The Herald Bulletin

November 7, 2013

Eye on Opponent: Oh, what a rush

By George Bremer The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — INDIANAPOLIS — James Laurinaitis has a family legacy to live up to, and it has to be one of the most unique in the NFL.

His father, Joe, became famous to millions of professional wrestling fans as his alter ego, “Animal.” One half of the legendary “Road Warriors” tag team, Joe Laurinaitis regularly performed wearing a mohawk, face paint and an intimidating spiked version of football shoulder pads.

When James was a star linebacker at Ohio State, fans embraced him as “Little Animal,” and students wore a version of his father’s famous costume — often complete with a championship belt — to home games.

Laurinaitis laughed at the memory Wednesday during a conference call at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

“Yeah, that stayed at Ohio State for sure,” he said. “Yeah, those are good memories right there. There’s a couple guys here that still bring some of that stuff around, but a lot of it stayed in Columbus.”

Laurinaitis has forged a new identity with the St. Louis Rams. But he’s still living up to the family legacy as the leader of one of the most ferocious front sevens in football.

Along with all-pro defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long, Laurinaitis has formed his own intimidating tag team. And they’re giving opposing quarterbacks nightmares.

“They get after you,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said about the defense Indianapolis will face Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “They’re going to be up in your face.”

The Rams have 29 sacks as a team and lead the league in percentage of sacks per pass play. Quinn has done most of the damage with 10 quarterback takedowns, and Long adds 5.5.

Laurinaitis has two sacks, but that’s just a small portion of his versatile game. The powerful middle linebacker leads St. Louis with 67 tackles and has one fumble recovery. He also has the speed and athleticism to be a factor in the passing game, where he has four deflections and one interception.

At the ripe age of 27, Laurinaitis is a seasoned veteran on a team with an average age of 25.3. During an otherwise in-depth answer about his defense as a whole, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher paid the linebacker a big compliment with one succinct statement.

“James handles the inside,” Fisher said.

For all the talent Laurinaitis and the front seven possess, however, it hasn’t been translating to positive results. The Rams rank in the middle of the pack in yards allowed (16th) and near the bottom in scoring defense (20th).

St. Louis’ overall record of 3-6 is obscured in part by playing in the NFC West — one of the league’s toughest divisions. Despite losing starting quarterback Sam Bradford for the season because of a knee injury, the Rams lost close home games against Seattle and Tennessee by a total of 12 points in the past two weeks.

St. Louis has lost three in a row overall after a two-game winning streak briefly put their record at the .500 mark. That can lead to frustration in the locker room, and Laurinaitis said that’s not always a bad thing.

“I think it’s OK to get frustrated, and it’s OK to kind of express the pain of losing, especially losing close at home two weeks in a row,” he said. “It’s definitely frustrating. I’m not going to lie to you and say it isn’t. But I think once you get through that 24-hour rule, it’s definitely time to move on. If we sit here and dwell on the close games and things we could have done, and we’re not focusing all of our energy from Tuesday on on Indianapolis, then we’re going to get steamrolled. You can’t put pressure and energy towards the past. If any team does that, you’ve got no chance. You have to be constantly moving on to the next one.”