Analysis Notebook: Week 12
It often takes a while for the narrative on a particular player to clarify itself. Robert Quinn was clearly always a very talented player, but when he started this season hot, was it all about the opposition, or had he really turned a corner? His first two games were monster performances, but they came against two very suspect left tackles. Against Dallas he was shut out almost entirely and the next week, facing his first legitimate top-tier LT in the shape of the 49ers’ Joe Staley, he posted his first negative grade of the season.
It looked for a while as if Robert Quinn has certainly improved, but that his season might be built on the back of beating up on sub-standard left tackles, while struggling against top-tier guys. Around that time I looked ahead at his schedule and the tackles he would face for the rest of the season. Even if that was to be the story of his season he could easily put together a Pro-Bowl kind of year just feasting on the easy matchups. Since then, however, the narrative has changed a little.
He certainly still has more joy against poor OTs than against really good ones, but then again… Duh. The important part is that his games against better OTs are still producing pressure and that early game against Joe Staley remains his only negative grade on the season.
Against Carolina’s Jordan Gross, Tennessee’s Michael Roos and Houston’s Duane Brown, three of the league’s better LTs, Quinn totalled two sacks, two knockdowns and seven additional hurries. While not setting the world alight, that’s still pretty good production against a trio of tackles that average just 2.25 total pressures surrendered per game this season outside of those encounters with Quinn.
The high-water mark of his season, though, was undoubtedly this weekend against Bears LT Jermon Bushrod. The Bears have a history, across multiple coaching staffs now, of leaving tackles on an island far longer than they should have against players they’re simply not able to contain. It took them most of the game against Jared Allen when he was chasing the sack record to finally give some help to their beleaguered tackle and in this game Bushrod rarely saw any assistance in blocking a guy he couldn’t handle on his own. To be fair to Chicago, this is a league-wide phenomenon. Coaches talk about adjustments all the time, but the bottom line is they hate to have to change what they are doing purely because one guy can’t hold up.
Quinn posted a monstrous +14.4 grade against the Bears, which on its own would make him the sixth-ranked 4-3 defensive end on the season. Taken along with the rest of his year it extends his lead at the top of those rankings to more than double the next best player, Cincinnati’s Michael Johnson. In truth, Quinn is probably the only player that is coming even close to J.J. Watt in terms of Defensive Player of the Year candidacy (and yes, I have thought of Player X that you’re about to mention…).
Just how good was this game? It jumped Osi Umenyiora’s six-sack demolition of Philadelphia’s Winston Justice for the best single-game performance PFF has graded among 4-3 DEs.
I know what you’re asking – how is that possible? Umenyiora had six sacks and Quinn just the one against Bushrod, how can they end up comparable? The first point to make is that sacks are only part of the story. In addition to those six sacks, Umenyiora also notched a knockdown and seven additional hurries while Quinn knocked the quarterback down twice and had eight hurries. Total pressures reads closer than sacks alone at 14-11, still in Umenyiora’s favor. The key is the devastating speed at which Quinn was able to generate his pressure and one play in which he completed the perfect play for a defensive end – strip sack, fumble recovery, touchdown.
The speed at which Quinn was terrorizing Bushrod and getting around the corner was frightening, and the Bears were lucky not to surrender more sacks given how quickly he was getting to the quarterback. Take this play with 12:07 left in the 4th Q. With the Bears facing 3rd-and-3, they were able to execute a quick pass to TE Martellus Bennett and convert, but even so, Quinn had put Bushrod on the floor and was bearing down on the quarterback just 1.9 seconds into the play. If this had been anything other than a quick pass, the play was dead in the water and McCown was likely going down.
The speed with which Quinn gets Bushrod out of his comfort zone is remarkable, and he probably could have done nothing but rush to the outside against him all game long and have success, but he used that outside speed to set up his inside move. He generated pressure to the outside five of his first six positive plays before taking advantage of Bushrod trying to cheat to the outside by coming back underneath for his next four. At that point Bushrod has no idea what to do, and is desperately just trying to keep hold of him and make the nightmare end.
Later on in the 4th quarter, Quinn again destroys Bushrod, and though McCown is able to scramble to his right and toss a touchdown pass, the play is called back because of the holding penalty that Quinn forced. This is a play that won’t show up on the stat sheet, because the holding call nullifies the play and the NFL pretends as if it never happened, at least statistically, but this rush by Quinn essentially took seven points off the board for the Bears. He beat Bushrod so quickly to the outside that the big left tackle was left with no option but to tackle him or risk another shot to his quarterback.
This play set up 2nd-and-long, and a third down play that ended in a sack, only for an extremely bogus roughing the passer call on DT Michael Brockers to extend the drive and give the Bears an opportunity to score, which they ultimately did. The bottom line, though, is that it should have resulted in a defensive stand for the Rams. Quinn’s pressure backed them up by 10 yards and put them behind the 8-ball.
Then we come to the perfect play – the play that maxed out the PFF grading system and ultimately sealed the win for the Rams. The Bears were down by two scores, so any comeback was already looking unlikely, but this sealed things. Quinn again turned the corner on Bushrod like he was an inflatable blocking dummy from the Combine, getting around the tackle and chopping down on the arms of the quarterback just 2.3 seconds after the snap. While plenty of pass rushers at this point wheel away in celebration, Quinn kept his head in the play, grabbing and tossing aside the quarterback who was between him and the ball, before scooping and taking it back 35 yards for the score.
Again, the key thing with this play was speed. Quinn showed fantastic technique throughout this game, bending, ripping and clubbing his way past the tackle, but all of that is meaningless if he doesn’t have the speed to make those moves mean something. When Quinn executes good technique he is beating his man and disrupting the play before the quarterback expects him to be anywhere near him. He is essentially breaking the internal clock that every quarterback has by getting to his spot way before they’re expecting him. He was unfortunate in this game that it only resulted in a single sack for those who care about the marquee stats, but make no mistake, this was as devastating a performance as you will see from a defensive end.
Jermon Bushrod won’t be confused for an elite tackle any time soon, and he can count himself somewhat thrown under the bus by his coaching staff who never send reinforcements to deal with a problem that was apparent from very early in the game, but Quinn showed himself to be simply on another level. If he can continue to lay waste to tackles like Bushrod, and still generate pressure against the best in the league, or even improve those performances, then we are witnessing the development of a truly special player, perhaps the next great 4-3 defensive end.
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