Jeff Fisher has challenged the St. Louis Rams to break the NFL's all-time sack record. The current record is 72, set by the 1984 Chicago Bears. The Rams recorded 39 sacks in 2011, led by Chris Long, who registered 13 sacks.
Long is in just entering the prime years of his career, and he is a force from his left defensive end position. Robert Quinn, who plays the right defensive end spot, had five sacks last season as a rookie. Quinn looks like he is going to be an absolute stud on the right side, giving the Rams perhaps the best young pass rushing duo in the NFL.
Throw in defensive tackles Kendal Langford, brought in via free agency, and Michael Brockers, the No. 14 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, and the Rams' front four is perhaps the most talented young foursome in the NFL.
I also think Eugene Sims, who has seen quite a bit of playing time during his first two seasons, will be a key player in that rotation of defensive ends. Sims played in all 16 games last season, but didn't register a sack. I think his role on the team will increase now that James Hall and his six sacks are no longer on the roster.
If the Rams are going to break the sack record, that means they'll need to get some sacks from their linebackers. James Laurinaitis is one of the best young middle linebackers in the NFL. Now that he has two competent, space-eating defensive tackles in front of him, that is going to help take Laurinaitis to the next level, and hopefully increase on the three sacks he had a year ago.
However, Laurinaitis' primary job is to stop the run. The Rams will need those outside linebackers to get to the QB. That is where free-agent pickups Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Mario Haggan will chip in. Dunbar only registered one sack a year ago with the Saints, and as the weakside linebacker, the Rams will need more production from him. Haggan, listed at 6'3", 274 pounds, had five sacks as the starting strongside linebacker for Denver in 2010.
The Rams have a couple of rookie linebackers that also might add to that sack total. Aaron Brown (seventh-round draft pick) had 4.5 sacks last season at the University of Hawaii, and with his 4.5 speed coming off the edge, Brown looks like a player that might be able to get to the QB.
Sammy Brown (undrafted free agent) had 21 sacks and 50 tackles for loss during his two seasons at the University of Houston. Brown could definitely be a pass rushing linebacker, if he ever learns to give a consistent effort.
The Rams should get a handful of sacks from their secondary as well. Darian Stewart racked up three sacks from his safety position last year. Quintin Mickell chipped in with one. Rather than actually adding to the sack total directly, I think the Rams' secondary will lock down receivers and give that pass rush one more second to get to the QB.
I've said it over and over, and I'll say it again: the Rams have one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
That secondary is going to allow the Rams to do whatever it wants to do on third down. Want to just rush four and rely on Long and Quinn to get to the QB? The Rams can do that. Or maybe you want to do something exotic like send a safety, or maybe blitz Sammy Brown? The Rams' corners are good enough to cover their man, allowing the Rams to do that.
Basically, the opposing QB won't know what's coming.
It has to be awesome to hear your head coach say, "Let's go break the sack record." These Rams' defenders are young and talented. When you hear the boss talk like that, it gives these Rams something they've been lacking, confidence.
Do I think the Rams will break the sack record? No, but I think they could be near the top of the NFL in sacks for 2012. I think the Rams will be a top-five to top-10 defense, and that is a big reason why I'm predicting the Rams to make the playoffs in 2012.
My unofficial guess for the Rams 2012 sack total: 52.
As always, thanks for reading.