With Robert Quinn's dominant performance against the New Orleans Saints, he has to be a strong candidate for the annual Defensive Player of the Year award, and his teammates agree.
Team balled today all 3 phases.. If Robert Quinn don't win Defensive Player of the Year though.. Smh boy good— Cortland Finnegan (@CortFinnegan) December 16, 2013
Drew Brees and the Saints have produced one of the more dominant offensive units in recent NFL history, easily the best aerial attack since Peyton Manning's peak years from the mid-2000's. Quinn was able to single-handedly make the group appear mediocre.
Obviously, other Rams defenders played a key part, but Quinn was a one-man show, as he has been all year.
It started on New Orleans' first offensive play from scrimmage. Quinn burst through the Saints offensive line, got in Brees' face and forced a bad throw that was intercepted.
During New Orleans' first drive of the third quarter, the Saints were facing a key third-down situation—Brees dropped back for the pass and was manhandled by Quinn, who knocked the ball out of Brees' hands and recovered his own fumble.
Along with the fumble, Quinn finished the game with two sacks and five tackles. He was a dominant force throughout the afternoon and he's the main reason why the Rams were able to pick up their sixth win of the season.
And he's been doing it all year.
Quinn started off the season with a three-sack performance against Arizona, helping the Rams secure a Week 1 victory.
When the Seahawks came to town during Week 8, Quinn had another monster three-sack game, which allowed the Rams to punish Russell Wilson, resulting in Wilson's third-lowest passing yards total of the season (139 yards).
In Week 12 against Chicago, Quinn forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown to help put the game out of reach late in the second half.
And with this latest performance against New Orleans, Quinn is gaining ground in his race for Defensive Player of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year can be a tight race and this year is no different. Here's a look at Quinn's competition for the award:
OLB Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts
With 16.5 sacks in 2013, Mathis is the only player in the NFL with more sacks than Quinn (15), but the sack title could go either way with two games remaining.
With a 9-5 record, the Colts have already clinched the dreadful AFC South. This certainly helps Mathis, as the last six Defensive Player of the Year awards have gone to players on playoff teams.
LB Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
In 2012, the Panthers used a top-10 draft pick on Luke Kuechly, and the second-year linebacker has developed into quite the run defender.
Prior to Week 15, Kuechly ranked 10th overall in total tackles with 113 and has three picks and a sack this season.
Kuechly is the focal point of the No. 1-ranked run defense in the NFL. And with Carolina on the verge of a playoff berth, Kuechly would meet the voters' desire to give the award to a member of a playoff team, much like Mathis.
LB Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals
If you look at J.J. Watt, Terrell Suggs, Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, it's clear that the voters enjoy handing the award to a defensive player with attitude, and Vontaze Burfict would certainly fit that description.
The second-year player went undrafted in 2012 and was considered a risky signing for the Bengals, but the gamble is paying off.
Burfict entered Week 15 leading the NFL in tackles with 139. He also has a sack and a forced fumble this season.
The Bengals are currently leading the AFC North and a playoff berth would certainly help Burfict's cause.
Unfortunately for Burfict (and Kuechly), a traditional inside linebacker has not won the award since Brian Urlacher in 2005. The new trend is to hand the award to a sack artist, which works in Quinn's favor.
How Quinn Can Separate Himself
Unfortunately for the Rams, who would love nothing more than to see one of their own win a prestigious award, there's no clear-cut way for Quinn to clinch the award.
Even if Quinn can dominate the final two games and win the sack title, there's no scenario where the member of a non-playoff team becomes the undisputed front-runner for the award.
There are, however, ways for Quinn to slightly separate himself from the herd.
1. Win the Sack Title
The voters will not hand the award to a player from a non-playoff team unless that player does something magnificent to make up for it.
Winning the sack title, now known as the Deacon Jones Award, would help Quinn do just that.
Quinn is just 1.5 sacks behind Mathis. If he records two total sacks over the next two games and Mathis is shut down, the title goes to Quinn.
However, since Mathis has been on fire, it's unlikely he'll go on a two-week sack drought. To be safe, Quinn needs two sacks in each of the final two games, giving him 19 on the season. That will be enough to secure the lead and make up for any additional sacks Mathis may acquire in the final two weeks.
If Quinn does not win the sack title, he does not win Defensive Player of the Year. Simple as that.
2. Beat Seattle
The Rams have been so inconsistent in 2013, with so many high and low points, that the average non-St. Louis fan is unsure whether they are pushovers or competitors.
A win over the Seahawks in Seattle should provide some clarification and reassure people that the Rams are a competitive team with good players.
So far this season, the Rams have defeated the Cardinals, Colts, Bears and Saints. That's four wins over four potential playoff teams. A fifth win over a fifth playoff team would force people to recognize the Rams as a good football team worthy of award recognition.
If the Rams beat Seattle, they're at least a seven-win team. Possibly an eight-win team if they beat Tampa Bay as well. And the voters will have no issue giving the award to the NFL sack leader on an eight-win team.
In the End
Quinn will be remembered for this season regardless of whether he wins the award or not.
He will surely break Kevin Carter's franchise record of 17 sacks and will likely be first defensive player to represent the Rams in the Pro Bowl since Aeneas Williams and Leonard Little in 2003.
The Defensive Player of the Year award will not put the Rams into the playoffs, but it will be the franchise's most prestigious award since Kurt Warner's MVP in 2001.
For the fans who have suffered through years of terrible Rams football, that's quite a consolation prize.
Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer's profile or by following him on Twitter.