ST. LOUIS – Nearly from the day the St. Louis Rams drafted defensive end Robert Quinn in 2011, bookend Chris Long has made it clear he believes Quinn is one of the most talented players he's been around.
Long banged that drum when Quinn posted five sacks as a rookie and again last season when Quinn hit double digits for the first time at 10.5.
It was only one game Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, but if that game is a harbinger of things to come in Quinn’s third season, the rest of the football world is going to catch up to Long sooner rather than later.
"To me, he's got more ability than almost anybody in the league," Long said. "Pass-rushers, I put him easily in my top five in the league right now. That's without this game having been played today, and, obviously, no one game catapults anybody into the Hall of Fame, but I think Rob is going to show you this year that he's one of the top three pass-rushers in the league."
That would prove to be heady company for Quinn, but it also might not be too far out of reach.
In Sunday's 27-24 win against Arizona, Quinn was the one player on the Rams' defense who continued to find ways to make big plays, coming up with three sacks and forcing two fumbles. He beat Arizona left tackle Levi Brown for a sack twice in a span of five plays to kill a first-quarter drive and jarred a fumble loose on one of them.
The Cardinals responded by providing extra help for Brown to slow Quinn down. With Long on the other side, teams have to pick their poison, and Quinn proved quickly he would be a headache for Brown all day.
Sliding protections and help toward Quinn helped Arizona stabilize for a bit, but Quinn struck again when the Rams needed him most. With less than 11 minutes to go, he dropped Carson Palmer for a sack and forced another fumble.
Long recovered, and the Rams booted a tying field goal to complete a comeback from 11 points down.
Quinn has made a habit of closing out the Cardinals, too. His strip-sack of Kevin Kolb in the teams' meeting in St. Louis last season finished off another Rams' victory.
"It was an exceptional job," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "We thought that they were going to try to get the tackle some help, and they did at times, and when they didn't, he was able to take advantage of it. He made big plays when we needed them."
In Quinn's development over the past two-plus seasons, his physical ability has never been a question. He's probably the team's best pound-for-pound athlete.
But the reality is Quinn has mainly made do with his physical skills during first two seasons. On Sunday, he beat Brown in a variety of ways, not just bending the edge with his speed (though that was again overwhelmingly evident).
As Quinn continues to grow and refine the technique to complement his natural athleticism, Long’s prophecy might come true.
"We're just scratching the surface," Long said. "You have got to credit him. He's worked hard at his craft. Last year, he was a kid with a lot of talent who was just figuring it out. Now, he's a kid that’s really honed his craft. He has all that talent, and he's playing hard. I'm just proud of him. Everybody's proud of him."