With the pesky Arizona Cardinals refusing to go quietly into the night, Rams defensive line coach Mike Waufle had a message for Robert Quinn late in the fourth quarter.
"Before we went out there Coach Waufle said the great players step up," Quinn said. "He started comparing me to DeMarcus Ware, Osi (Umenyiora), whatever."
Quinn must have taken Waufle's words to heart. Because with a first down at the St. Louis 45 and 1 minute, 41 seconds to play, Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb couldn't avoid getting some face time with the Rams' second-year defensive end.
Quinn raced around the edge from his right end position, dipped his inside shoulder to help get around Arizona tackle D'Anthony Batiste, and grabbed the arm of Kolb before he could get the pass away. The ball squirted to the ground, and William Hayes pounced on the fumble to preserve a 17-3 Rams victory. The Cardinals have been kings of the late-game comeback, including an overtime victory over Miami the previous week — but not this time.
It was Quinn's third sack of the evening, putting a topper on his first multi-sack game as an NFL player. Besides the sacks, Quinn also had five quarterback pressures and three QB hits.
"His statistics and his plays were a result of everybody around him," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He did a great job on the edge, we got inside push, we had coverage downfield, and he took advantage of it. They elected to chip and turn protection towards Chris (Long) and so Robert had a big day. Robert, along with our entire defense, had a very productive day as far as pressure was concerned."
Although Quinn was the headliner, the Rams totaled nine sacks, 18 pressures and 15 quarterback hits. In terms of sacks, Long, Jermell Cudjo, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, James Laurinaitis, Cortland Finnegan and Bradley Fletcher chipped in with one apiece.
Kolb took such a beating, you almost felt sorry for him, right?
"You know, that's our opponent," Quinn said, chuckling. "If I, as you said 'quote-unquote' felt sorry for him, then I would say I'm not doing my job to the fullest. ... He seemed like a tough player."
The Rams attacked this game like no other in terms of orchestrating pressure. They blitzed 20 times in the Thursday night game, with a blitz defined as sending more than four pass-rushers. The 20 blitzes were easily a season high; against Seattle four days earlier, the Rams blitzed just seven times.
The Rams sent linebackers up the middle or overloaded one side with them. Before suffering a concussion midway through the second quarter when he collided with teammate Josh Hull, safety Quintin Mikell was sent blitzing off the edge three times. Once Mikell was sidelined, cornerback Finnegan was sent several times, getting a fourth-down sack to end an Arizona drive that had reached the St. Louis 13 on the series before Quinn's sack-fumble.
"They were on the field an awful lot," Fisher said. "But they got consistent pressure throughout the day. We were a little frustrated with Kevin's mobility. He's really a fine quarterback from the 'leg' standpoint. But we hung in there and that was obviously a difference. We got sacks. We got field positions changes."
Only the first of Quinn's three sacks came in a blitz situation — midway through the second quarter when the Rams lined up in a 3-man front but sent linebackers Dunbar and Hull from the opposite side. Quinn's second sack came with 4½ minutes left in the third quarter, when he got Batiste leading to the outside, and then ducked to the inside to drop Kolb.
Quinn's final sack, as Fisher mentioned, came on a play in which the Big Red shaded its protection to Long's left end position by keeping a running back in on that side.
When all was said and done, it added up to a nine-sack night, the highest total for a Rams defense in 14 years.
"I think everything's finally starting to click," Quinn said. "It just doesn't happen overnight. Coach Waufle's definitely going to make the whole group of defensive linemen an elite unit, and hopefully we can keep putting up numbers like that."
Quinn, whose six sacks this season surpasses his total (five) from his entire rookie year, has the potential to be the team's most dominant defender. Long predicted that would be the case at the end of last spring. But the ends are playing a game of "meet you at the quarterback" this season.
"We joke around," Quinn said. "We're rushing to the quarterback, seeing who gets there first. I guess I jumped the count here and there on him a couple times and beat him. But it's a friendly competition. We're excited for each other."
At no time was that more evident than after Quinn's victory-clinching sack-fumble against Arizona. Just after the play, Long and Quinn hopped excitedly in front of each other and then did the man-hug thing.
There were no hugs, however, for Kolb.