The Rams have found an unlikely star when it comes to the pass-rush this season. No, it's not star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, nor seven-year veteran Robert Quinn. Instead, the most efficient player at getting to the quarterback this year has been backup outside linebacker Matt Longacre.
After recording zero sacks through six games with the Rams last season, Longacre has currently notched 4.0 through seven games in 2017 — enough to lead the team. And though his role on defense has been mainly as a rotational option for Quinn, Longacre has admittedly made the most of every snap taken.
"For me, [my role] is when Rob gets tired, I'm going to go in there and play with a high motor, not let the production and how he plays drop off," Longacre said Tuesday. "When he needs a break, I want the coaches to be comfortable with putting me in and know that there is not going to be a drop. So that's how I see myself and that's how I kind of go into each game is with that attitude."
When asked about what he believes has been the key to his success on the line this year, he is quick to mention his fellow linemen. Longacre said reading Donald as he rushes has allowed him to come back underneath and get to the quarterback more effectively.
"There's a stunt that we've run that I've gotten two [sacks] off of and I really like that stunt," Longacre said. "It allows me to make a quick inside move and I like those. And so that's what I had last week and then I had one against Indy with that one. Just the combination of those two has really helped out."
Longacre first signed with the Rams as a college free agent in 2015, a year in which the team ran a 4-3 defense — a scheme the then defensive end was very familiar with. But this year both Longacre and Quinn have made the transition to outside linebackers under Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense. And though he was unsure of his new role just a few months ago during OTA's, he seems to have hit his stride in the first half of the season.
"It all started back in OTA's," Longacre said of his transition. "The [coaches] kind of were wondering where they saw me and so we went a good three weeks where they were like, 'We're not sure where you're going to go.' So we hit the middle of OTA's and they were like, 'We kind of like where you are now,' and we have been good with that."
"I got a lot of help from Thad [Bogardus, defensive quality control coach], kind of after practice in the offseason going over footwork, the drops and stuff that I'm not used to... [But] I was right there with them," Longacre continued. "I chose a 4-3 team coming out of college and now we're a 3-4, so I had the same thoughts as the [coaches]: 'Where did I fit?' And it has worked out for me very well."
In last week's game against the Cardinals, Longacre sacked quarterback Drew Stanton resulting in a three yard loss and a forced fumble. He has also recorded sacks on Russell Wilson, Brian Hoyer and Scott Tolzien.
The linebacker's mindset coupled with his high production this season has not gone unnoticed. McVay says he "has made a point of giving guys [like Longacre] their praise and their credit when it's due."
"Matt Longacre continues to show up week-in and week-out," McVay said. "And I think it's been a reason why he's been so productive recently and then I think it's helped Robert be able to have a player of his caliber."