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Who will lead the team in QB sacks?

June 29, 2020 08:41AM
Who will lead the team in QB sacks?


The LA Rams were the fourth-ranked defense in the defensive category of quarterback sacks in 2019. The Rams used a group effort to rack up 50 sacks, just four less than the NFL leading Pittsburgh Steelers’ mark of 54. While some individuals dropped, the Rams’ efforts were a significant improvement over the 41 recorded in 2018 and a slight improvement over the 48 sacks registered in 2017.

So why ask the question? Well, of the Rams’ 50 sacks in 2019, 23 sacks came from players no longer on the team. Those 23 sacks from players Cory Littleton (3.5), Clay Matthews (8.0), and Dante Fowler Jr. (11.5) will need to come from other players. So who will step up in 2020?

Default AD?

Of course, the first and likely accurate guess is All-Pro Aaron Donald. After all, he’s led the team in that department since 2015. Even in 2014, his rookie season, he was a close second. So have we given the answer away before we even get to explore the defensive roster? I’m not as certain as I once was. After all, if the Rams defensive philosophy is that of deception, then wouldn’t it make more sense to feature someone not named Aaron Donald in the pass rush department?

Well, it will very difficult for the Rams to pass up Donald’s ability to bring down a quarterback. After all, he’s damned good at it. But if the defense intends to work with versatility and deception, then the team cannot simply sit back and await the pressure on the QB to come from just one man. So let’s explore who might generate some pass rush in 2020?

0 – 2 Sacks

If a team wants to create quarterback pressure, that pressure cannot be limited to several pass-rush specialists. A defense must be able to generate pressure upon the quarterback from unexpected players. Last season, the LA Rams generated from zero to two quarterback sacks from five separate players.

That was not by accident. Four of the players were young players learning the ropes of life in the NFL trenches. Only cornerback Troy Hill had success blitzing successfully to get to the quarterback. Will the Rams throw more players at the quarterback this season? I suspect that will be the plan, as blitzes tend to throw off a quarterback’s rhythm.

DBS only?

While the first pass suggests that the Rams will have defensive backs in this category, are they the only players who will qualify? After all, Taylor Rapp and John Johnson III could generate quarterback pressure. CB Troy Hill has gotten to the quarterback before, and will likely do so again. Both rookies Terrell Burgess and Jordan Fuller could get a quarterback or two in 2020.

Of course, there is the rotating defensive linemen and linebackers who will get to the quarterback on occasion as well. Backup NT Greg Gaines, OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, ILB Clay Johnston, and ILB Kenny Young could all generate some pass rush in 2020.

Total Sacks from this group: 9

2.5 – 5 sacks

From this range, the Rams defense will generate pressure from young defenders who are developing into pass-rushers. Historically, this has been where first and second-year defensive linemen and linebackers end up. In 2020, there are not many players who fit into that category. But there are some players who have been on the roster who will likely have the opportunity to earn their fair share of defensive snaps.

Defensive end Morgan Fox, nose tackle A’Shawn Robinson, defensive end Michael Brockers, defensive end Sebastian Joseph Day, and linebacker Micah Kiser could all generate enough quarterback sacks to land in this grouping. So who will deliver and who will flirt with getting to the quarterback? Let’s take a look.

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It starts with the nose tackle.

Nose for the quarterback

We’ve talked a bit about why A’Shawn Robinson’s arrival to the LA Rams spells good things for the overall defense. But not in a way where he is stuck as the defense’s point and he must shoulder the burden play after play. Robinson is powerful enough to play nose tackle but versatile enough to stunt on the line of scrimmage and take on offensive linemen from the defensive end position as well. While he has never recorded more than two sacks in a single season, he’ll benefit from playing alongside Aaron Donald in 2020 for a career-high in that category.

Of course, defensive ends Morgan Fox, Michael Brockers, and Sebastian Joseph Day will benefit from the chaos Robinson creates in the interior, and will finally take some of the pressure off teammate Aaron Donald. Simply by putting up a sack or two more per player will force offenses to plan for more than Donald when they face the LA Rams.

Total Sacks from this group: 12

5.5 – 10 sacks

From this range, we are likely to find young players with light’s out skills of getting to the quarterback, or savvy veterans who can be used in pressuring the quarterback when the opportunity presents itself. For the LA Rams, we’re nearing the apex of the quarterback sacks so the number of players in this range may be limited to just one or two.

In this range, you can look for rookie pass-rusher Terrell Lewis to make a mark on his rookie season. After all, the Rams picked him up to get after the quarterback. How many sacks he generates in his rookie season will depend on how effective he is early, and how many defensive snaps the team will play him.

Outside linebacker role

One of the key players for 2020 is veteran outside linebacker Samson Ebukam. He generated 4.5 sacks in 2019 and will get to the quarterback more often in 2020. In fact, the combination of Ebukam and Lewis from that outside linebacker spot may be enough to replace the ability of outgoing veteran Dante Fowler Jr.’s sack totals.

While many will be looking for Terrell Lewis to blow the lid off the Rams defense, I suspect that the Rams will integrate him at a slow and deliberate pace, ensuring that he not only gets an increasing workload but that he has the time to process what offenses are doing while he is on the field. While that may hamper his sack total in 2020, it will be a far better strategy for building a complete player for the future.

Total Sacks from this group: 11.5

10+ sacks

At this plateau, we are discussing the NFL’s best. Who reaches this level for the LA Rams besides Aaron Donald? Surprise surprise, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, could get there. After all, he once played for LA Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley when Staley was the OLB coach for the Chicago Bears. In fact, Floyd’s sack totals have decreased from his rookie season of seven, down to his 2019 total of just three.

So how can the Rams get him into double digits? Well, simply by emphasizing his role on defense much like the Rams did for Fowler from just one season ago. Before Dante Fowler Jr. arrived at the LA Rams, his sack totals were 4, 8, 2, and 2 respectively. It was when he played in the shadow of All-Pro Aaron Donald that he skyrocketed to 11.5 sacks.

Let history repeat itself

So now the LA Rams have a young man whose quarterback sacks totals are even better and more consistent at 7, 4.5, 4, and 3 sacks. What will he do in 2020? Well, if history repeats itself, he will put up double-digit sack totals for the Rams. And that will be enough to get him noticed among other NFL teams. After all, there is a method to the Rams madness. If the Rams do not re-sign Floyd, he will sign on elsewhere to a healthy contract, and the Rams will be awarded a valuable compensatory NFL Draft pick in 2022. Plus, the Rams will have the extra year to develop OLB Terrell Lewis, who will be ready to generate plenty of pressure in 2021.

That leaves the LA Rams with All-Pro Aaron Donald, who will win the Rams sack lead one more time. Even if Floyd is able to tackle the quarterback 12 times, Donald will do so 14 times. Aaron Donald is one of the NFL’s most talented players in the past 50 years. Even as the opposing offenses surround him with two, three, and sometimes even four blockers, he finds a way to make tackles and get to the quarterback. That will continue in 2020. If you add up the totals, you will find the LA Rams could lead the NFL in quarterback sacks next year.

  Who will lead the team in QB sacks?

Rams43107June 29, 2020 08:41AM

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Rams4346June 29, 2020 04:37PM

  Re: A thought provoking post on this topic by oldnotdead...

rampage66682June 29, 2020 05:39PM

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JimYoungblood5334June 29, 2020 05:30PM