It's been awhile since I've written a real article. I say real, because the last articles I wrote were about the 'perfect storm', AKA the Rams 2012 Draft. So, to get back into the swing of things, I'm going to be looking at some players who could really take a leap forward and hopefully allow the Rams to win more than a few games this year.
The first player I'm going to be looking at is Chris Long. He was one of the few bright spots for the Rams last year, notching 13.0 sacks (good for seventh in the NFL). That's great, but it's his contract year, so he's going to be looking to improve even more so he can cash in big.
2011 was a revelation for Long. Many pundits weren't sure if he had the talent to be anything more than a decent defensive end in the NFL (including some members of TST who are no longer with us). However, he proved them wrong on his way to being the 7th best pass rushing defensive end according to Pro Football Focus' metrics. (Fun fact: Gary Gibson was ranked 6th in the league for pass rushing acumen by PFF last year).
The real hindrance to Long's play was his being singled out on the line. Consequently, he was double-teamed to slow him down. He doesn't have the natural speed or power to get around 600 pounds of offensive linemen, so he relies more on his technique (and his sky-high motor) to get to the quarterback. When he is double teamed, most of the time he just can't get around the two assigned to block him. Take a look at this play from last year's game against the Saints:
As you can see, he tries to get past the tackle by going inside, only to be shut down by the guard and, eventually, is thrown to the ground by the tackle. Note the complete lack of any inside pressure (the play resulted in a sack only because Robert Quinn flew right by Jermon Bushrod). The Rams made out well on the defensive line this offseason, signing Kendall Langford and drafting Michael Brockers. Both could improve the Rams defensive line situation, and help Long do what he does best - sacking the QB.
By adding interior presence, Long can more consistently match-up one-on-one; enabling him to utilize his technique to get around tackles. Langford is already an impressive pass rushing DT, and Rams coaches believe Brockers can be as well. With that in mind, let's take a look at the desired one-on-one situation from a game he has against the Seahawks:
In this play, Long gets around the tackle (who, it appears, almost commits a holding penalty) and forces Tarvaris Jackson right into the open arms of CJ Ah You. It isn't the best representation of how inside pressure would help the Rams (let's be honest, it's probably near impossible to find evidence of that anywhere ), but if Langford and Brockers can push the pocket, the Rams combo of Long and Quinn should be able to beat the league's average offensive tackle.
Many times last year (like the Seahawks clip), quarterbacks could simply evade Long because they had space to do so. With Langford and Brockers in the middle, opposing teams won't be able to help the offensive tackles by swinging the guards outside (something the Rams will be experimenting with this year to help struggling OT's Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith). With the middle occupied, Long and Quinn will be free to run amok in the backfield.
The Rams might have helped out more than one position by focusing so much on the starting defensive tackles. Long is one of the best, if not the best, player on the Rams defense. Adding the duo of DT's this offseason will undoubtedly make him even better.