Key matchup: Rams DEs Chris Long and Robert Quinn vs. OTs Anthony Davis and Joe Staley

Posted Nov. 06, 2012 @ 4:33 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

In today’s “Key Matchup,” PFW’s Dan Arkush focuses on Rams DEs Chris Long and Robert Quinn on Niners OTs Anthony Davis and Joe Staley in the Rams-Niners NFC West showdown this Sunday in San Francisco.

Rams DEs Chris Long and Robert Quinn vs. Niners OTs Anthony Davis and Joe Staley

Get ready for some very spirited warfare in the trenches come Sunday, when the Niners’ tackles, who have been playing at a Pro Bowl level so far this season according to many league talent evaluators, take on an ascending Rams DE duo likely to be champing at the bit after a surprisingly poor effort in St. Louis’ last game.

Long and Quinn, who have combined for 11 sacks, would no doubt like to forget their confrontation with the Patriots’ O-line in the Rams’ embarrassing 45-7 loss to the Patriots across the pond in London. In that game, the Rams’ pass rush got shut out with zero sacks — not once even hitting Tom Brady — after registering 15 in the previous three games.

The Niners’ offensive line, meanwhile, has arguably been the team’s biggest strength in the first eight games, even though the Niners rank near the bottom of the league in percentage of sacks allowed (30th) and have surrendered 12 sacks in the last three games.

While the San Francisco O-line has given up its share of sacks, particularly Davis, it has been nothing short of brilliant run-blocking, as evidenced by the team’s top ranking in rushing yards and average gain per rush and the fact RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are each averaging at least five yards per carry.

A hard worker who hates to leave the field, Long’s production has improved since settling in on the left side of the line. The former first-rounder with Hall of Fame bloodlines (his father is former Raiders great Howie Long) has four sacks this season after leading the team with a career-high 13 sacks last season. He leads the Rams this season with 27 QB pressures and is tied for the team lead with Quinn with 12 QB hits, according to the team. But a few weeks back, Long openly criticized his level of play, which hasn’t quite been on a par with his breakout effort last year that set the table for the lucrative four-year contract extension he signed in July that runs through 2016.

Quinn, a first-round pick last season, has seven sacks (two more than his rookie total) and is second with 20 QB pressures. The North Carolina product turned in his first multi-sack game when he got to Kevin Kolb three times in the Rams’ Week Five win over Arizona. Quinn quickly showed his natural pass-rush skills in a situational role as a rookie, but he continues to be a work in progress against the run. He has a dominant first step, but is weak at the point of attack in the run game, in great part because he plays too tall and does not constrict run lanes.

Staley, who earned his first Pro Bowl berth last season, sputtered earlier this season but lately has been playing at a high level. After getting eaten alive in his matchup with Packers ROLB Clay Matthews in the season opener, he held his own in Week Two matched up against Lions DRE Kyle Vanden Bosch and was inconsistent in Week Three matched up against Vikings Pro Bowl DRE Jared Allen. Close team observers believe he has a lapse or two in every game, but he has quality footwork and is very aggressive.

Davis, another first-round pick, was praised earlier this year by Jets head coach Rex Ryan as one of the league’s best right tackles. Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman believes Davis has made major strides with the benefit of a full offseason in a system that was new to him last season.

Davis loves to challenge his opponent both physically and verbally, and his competitiveness and energy rubs off on his teammates. At times, though, that quality needs to be harnessed, as it has had a tendency to lead to ill-timed penalties. Davis has great natural size, strength and athleticism and is very quick out of his stance.