Outside linebacker Dante Fowler is known as an edge rusher. And when a player receives that moniker, he usually is thought of as primarily someone who can get after the quarterback.
Fowler proved his capabilities in the Rams’ defense in the back half of the 2018 season, posting 2.0 sacks and five quarterback hits in the regular season, and then 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits in the postseason run to Super Bowl LIII.
All of that is part of the reason why Los Angeles re-signed Fowler to a one-year deal just before the start of the new league year last month.
But one perhaps underrated element of Fowler’s game is his ability to defend the run. Using some screenshots from NFL GamePass, here are a few key plays Fowler made against the run as a Ram last year.
Let’s start with a play that you may recognize because it was in the highest-profile game — Super Bowl LIII.
Early in the first quarter, the Patriots faced 1st-and-10 at their own 24-yard line. With the offense in an offset-I formation with fullback Pat Devlin lined up to the offense’s right, Fowler — as the weak side OLB — lined up outside left tackle Trent Brown.
As the play begins, you can see this is set up to be a power play to the backside of the formation. The left tackle and left guard block down on defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the right guard pulls, and Devlin starts moving toward the left side of the formation as well. That leaves Fowler unblocked as things start — which is the design of the play because someone is coming to get him.
However, a couple things happen here. Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh blows past center David Andrews, who is attempting to fill for the pulling guard, disrupting things at the point of attack. And Fowler is able to use his speed to get around right guard Shaq Mason as he tries to get his hands on the OLB.
Based on his speed, Fowler gets to running back Sony Michel first, but Suh is also there to bring down the Georgia product for a four-yard loss.
This next play comes from earlier in the season, the Week 13 victory over the Lions.
In the third quarter, Detroit had advanced to 1st-and-goal at the L.A. four-yard line. Fowler initially lined up on the offense’s left, and tight end Luke Willson motioned to get in front of the outside linebacker before the snap.
At the snap, left guard Frank Ragnow pulled to the left, ostensibly to pick up linebacker Mark Barron at the second level. But that left Willson in a one-on-one matchup with Fowler. The outside linebacker played it well, though, getting inside on Willson and pushing him back.
Ragnow goes right past Fowler, who has beaten Willson to get into the backfield.
And while Willson tries to keep Fowler off Blount, the outside linebacker still is able to wrap up the running back, giving his defensive teammates time to help him bring the big back to the ground.
Finally, here’s a play from one of the few games Los Angeles lost in 2018 — but it’s another good example of Fowler’s speed coming into play for run defense.
On this 2nd-and-6 play, Fowler is again lined up to the offense’s left.
At the snap, Fowler takes a step or two to the outside, before correctly reading the play to see that running back Josh Adams was about to take a handoff toward the right of the formation.
Fowler flips his hips and starts running that way before Adams even receives the ball from quarterback Nick Foles.
While the play is set up well on the frontside of the formation, Fowler’s speed keeps left guard Steve Wisniewski’s hands off of him.
Fowler gets to Adams at the line of scrimmage as he’s trying to cut back, meeting up with Barron to make a run stuff for no gain.
Fowler clearly produced in a Rams uniform last year, with perhaps no play as big as his QB hit on New Orleans’ Drew Brees that induced safety John Johnson’s overtime interception. But there is more to Fowler as a defender, and that’s why he’s back in a Rams uniform for 2019.