant pressure on opposing QB’s. Some argue he was snubbed from a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.
Others that played at the position but didn’t contribute much: Eugene Sims (19 tackles, 0 sacks) and C.J. Ah You (6 tackles, 1 sack).
The only bright spot, in my opinion, was James Laurinaitis. The third year middle linebacker played his heart out, just like Chris Long. Laurinaitis tallied up 142 tackles (105 solo, 37 assisted) this season, placing him in the top 10 in that category (he’s 8th). He also had three sacks and two interceptions to go with his plethora of tackles.
Ben Leber was signed in the off-season with everybody assuming he'd man the weakside LB spot effectively. Oh how we were wrong. Leber struggled mightily and was eventually benched in favor of Chris Chamberlain (Leber was also released later on during the season).
In replacement duty, Chamberlain actually did well. He racked up 80 tackles (64 solo, 16 assisted), one forced fumble, and an interception. However, Chamberlain’s greatest value comes in special teams play, not starting. The Rams would be a better team if they acquire somebody better than him to take over the starting job.
The other “upgrade” at the outside was Brady Poppinga. On the season, he picked up 51 tackles (37 solo, 14 assisted) and a forced fumble. Truth be told, Poppinga did not really present a huge improvement over what was already there at the strongside position (Na’il Diggs). Poppinga overran screens, and didn’t position himself well in order to stop outside runs. Improvement here is also needed.