RENTON — The challenges presented by St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn are long and varied, much like him.
He’s 6-foot-4, 264 pounds with balance and speed belonging to a more compact frame at another position.
Quinn folds that burst — he ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash on his Pro Day — and the balance he learned as a three-time state high school wrestling champion into a menacing pass-rush combination. He leads the NFL with 18 sacks, a Rams record, which leaves him two short of becoming the 10th player in history to dismantle a quarterback 20 times in a season.
“He’s been the best one that we’ve faced, by far,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said.
Quinn’s athletic ascension was stalled and in doubt when he was a teenager. He first learned of the tumor sitting on top of his spinal cavity during his senior year of high school in South Carolina.
In October 2007, he had surgery to reduce the tumor size and remove excess fluid. The tumor was benign but caused his brain to swell.
He missed two months of athletics, including his final high school football season and a chunk of wrestling season.
Twice a year since, Quinn has had a CT scan to check the tumor.
“I’m sure if things haven’t changed by now they won’t change forever, but knock on wood; hopefully it stays that way,” Quinn said.
Quinn attributes his ability to leverage offensive linemen to his days as a heavyweight wrestler. He says the time on the mat taught him how to manage his body weight, and that learning wrestling technique has played a “huge part” in his career.
After being drafted out of the University of North Carolina as the 14th overall pick in 2011, Quinn multiplied his sack totals each season.
Quinn played 15 games as a rookie and had five sacks. Last season, he played 16 games and had 10.5 sacks.
This season, he has dominated on his way to the St. Louis franchise record for sacks. In the first game against the Seahawks this season – a 14-9, final-play win for Seattle – Quinn sacked Russell Wilson three times. On the left end, Chris Long also had three sacks of Wilson.
“He causes problems whether it’s just speed rushing off the end, but they also moved him inside some now,” Bevell said. “They’ll put him and Long together on the same side so it’s just not where you can take care of them; one is on this side, one is on that side.”
One particular play this season sums up Quinn’s talent.
Two weeks ago against New Orleans, Quinn lined up on the right side, where he normally appears in his three-point stance.
The Saints used Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham to chip-block Quinn at the snap. After Graham departed, the Saints deployed the left tackle and guard to double team Quinn. They knocked him to the ground.
After crawling, Quinn rose to attack quarterback Drew Brees when he stepped forward in the pocket. Reaching out with both hands, Quinn yanked the ball from Brees, then fell on it for a recovery. It took 2.71 seconds.
“That was just one of the best defensive plays that I’ve ever seen,” St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said.
Missing that first game against the Rams were left tackle Russell Okung and right tackle Breno Giacomini. Both will play for the Seahawks on Sunday, and Okung will be the one most often nose-to-nose with Quinn.
“His athleticism’s off the charts,” Okung said. “He has really long arms; he plays with his hands extremely well. He has a really good knack for getting around the edge and hitting you inside with a really good counter, too.
“He kind of plays off that, then he gets you into his games and before you know it he’s trying to set you up. He’s a very talented player, man.”
Quinn hit Wilson five times in Week 8, and Long hit him three times. It’s a wonder those two didn’t tackle and ground the Seahawks’ charter as it left Lambert International Airport.
“I definitely think we have one of the best front four in the game, if not the best,” Quinn said. “We got pressure on Russell Wilson. I think we got him rattled a little early, but we weren’t able to close out the game. I think we’ll somewhat stick to that kind of game plan maybe and we’ll see what happens.”