Matt Longacre was never supposed to be here. Lightly recruited out of high-school and hidden from the spotlight at tiny division two Northwest Missouri State in college, Longacre has always been an underdog. He was a long-shot to even get an NFL camp invite, let alone make a real impact in the league. Yet here he is in his third season with the Rams, currently tied for the team lead in sacks with the much more highly touted stars Aaron Donald and Connor Barwin, despite playing much fewer snaps.
Longacre signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2015, and was waived at final cuts. He was signed to the practice squad and spent a couple months there before being called up to the active roster. Longacre played sparingly his first two seasons, playing just 12 percent of snaps his rookie year and 14 percent of snaps in 2016. This year he finally got an increase in playing time, currently playing around 40 percent of defensive snaps. Longacre is taking full advantage of the opportunity. To find out what Longacre has been doing to cause this sudden leap in production, I dove into the film. What I found makes clear that Longacre is legit and here to stay, and that his four sacks on limited snaps this year are no fluke. Here are some of his best plays so far this season:
Longacre came out of the gates firing, making his presence felt in the first game of the season agains the Colts with two great plays. On this play below, the Colts’ first play of their second drive, Longacre’s initial bull-rush doesn’t get home but he does a great job reading Colts quarterback Scott Tolzein’s eyes while still being engaged with his blocker. He reads Tolzein the whole way, and when he sees him preparing to throw to the flat, perfectly times his jump to get his hand on the ball and cause it to fall incomplete. Even though his pass rush wasn’t successful, he didn’t give up on the play and still found a way to make an impact.
Later in the game in the third quarter, with the Colts facing a third down and 15, an obvious passing down, Longacre easily blows by the Colts’ left tackle going inside. He then runs right over the left guard and while falling down lunges for Tolzein, bringing him down for his first sack of the season. It’s a relentless pursuit and shows off Longacre’s high motor and killer instinct.
On the Thursday night game in San Francisco, Longacre had a great sack of Brian Hoyer. Longacre initially begins to rush from the outside and engages the left tackle. After he realizes the hole opening up in the middle, he releases and runs toward the gap to prevent Hoyer from taking off. He reads Hoyer’s eyes perfectly and stops him in his tracks for the sack, once again showing off his high football IQ. If he didn’t recognize what was happening exactly when he did, Hoyer may have gotten away with a big gain instead of being taken down for a loss.
Longacre’s best play of the season was in the London game against the Cardinals. On this play, Longacre again is initially engaged by the left tackle, who then releases him into the left guard. Longacre uses the momentum from the push by the left tackle to knock the left guard over like a bowling pin and get to Drew Stanton. Stanton is just starting to tuck the ball in when Longacre crushes him, forcing the ball loose for a strip sack.
Longacre also had a great game against Seattle, disrupting Russell Wilson a couple of times. On this play midway through the second quarter, Longacre beats his man off the line and gets into the pocket, forcing Wilson to bail out. What happens next is incredible as Longacre displays unexpectedly strong acceleration and quickness, actually gaining on the speedy Wilson as they race toward the sideline. Since Longacre is able to close so quickly, Wilson is forced to get rid of the ball a second early and deliver a slightly inaccurate pass that causes it to fall incomplete. Longacre’s hustle on this play is amazing and once again proves what a high-motor player he is.
Later in the second quarter of the Seattle game with the Seahawks running a hurry-up offense with less than a minute left before the half, Longacre sacks Wilson. The left tackle tries to force him outside to give Wilson room to step up but Longacre redirects himself back inside just as Wilson slides up in the pocket to scramble. Longacre then dives for his ankles, bringing him down from behind. The Seahawks were in Rams territory just before the half and had to settle for a field goal because of time, so it’s fair to say Longacre’s play may have saved a touchdown.
The common theme across all of Longacre’s plays are his high-motor and never dying effort no matter the situation. Longacre is much quicker than many people realize and his speed has been a very large part of his success. He plays every down like it’s his last and never gives up on a play. Defensive players sometimes give up on a play when they see it moving away from them towards the other side of the field and tend to become spectators, but not Longacre.
He plays smart and he plays fast, and the Rams have clearly found somewhat of a diamond in the rough with him. Wade Phillips obviously likes what he’s seen as he nearly tripled his playing time this season. If Longacre can stay healthy and keep playing with this intensity, the formerly unheralded recruit has a good chance to be a part of the Rams’ longterm future and be a double-digit sack guy in the years to come.
All video in this article courtesy of the NFL and NFL.com