Rams' Quinn reaching star potential

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- That St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn ranks fourth in the NFL in sacks at the halfway point of the season should come as no surprise for those following the trajectory of his career.

Quinn has flown under the radar a bit since entering the league in 2011 with fellow draft class members J.J. Watt, Von Miller and Aldon Smith. But after a pass rushing tour de force on "Monday Night Football," the rest of the league is beginning to take notice.

Bookend Chris Long has been preaching the Tao of Quinn, and a three-sack performance in front of a national audience is starting to convert others to his line of thinking.

"It just starts with No. 94 right there," Long said. "He was on fire in that first half. He's probably the most dominant football player I've played with, been on the field with. So it's a lot of fun lining up with him every day."

Through eight games, you'd be hard pressed to find an argument that the Rams have a better player on the roster than Quinn. He might even be the best defensive end in the NFC today.

The pass rush production is to be expected for a player who is probably the Rams' best pound-for-pound athlete and posted 15.5 sacks in his first two seasons. Those numbers portend a breakthrough season along the lines of the one we are now seeing from Quinn.

We can get to the sacks and disrupted dropbacks in a moment. There's something bigger at play in Quinn's development in his third season, something that is starting to earn him plaudits around the league as one of the game's best defensive ends.

That's right, the pass rusher only caveat is beginning to dissipate. That's because Quinn has clearly taken positive steps toward becoming not only an average run defender but a good one.

In his first two seasons, Quinn averaged 25.5 tackles. So far this season, he already has 24. According to Rams coaches' review of the film, Quinn has also racked up 10 tackles for loss.

For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus has Quinn's run defense grade as a 5.3 with four games in which he has produced a positive grade, three essentially neutral and only one negative grade. In his first two seasons, he had one positive run defense grade total.

"The pass rush stuff is one thing," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "His defense against the run is where he's really standing out. … He's off to a great start."

Fisher gives credit to the Rams' depth on the defensive line for making everyone's job easier, but there are plenty of small details both physical and mental that have allowed Quinn to become a better run defender.

Quinn has spent plenty of time with defensive line coaches Mike Waufle and Clyde Simmons working on things such as hand placement and usage, which have helped him get off blocks and get to the ball on a more consistent basis.

Witness Carolina's first play from scrimmage last week when Quinn used his hands to knock away a block attempt from a tight end, took on a pair of blockers and dropped running back DeAngelo Williams for a loss.

After entering the league at just 21 years old, Quinn was getting by mostly on athleticism in his rookie season and, to a lesser extent, last year. Along the way, he realized that if he wanted to be the pass rusher he thought he could be, he'd need to be better against the run so he could be on the field for all three downs.

Essentially, Quinn began to grow up.

"It just comes with maturity," Quinn said. "Having Coach Waufle and getting older and growing and having that mindset like I've got to play the run. You slowly grow and get better at it. Knowing I can now be a full three-down guy and people have no worries with me on the run is definitely a benefit. It's just a personal, prideful thing of wanting to be a complete player."

As for the sacks, Quinn has showed a knack for taking complete advantage when the opposing tackle asked to block him is an inferior player. He has abused backups from Arizona and Seattle so far this season to the tune of six of his 10 sacks. But he's also creating consistent pass rush week to week regardless of who is playing across from him.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Quinn is creating a disrupted dropback on 3.7 percent of opponent's pass attempts, good for fifth in the league and third among pass rushers.

In more unofficial statistics, Quinn is leading the league in sack dance creativity. Yes, he regularly brings out the "Bernie," his signature homage to the cult movie "Weekend at Bernie's," but he has also been unafraid to dive further into his repertoire with imitations of opposing quarterback celebrations such as San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick's biceps move and Carolina's Cam Newton's Superman.

"I joke around with the guys that if I get one or multiple, I'm going to do this or that," Quinn said. "When we played on Monday, it had been awhile since people had seen the Bernie so I had to bring that one back out. The other dances were just off the head, out there having fun. I'm not really out there thinking about what I'm going to do."

Reacting and not thinking, the sign of a player coming into his own -- whether it's rushing the passer, defending the run or busting out dance moves.