‘Sack City’ is coming up empty for the St. Louis Rams

‘Sack City’ is coming up empty for the St. Louis Rams

When Jeff Fisher took over as the St. Louis Rams head coach in 2012, there was talk of the team breaking the NFL’s single-season sack record. The Rams recorded 52 sacks in 2012 and increased that number in 2013 with 53 sacks.
 
“Sack City” has been quiet in 2014.
Leading the way were the Rams’ formidable pass rush duo of defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn. The two combined for 22 sacks in 2012 and Quinn had 19 sacks last year while Long came in with 8.5 sacks a season ago. The two were dubbed Black Lightning – Quinn – and White Thunder – Long – and the Rams defensive line, which was supposed to become even more formidable in 2014 with the addition of rookies Aaron Donald and Ethan Westbrooks free agent Alex Carrington, was dubbed Sack City.
 
But three games into the 2014 season, the Rams have mustered just one sack. That’s it. Just one.
 
“We are getting good rushes,” Quinn said Sunday following a 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. “We have been back there but when we get our opportunities to get them down we have to get them down. Guys are going to constantly continue to work and try to build on that.”
Robert Quinn averaged better than a sack a game in 2013, but has yet
to record one through three games in 2014.
 
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo helped to lead a come-from-behind victory after the Rams jumped out to a 21-0 lead. Earlier in the week, Quinn said Romo doesn’t get enough credit for his elusiveness. The Rams rarely got near Romo on Sunday and even allowed Romo to use his legs to convert a third-and-13 early in the fourth quarter. Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree, who forced a DeMarco Murray fumble on Dallas’ first possession, was unable to corral the 34-year-old quarterback in the open field.
 
“The big third-down run was huge for us,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He made that one play with his feet and climbed out of the pocket on the other ones. He did a really good job. Obviously it all starts with the protection and our guys up front did a really good job.”
 
The one sack belongs to Donald and what hasn’t helped the Rams this year is being without Long, who suffered an ankle injury early in a Week 1 loss to Minnesota. Defensive end Eugene Sims said not having Long is definitely a factor in the struggling pass rush, but not an excuse.
Chris Long (91) and William Hayes carry fellow defensive end
Robert Quinn off the field following a win in 2013. Long was
injured in Week 1 and neither Quinn nor Hayes have a sack in 2014.
 
“We’re supposed to have one of the best D-lines in the league,” Sims said. “Teams are scheming against us, but we’ll figure it out.”
 
Sims got to Romo twice on Sunday, but was flagged both times on questionable calls. His first so-called penalty was a roughing the passer call when he leapt in an attempt to block a Romo pass. He swiped at the ball, barely missing it, and his hand appeared to barely graze either Romo’s helmet or shoulder pad. He later sacked Romo, but that negated because he was called for defensive holding because he allegedly grabbed in-motion receiver Terrance Williams as he ran behind Sims, who was engaged with an offensive lineman.
 
Referee Clete Blakeman spoke with St. Louis Post-Dispatch Rams beat writer Jim Thomas after the game and said there was “enough restriction there to warrant a call” for holding, but it was a judgment call from the line judge. He didn’t comment on the roughing the passer call, saying he needed to see the replay even though he was the one who threw the flag.
 
The roughing the passer call kept a Dallas drive alive before halftime and allowed the Cowboys to kick a field goal before the break. Sims let that one go, but the negated sack with 2:31 remaining in a three-point game is the one that really bothered him.
 
“I was just trying to make a play and he made a bad call,” Sims exclusively told me after the game. “It’s their job to make a call, but we’ll see where it goes in the next couple of days.
 
“It’s a big stain on the game because, in the last minute, I’m trying to make a play to win the game. Everybody who saw it knew it was a bad call.”
 
Defensive end William Hayes said the defense isn’t capitalizing on plays they need to make.
 
“The ball’s coming out quick, but we just haven’t been effective on third downs,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out what we’ve got to do better. We’re not making the plays we normally make.”
 
Fisher said the team tapered back the pass rush versus the Cowboys to take some other things away. That worked to a degree as Romo was limited to 217 passing yards with two touchdowns and an interception. But Dez Bryant’s 68-yard score to start the second half cut the Rams lead to 21-17 and swung the momentum in Dallas’ favor.
 
“They matched up well and (Romo) got rid of it when he needed to,” Fisher said. “We knew we were facing a good offensive line and we’ve got a deep one-on-one. We did get there, we missed him, and then we came back and tried to get him again and we hit him in the shoulder and we got a penalty for that. We’re going to keep working. Our defense needs to get better in all areas right now.”
 
The Rams have two weeks to fix things. But when they come out of their bye week, they’ve got an undefeated Philadelphia team on the road followed by two home games against division rivals San Francisco and Seattle. If the Rams had trouble containing a deceptively elusive Romo, things could go really bad against legitimately elusive quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.
 
“I wish there was some magic potion we can all drink and forget about it,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said of Sunday’s loss. “Quite frankly, having two weeks to really settle in a loss is going to be hard to get over. But you’ve got to do it. That’s what this profession’s all about. You’ve got to have amnesia in the midst of the game and definitely after the game.
 
“We’ll look at it and, goodness, we’ve got to correct it. We’ve got to go back to work because we’re getting into the meat of this thing here now. We know what we’re up against…It comes down to what are you doing individually for your craft. How hard do you work individually? Check yourself and say, ‘Hey, am I really doing everything I can?’ Then you go back out there and do more. I trust the guys in this locker room that we’ll do that.”
 
It’s a good thing Laurinaitis trusts his teammates and coaches to fix their defensive issues because the general public really doesn’t.