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Chris Long: St. Louis' Emerging Star

The quarterback gets too much credit when the team wins and too much blame when they lose.  St. Louis isn’t exactly burning up the league at 5-6, but relative to expectations, coming off a 1-15 year, they are winning.  Sam Bradford is the darling of the media, and has now twice won offensive rookie of the year.  He has played better than his efficiency numbers would indicate, because the Rams’ receiving group is not exactly filled with future pro bowlers.  He is also coming off his best game of the year, a road performance against Denver that saw him pass for 3 touchdowns and over 300 yards.

However, it’s not the offensive passing game where the Rams have improved the most in 2010.  The Rams are still averaging only 6.0 yards per pass attempt and 5.4 net yards per attempt (30th in the league).  That is an improvement from 2009, when they averaged a ridiculous 5.5 yards per pass and 4.6 net yards per attempt.

The larger improvement has come on the other side of the ball, where St. Louis has gone from 7.3 net yards per attempt to 6.1 in 2010 (all the way to 15th in the league).  The Rams had only 25 defensive sacks all of last year, and are already at 31 sacks with 5 games remaining.  A big reason for that is Chris Long.  He doesn’t lead the teams in sacks yet (33-year old journeyman James Hall has 7.5, while Long has 6.5), but he has been consistently getting pressure on the quarterbacks and has made a leap forward in his third season.  Football Outsiders has released some of their game charting information this week on pass rushers, and Chris Long has by far the most quarterback pressures, with Cameron Wake coming in second. 

Early on, those pressures weren’t translating into his personal sack numbers, as Long had 0.5 sacks through the first five games.  Starting with San Diego (2 sacks) he has had 6 sacks in his last 6 games.   He’s starting to live up to his draft pedigree and family heritage as Howie Long’s son.  If you want to look for the real reason the Rams are contending in a weak division after being doormats for the last three years, look to the defense.

Other games:

Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta:  I think Jason Snelling’s status is an underappreciated issue in this game (he’s listed as questionable and hasn’t practiced this week as I write this).  He’s the third down back, and last week picked up some key first downs on checkdowns from Ryan where he broke tackles and got just past the sticks.   Turner is not a receiving option (1 receiving first down all year) and Snelling’s absence could impact Ryan’s comfort level in third down situations.

Indianapolis vs. Dallas:  Austin Collie is out again, so Peyton Manning will still be relying on Pierre Garcon, Blair White and Jacob Tamme.  Dallas will try to continue their run of competitive play since Garrett took over, though the pass coverage in the back seven is still suspect.

Seattle vs. Carolina:  This is a matchup only the players’ mothers could love.  By many measures, these are two of the worst teams in the league.  And of course, Seattle is tied for first in the division.

San Diego vs. Oakland:  Last time, San Diego dominated the yardage battle but lost the game due to two blocked punts and a Rivers fumble late. 

[photo via Getty]

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