The Rams acquired Dante Fowler Jr. midway through the season and have steadily ramped up his playing time. He’s rewarded them with some big plays, including a sack against the Lions on Sunday.
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — He joined the Los Angeles Rams halfway through their ascendant season, but after a NFC West-clinching victory over the Detroit Lions, outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. had plenty of reason to sport a championship T-shirt and take part in a raucous locker-room celebration.
Acquired at the trade deadline in October from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Fowler has quickly grown into a consistent, if not crucial, playmaker over the past four games.
“He’s good,” said Aaron Donald, who lead the NFL with 16.5 sacks. “Like I said when he first got here, anytime you got more, bring more playmakers to your team, you’ll be happy because those guys will make plays and then it’s gonna motivate other guys to make plays and you got a bunch of guys that are flying around hungry.”
Fowler arrived in L.A. just in time to face a dizzying schedule of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, including >Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. He then was tasked with slowing down MVP-frontrunner Patrick Mahomes, followed by Matthew Stafford.
In four games, Fowler has two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
“You certainly feel him off the edge,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “He’s got that juice that we talk about.”
Fowler’s pass-rushing ability will be key again Sunday night when the Rams travel to play Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago Bears (8-4) at Soldier Field. After clinching the division against the Detroit Lions, a victory over the Bears would secure a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Prior to Fowler’s acquisition, the Rams lacked the ability to bring consistent pressure opposite of Samson Ebukam from the edge, a key in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.
The cost to obtain Fowler — a third-round pick in 2019 and a fifth-round selection in 2020 — shows just how much the Rams needed the former first-round pick’s presence, even if he came as a short-term rental.
“He’s rushed the passer well,” Phillips said. “That’s what we wanted him for.”
“It’s been great,” Fowler said. “It’s been awesome just being able to play off these guys, get the feel of them, and just get the feel of Coach Phillips’ defense.”
The Jaguars declined Fowler’s fifth-year option after a series of off-field incidents since he was drafted in 2015, along with a lack of on-field production. In seven games for the Jaguars this season, Fowler saw limited playing time and had two sacks and eight tackles.
The fourth-year pro is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.
For now, as the franchise eyes a run to its first Super Bowl since 2001, the Rams are eager to utilize Fowler’s skills. He has seen a steady increase of playing time since his arrival, including starts in the past two games.
Fowler credited Will Muschamp, his former coach at the University of Florida, for his ability to quickly adapt to what the Rams have asked of him.
“Coach Muschamp did a really good job in college of getting me ready for these type of defenses,” said Fowler, who had 14.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in three seasons at Florida. “So when I came in, you know it really wasn’t that hard. I was just able to adapt.”
On Sunday, Fowler played in 86 percent of the defensive snaps. It was his most productive game with the Rams as he recorded a sack and had three tackles for loss.
In the second quarter, Fowler tackled receiver Bruce Ellington for a 3-yard loss at the Rams’ 7-yard line, which held the Lions to a field goal. And in the third quarter, he met LeGarrette Blount in the backfield and tackled the running back for a 5-yard loss at the Rams’ 4-yard line on first down. Three plays later, the Lions settled for yet another field goal in a 30-16 defeat.
Fowler also made a game-altering play in Week 10 against the Seattle Seahawks. The division rivals were tied midway through the fourth quarter when Fowler strip sacked Wilson and recovered the ball. The Rams scored a touchdown on the next play in the 36-31 victory.
“That sack-fumble recovery really was a game-winner against Seattle,” Phillips said.
Though his time in L.A. could be short lived, Fowler and the Rams are eager to make the most of it.
Asked following Sunday’s game, when the Rams clinched the division, what was next — Fowler had to catch himself.
“Go the Super Bowl,” he said. “I mean, go to the playoffs and take every game one by one.”