There was a time when any NFL team that was about to face the LA Rams were pressed daily about their strategy to try and counter the arrival of one of the most feared and respected defensive linemen in the NFL: All-Pro Aaron Donald. But whether it is just the new norm, or whether the luster has dulled, those days of “How will you stop Aaron Donald?” seem to be fading into the foggy horizon of history.
His reputation was dulled in the Divisional Round of the 2020 NFL Playoffs. In a game where he fought through a rib injury that would have sent a lesser man to Injured Reserve, Donald answered the bell as best as he could. But by the final gun, his 40 defensive snaps resulted in just one tackle. Worse yet, the nation watched and judged him to be in a state of decline.
Now in his eighth year, that ‘lost a step’ reputation that some whispered in last year’s playoffs has not been shaken. That is in spite of the fact that Donald has already matched or bested his number of total tackles twice. When analysts and fans focus on Donald, they immediately turn to his quarterback sack total. After 10 games, he has only managed 6.5 quarterback sacks this year. For the overall team, the Rams’ defense has amassed 29 quarterback sacks, good enough for fourth-best in the NFL.
While we profess the commitment to ‘team players’, our frenzy to find stars for our Fantasy Football efforts, and the inherent bias for individual accomplishment, speaks otherwise. It was that 2020 Playoff experience that has changed the Rams defensive philosophy. It can no longer be ‘just’ Aaron Donald shouldering the yolk of putting pressure on the quarterback. Now, the team must find ways to get after the guy under center from all directions and positions.
The fact that the LA Rams defense is doing so gives evidence that this defense is becoming more well-rounded, and in turn, more dangerous.