EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Chris Long isn't obsessed with joining the NFL's double-digit sack masters. The thought does cross his mind, however.
"The funny thing I always think about is, you take 750 snaps in a year and if three or four plays go a little differently, then all of a sudden you’re either this or that," Long said from St. Louis Rams training camp. "I missed a couple sacks last year. If I was just a little better tackler, then all of a sudden I’m a pure pass-rusher. It’s funny the way it works."
Long ranked second on the Rams with 8.5 sacks last season, up from five in 2009. Fellow defensive end James Hall led the Rams with 10.5 sacks last season. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins had six. The team ranked eighth among the 32 teams in sacks per pass attempt.
Long plays run and pass effectively. His pass-rush production has improved since moving to the left side of the line. But in a Pro Football Focus study tracking rates for missed tackles since 2008, Long ranked second among defensive linemen. Some other notable players ranked high on the list, from John Abraham to Vince Wilfork to Will Smith.
"Some of my better games, I picked to have them against quarterbacks who are pretty good at breaking tackles," Long said regarding last season specifically. "Troy Smith, I had a pretty good game against Troy where I missed maybe three or four sacks. That will happen. You have to take your shots and try to improve at that. And I do have to improve at that. I’m not taking that lightly, but that is why, sometimes my numbers are not end-all, be-alls for me."
The photo atop this item shows Long nearly sacking Smith during the Rams' overtime defeat at Candlestick Park. Long's hit affected the ball's flight, but a controversial interference call against safety Oshiomogho Atogwe moved the 49ers into scoring position. Long did just about everything he could have done on the play, but he didn't quite get the sack.
"I’d love to get to double digits," Long said. "That is always an individual goal. Whatever I have to do as a defensive end on the Rams to help us win the division, I want to do that. If I can do that, we all benefit, we all improve."