Quick, which second-year NFC edge rusher who was not selected in the first round and isn't a regular starter ended this season with double-digit sacks?
I'm sure most of you guessed Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter, and if you did you aren't wrong. Hunter, who was extremely raw coming out of LSU, has really come on strong since being selected in the third round in the spring of 2015 and actually notched 12.5 sacks this season even though he didn't start a single game.
That was, however, a trick question.
Arizona outside linebacker Markus Golden, who was selected in the second round in the spring of 2015 and only started three games this year, also finished the season with 12.5 sacks, which tied him with Hunter and Lorenzo Alexander for the third-highest sack total behind Von Miller's 13.5 and Vic Beasley's 15.5.
I can totally understand if Golden's big season had gone under your radar. He isn't the physical specimen that Hunter is, so his big plays don't always look quite as impressive on film. We have seen Hunter straight up obliterate offensive tackles on the way to the quarterback, so that kinda thing tends to jump out at you.
Golden's pressures and sacks, on the other hand, tend to come off a little more routine. While Golden can't just physically overwhelm most offensive tackles, what he can do is execute exceptional pass-rush technique to get past them. But that doesn't get the same amount of attention.
I will be fair and also say that some of Golden's pressures tend to come off blitzes, but that shouldn't really be a knock on him. At the end of the day a big play is a big play, and Golden is well versed in making big plays this season.
On Sunday he had yet another game where he notched several of them and it helped his team win an utterly meaningless game against the Rams.
On the very first play that Golden was actually in for on Sunday, the Rams were facing a third-and-7 from their own 28-yard line on their first offensive drive of the afternoon. Golden was lined up outside of Rams right tackle Rodger Saffold and the Cardinals decided to blitz one of their inside linebackers, Kevin Minter, through the B gap. Golden's job was to get upfield to either attract Saffold's attention and open up the B gap wide enough that an aircraft carrier could plow through it, or if Saffold were to block down to pick up Minter in the B gap, Golden would continue upfield and around the edge to get immediate pressure on Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
Of course, the most detail-oriented edge rushers know that sometimes blitzes don't quite go as planned, so it isn't always smart to just continuing rushing upfield haphazardly once they see the quarterback starting to climb the pocket.
It’s a small thing, but as much sense as it makes and as obvious as you would think that would be, I still see plenty of edge rushers flying up the field and giving quarterbacks lanes to take off running if the blitzer isn't able to bring him down.
I think from watching his film this year it’s safe to say that Golden is definitely detail oriented.
He got off the ball well and he took an upfield path that got Saffold to bail out of there and open things up for Minter to run through the B gap. Then, after he was just past the level of the quarterback, Golden throttled down and swatted Saffold on his way upfield just in case something went awry.
Sure enough, Minter ended up missing the sack on Goff who then tried to take off running for positive yardage. Because Golden had already set himself up for success, all he had to do was take a couple of steps and he was on Goff well before he could cross the line of scrimmage.
That play ultimately went for a 6-yard loss, but had Golden not been there, I'm not so sure that Goff wouldn't have been able to pick up at least 7 yards with his legs.
The Rams were forced to punt as they would many times throughout the afternoon.
With a little over two minutes left in the first quarter, the Rams were again facing a third-and-long from their own 28-yard line. This time L.A. decided they were going to try to protect Goff a little better in case the Cardinals blitzed again, and they left a back and a tight end in to that effect.
Golden was again lined up on the defense's left edge, but this time he was lined up outside of the tight end, Lance Kendricks, who was supposed to stay in and help. The problem came when Kendricks decided he could block Golden all by himself instead of just chipping him inside so that Kendricks and Saffold could double him.
See, like I said earlier, Golden isn't all that physically imposing at 6'3, 260 pounds. He isn't super strong and he isn't a Von Miller kinda fast (he ran a 4.9 at the combine). So for him to be a pass rusher he had to develop great pass-rushing technique. That means not just making moves, but being efficient with those moves and always finishing them.
Golden is training-tape good with his moves, while he may at times struggle with supersized offensive tackles, a tight end that isn't much bigger than him is usually going to be toast.
And let's just say that all No. 88 needed on Sunday was some butter.
Golden hit him with a quick dip and rip and really finished that rip move to beat No. 88 clean and run through Goff damn near before he had finished his drop back. That's about as gif-worthy of a play as you will get out of Golden, but who gives a shit?
A loss of 10 on third-and-7 is still a loss of 10 on third-and-7, no matter how it gets done. And that's especially true when the guy keeps getting it done that consistently!
Next up with four minutes left in the third quarter the Rams tried a run/pass option quick slant to Tavon Austin. Golden did a good job of getting his hands up as Goff tried to make the throw and was able to tip the ball to prevent the easy completion.
That's just if you wanted further proof of how well rounded Golden is. But for some reason he, like Hunter, still gets only limited reps. I hope they both see the field more next year, tbh.
Now his last sack of the day on the very next play was pretty much a perfect representation that Golden still gets the damn job done as an edge rusher while he might not always look "cool" doing it.
He was lined up on the right side this time. The Rams stuck a tight end over there to help out with him. Unlike earlier in the game, this time Kendricks did go outside and try to chip Golden back to the tackle inside of him, in this case Greg Robinson. Golden was actually about to avoid No. 88's chip, but doing so put him a little too close to Robinson.
Now, Robinson has had many issues as a pass blocker as a pro, but he is still a big, strong son of a gun, so on the off chance he actually is able to get his hands on you, he can still manhandle you.
Golden indeed got manhandled.
Concurrently to Golden getting dumped on the ground face first, his teammate defensive tackle Rodney Gunter was beating Rams left guard Jamon Brown and about to attempt to take Goff down solo. He ended up grabbing Goff's ankle, but hadn't quite taken him all the way to the ground yet when here came Golden crashing in with a chop to separate Goff from the ball.
See Golden may have been beaten initially, but he got his ass right back up off the ground made a beeline for Goff instead of just laying there and feeling sorry for himself. He was still able to help end the play and almost created a turnover for his team.
It went in the stat sheet as a half sack for Gunter and a half sack and a caused fumble (although I normally would give a full sack to whomever caused the fumble), but I do wonder if Goff is either able to wiggle out of Gunter's grasp or just able to throw the ball away.
Thanks to Golden's hustle, I'll never find out.
If you watch his film all year, you see a lot of that kind of thing when he makes plays. It’s not pretty, it’s not sexy, but dammit he gets the job done, and that's what the game is all about.
I totally understand why folks talk up Hunter so much and why so many people are excited to see how he can continue to progress as a pass rusher, but Golden reminded everybody on Sunday that he is no chopped liver. Two and a half (or three) sacks, a caused fumble, and his first career pass breakup was one hell of a performance that capped off one very impressive season for him.
It was a performance that stood out above the rest on the last weekend of the regular season, and it was certainly enough to earn him his first Hoss of the Week award, even if it did all come against the lowly Rams.