St. Louis Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis has been one constant in the team's defense since being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He is one of the young cornerstones and a leader of the team's unit. He also happens to be very good, as well as having one thick neck. According to the number crunchers at Pro Football Focus, Lauiniaits had the third best single game performance of any 4-3 inside linebacker last season.
JL's big game came in Week 11 against the hated Seattle Seahawks. St. Louis blew a 7-0 first quarter lead in what ultimately turned into a 24-7 loss. A three-sack performance from Chris Clemons had a lot to do with the final score.
As for Laurinaitis, he was a rock against the run, despite so-so support from the other parts of the defense. PFF gave him a 5.5 for the game. Here's their take on JL's big day:
If we're being completely open, 2011 wasn't the best year for Laurinaitis. You could never say he was low on talent, but the consistency just wasn't there in a struggling Rams outfit. That makes it all the more encouraging (or frustrating depending on your perspective) when you see how well he played in Week 11. He was a well-oiled tackling machine, showing a real nose for the ball carrier. Laurinaitis picked up a tackle for a loss, made six tackles for less than 2 yards, and even brought on the kicking unit with a third-down stop in coverage. It's what he can do, and what the new coaching staff will be hoping he does more of in 2012.
A big part of what they call inconsistency from Laurinaitis has to do with the overall quality of the Rams' defensive play last season. Too often blockers were brushing aside the defensive tackles and getting to the second level. He was also having to help cover up for weaknesses in run defense on the edges of the field.
Another positive sign in Laurinaitis' season between 2010 and 2011 is how much better he was in coverage. He earned a 6.8 grade from PFF for coverage last season, up from basically being even the last two seasons. Better play from the defensive line and corners stronger in run support will be a big help. The jury's still out on what happens at outside linebacker.