Chris Long: Breaking Down What Makes Him a QB's Nightmare
Jeff Fisher is taking over a team that has been historically bad since Mike Martz's firing. Since 2008 the Rams have only been able to savor victory 16 times. Quite pathetic considering Tom Brady and the 2007 Patriots won 16 games in one season.
But that doesn't mean there shouldn't be reason for hope.
Annually, there is at least one team that goes from last place in the division to first. Can St. Louis be that team this year? With their onslaught of draft picks from the Redskins and Cowboys it's safe to assume the arrow is pointing up.
Offensively, Sam Bradford is working on a clean slate after a disastrous 2011. Rookie wide receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens will give him an opportunity to stretch the field.
But the Rams' biggest improvements come on the defensive side of the ball with the additions of Janoris Jenkins, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Trumaine Johnson and Cortland Finnegan.
However, it wouldn't be fair to forget about key veterans who have seen and been through it all. Most notably, Chris Long, a quarterback's worst nightmare.
What skills does Long possess that make him such a terror?
If I were able to sum up Chris Long in one word, it would be relentless.
The guy just knows how to get after the quarterback. Every ounce of desire is laid out on the line when he's rushing the passer. There's never a moment where you think he isn't working hard.
Unfortunately, many don't get the opportunity to keep tabs on Long as the Rams have been cellar dwellers for the past 10 years. Okay, that's a lie, but one could count the number of victories they've had on one hand over the past three years.
On this play there are a couple of different things working in his favor that will help him record the sack. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is making a rookie mistake by holding on to the ball way too long. The NFL is a bang-bang league, which means if no one is open throw the ball away and move on to the next play.
However, it's important to not discredit Long either. He is staring down a double-team; the Bengals have deployed their right tackle and tight end to keep him in check.
As you can see they have him stonewalled at first, but once he turns the corner and Dalton starts to head upfield he juices back up and drops him for a six-yard loss.
Quickness of Launch
When you look at Chris Long when he's down in his pass-rushing stance, what do you see? I see a frog who is getting ready to leap to the next rock or a wild animal who is getting ready to pounce on his prey. Whatever it is, it's effective.
Many were calling Long a bust after his first couple years in the league as he failed to live up to some pretty lofty expectations that came along with his high draft status.
Not to be discouraged, Long's former head coach Steve Spagnuolo vowed to help him improve his game. Spagnuolo was willing to teach and Long was willing to put in the effort.
It seems as if the switch to left defensive end was what did the trick. Watch him get off on the ball—he's quick out of his four-point stance and the speed he displays around the corner is unreal.
By the time the Panthers' right tackle is upright and out of his stance, Long is already on his outside shoulder tracking the quarterback. When a player gets around the corner that fast the only way for a tackle to stop him is by holding.
In that situation, I guess it's pick your poison. Either give up the sack or take a penalty.
It seems as if the best pass-rushing defensive ends all have one thing in common: good hands.
And I don't mean the type of hands you would want your wide receiver to have. I'm talking about quick, fast-moving hands that keep an opponent's hands off of you.
A lot of Long's leverage comes from the way he swats opposing offensive linemen's hands away. Be sure to listen to the commentary on this clip. Fox Sports announcer Tim Ryan gives a nice breakdown of his hand usage.
The highlight above shows of all the characteristics that I've talked about up to this point. He launches out of his stance, knocks Charles Brown's hands down and then finishes by relentlessly pursuing the quarterback. A great example of all the different nuances that come together to display the end result.
Pass-rushing success isn't always measured by the number of sacks a player records; just ask Chris Long. In 2010, he only recorded eight sacks, but that doesn't mean he did a poor job of getting after the quarterback because he had a combined 78 pressures.
His 57 quarterback hurries were second best among all 4-3 defensive ends and the additional 13 quarterback hits placed him in the top 10.
There's no question people make too much out of sack numbers. Advanced statistic companies like Pro Football Focus do a really good job of shedding light on underrated pass-rushers.
The more one watches Long the more you realize his pass-rushing repertoire is pretty deep and highly effective. One of the most underrated moves that he doesn't use enough is his spin move; it's not a Dwight Freeney spin move, yet it's productive and helps keep opposing linemen guessing.
This clip highlights his spin move and how it helped him force Drew Brees into getting rid of the ball earlier than he wanted to.
And finally we come to the bull rush, one of the most exciting ways to get after the quarterback. Sure, it's simple and it doesn't require much technique if any, but the mindless strength behind it makes it appealing.
The NFL has plenty of finesse rushers who to their credit do an incredible job of getting to the quarterback based on their size. But when talking about Long the word finesse never enters the sentence. At 6'3", 270 pounds there's no question as to whats coming at you.
Above you will see Long taking on Jeremy Bridges and Rex Hadnot. Bridges has the initial assignment, but once Hadnot sees him struggling he comes over to help.
On a bull rush it's important to start low and bat the hands away from the body once they come out. After the hands have been knocked out of the way, get underneath the shoulder pads and drive the lineman's chest backward.
On this play, Long does exactly that and pushes his opponent all the way back until he runs into the quarterback, which causes a fumble. Great tenacity and sound ability were on display.