Sometimes statistics don’t tell the whole truth. Numbers are just one part of the equation when it comes to measuring productivity. In the case of Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, statistics belie the true impact that the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year awardee has on a football game.
Donald changes a game just by showing up. Because he is such a disruptive force, offenses have to double and sometimes triple-team Donald just to keep the star defensive lineman from getting into the backfield. Just how great is the nine-time Pro Bowler?
Well, in 2022, Donald played in only 11 games. He totaled 49 tackles and five sacks. And yet he was voted to the Pro Bowl for the ninth time in his career and came in at the №11 spot in the NFL Top 100 player’s list. Fast forward to this season. Donald continues to prove he is that unstoppable force.
Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald (99) chased down Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rondale Moore (4) during an NFL game played at SoFi Stadium on Oct. 15, 2023. Photo credit: Sammy Saludo/News4usonline
Let’s look back at the Rams’ 17–16 comeback win against the Seattle Seahawks. Donald produced just one tackle during the game. But he may have saved the opportunity for the Rams to win their fourth game of the season when he came up the middle, got up in Geno Smith’s face, and tagged the Seahawks quarterback with a nice little hit.
Well, that one play temporarily knocked Smith out of the game. Smith’s absence was long enough for the Rams to overcome a 16–7 deficit to take a 17–16 lead which they held until the clock ran down to zero.
This a good example of why numbers don’t tell the entire of how Donald impacts an entire game. During the Thanksgiving week leading up to the Rams going to Arizona to play the Cardinals, head coach Sean McVay talked about the imprint that Donald had on the Seattle game.
“It was huge. He dictates a lot of attention as always,” McVay said. “Obviously came clean on that inside move when we ended up bringing him and (OLB) Ochaun (Mathis) and Quentin Lake and was able to put a lot of pressure on (Seahawks QB) Geno (Smith).
“It might not always show up on the stat sheet, but the way that he affects and influences every single game with his effort. Thought the red area stop that he had on second down to be able to knock (Seahawks RB) (Zach) Charbonnet out of bounds for a negative was big. Just his leadership, his consistent work ethic, his consistent game day demeanor, and then the production, it’s all a huge part of it.”
Thus far, for the season, Donald has recorded 5.5 sacks in 10 games. That’s a far distance from the 20.5 sacks that he registered during the 2018 season. But he is still effective both as a leader and defensive playmaker.
With his undeniable presence in the middle of the defensive line, Donald has created other players like rookies Kobie Turner and Byron Young to shine.
“He’s having a lot of fun,” said McVay. “I know this team is at their best when they’re enjoying playing. They’re bringing that type of energy that we want to be able to see and I thought that was on display throughout the course of the day. And really the defense and Aaron’s leadership is what kind of kept us in the fight and allowed us to be able to capitalize when those opportunities presented as a team.”
Aaron Donald (99) of the Los Angeles Rams puts the squeeze on a Pittsburgh Steelers ballcarrier during an NFL inter-conference matchup at SoFi Stadium on Oct. 22, 2023. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonline
The defense of the Rams went through a serious revamping in the offseason. A lot of new faces like Turner, Young and second-year player Cobie Durant are now at the core of the new-look defense for the Rams. Donald, however, is still the one constant that opposing offenses know and are familiar with.
Leading up to their matchup against the Cardinals in Week 12, Donald said the Rams’ defense has been spotty this season. The unit has played well at times and then there are moments where the defense does not play as well as it should.
“We just got to be more consistent at times,” Donald said. “Obviously, we had a good performance last week. We just got to build off that. I feel like we had some sparks where we looked like a dominant defense in a time where we let up and don’t look how we are supposed to look or how we should look. So just playing consistent and doing what we need to do.
“I think Raheem did a good job of putting us in positions to have success, trying to find matchups and do things like that to help the players around us to have success. So we just got to go up there as the players and capitalize and just fly around and make plays.”
Top Image Caption: Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald (99) comes for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Drew Lock during an NFL game played on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. Donald and the Rams came away with a 17–16 win at SoFi Stadium. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline