Robert-Quinn-again2

“He’s really struggling over there against Robert Quinn. I know Robert Quinn is pretty set to have another breakout year — he had 10.5 sacks last year– but Levi Brown cannot handle him right now on the corner. He has two sacks already, two holding calls… Robert Quinn is winning this battle.”

— Ronde Barber, Sunday, Sept. 8.

As you may have heard, Levi Brown had a rough Sunday. While Arizona Cardinals fans were grilling and watching their favorite team take on the rival St. Louis Rams, Brown was getting burned by Rams right defensive end Robert Quinn.

In-game analyst Ronde Barber noticed Brown’s struggles midway through the third quarter when Brown was called for a hold on a would-be completion by new quarterback Carson Palmer. It was his second hold of the game, and it prevented what would have been a third sack by Quinn, who has quickly ascended to a premier pass rusher.

The third-year end beat Brown with speed, length, and quickness throughout the afternoon. He went outside and inside of Brown, picking and choosing when and where he was going to go.

When he rushed outside with stunning speed, he lowered his shoulder and got underneath Brown, then wrapped around him to close on Palmer for a sack. And when he wanted to go outside, he simply stuck his right foot out as if he was going to speed rush again, only to shift his weight left off of that same foot and rush through the inside, dropping Palmer with a quick and easy sack.

His success got attention from Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, who, at times, sent running back help over to Brown. Chip blocks by Alfonso Smith helped to slow down Quinn down for a short time, but Arians quickly went away from it like he always does, preferring to leave Brown on an island — and Palmer’s health in danger — in favor of more weapons in the passing game. Predictably, Quinn feasted once the extra blocking went away.

It’s not just that Quinn just ate up Brown, it’s how he did it. He did it with beauty and a few talents, such as agility and flexibility, that once made the Rams select him No. 14 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.

One of the things that pass rushers have issues with is that they can’t finish once they come close to the quarterback. Hypothetically speaking, they rush wide of the pocket hoping to get underneath and by the offensive tackle, but a late push by the extended arms of the blocker forces the end to take more forward steps than he hopes to. As a result, they just miss the quarterback. This is not an issue with Quinn, whose agility shows up when he’s bending around the corner.

Quinn’s able to avoid taking additional steps by shifting his weight back inside once he sticks a foot or his feet into the ground. For instance, on a mid-first quarter sack against the Cardinals on Sunday, he lined up as the end outside of Brown in the Rams’ two man front at the 31-yard line.

At the snap, he raised his shoulders up and came forward, closing the gap between he and Brown. After picking speed up for four yards, Quinn dropped his shoulders and quickly turned the corner at the 40-yard line. While he sped up, it seemed as if Brown slowed down, like his feet were stuck in cement. He was too slow moving his feet, and consequently was beaten around the corner. At this point his only option in slowing down Quinn was pushing him wide of the pocket with his 33-inch arms, but it didn’t prove to be enough. The path was only slightly and temporarily altered because Quinn pivoted with his right foot to the inside, halting his forward momentum while squaring his hips and directing himself back toward the quarterback, who he wrapped his long-limbed right arm around for a sack.

Quinn’s agility helped prevent taking false steps and a longer path to the quarterback, if he ever would have even made it.

What makes Quinn a special talent is not just his ability to stop and shift his weight, but also his flexibility. He can drop his shoulder with the best of them, giving the offensive tackle little to no surface area to redirect him. That makes it extremely tough to block him, as Brown learned Sunday.

It was 3rd-and-9, a prime down and distance for Quinn to tee off. The Cardinals were still in their own territory, possessing the ball at the 31-yard line. Palmer was alone in the backfield in a shotgun set, indicating that the offensive line wasn’t going to get help blocking the Rams’ base four-man front. At the right end of the front was Quinn, who was lined up in a four-point stance across the outside shoulder of Brown. He was at the five technique, with his butt up, hips coiled, and eyes on the ball.

Palmer caught the snap and took a three-step drop, bouncing on the bottom of his feet at the end of it. Meanwhile, Quinn fired off the line and ran by Brown, who was slow to raise his arms up. Once he finally did, Quinn extended his left arm to grab Brown’s left, and then swung his right arm to club Brown in the shoulder as he went by. The club knocked Brown forward, dropping his head as he briefly lost sight of Quinn, who dropped his shoulder nearly parallel to the field as he turned the corner to strip-sack Palmer.

Quinn’s ability to destruct tackles like Brown, who admittedly is below average, is intimidating because of the speed he builds up off the line of scrimmage. It forces tackles to kick-slide wide and further account for the speed rush, leaving them vulnerable to the inside. Only the best tackles are able to deal with the inside and out because of their superior foot quickness and technique, neither of which Brown has. But even them, as good as they are, run into the same issues on the corner that Ronde Barber pointed out Brown was having in the third quarter.

It was 1st-and-10 with more than six minutes left in the third quarter when Brown held Quinn on what would have been another sack. Lined up in a four-point stance at his usual five technique, Quinn fired off the line and rushed hard to the outside, forcing Brown to slide wider than he’d like. Once Brown slid out, Quinn extended his right leg out and exploded off of it to the inside. Brown, now facing the wrong direction, tried to compensate by reaching out with his right arm and then across his body with his left, but without luck. Quinn ran by him and would have had a third sack if not for a hold.

On the next play, Quinn didn’t apply pressure, but only because Brown received help from a chip-blocking Alfonso Smith. That’s the kind of attention only the league’s best pass rushers get.

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