Game-Wrecking Donald is Eagles’ Top Concern vs. Rams
(973espn.com) - There are great players to deal with every week in the NFL and then there are the Aaron Donald types, players that must be game-planned for.
And if they are not, they become the rarest of all league breeds -- the game-wrecker.
That's what the Eagles will be facing when they visit the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
Donald is once again the best interior defender in football this season, his first in Wade Phillips' traditional under front that is always looking to bring pressure, something Seattle was able to do this past weekend by letting a similar player -- Sheldon Richardson -- loose against veteran guard Stefen Wisniewski, who has struggled a bit in recent weeks.
Los Angeles' defensive philosophy is a little different than the Seahawks' cover-3, four-man rush mentality, however. Phillips is aggressive and he has been for years.
"Everybody knows in football terms he's going to play an under front with Sam at D, and play cover one," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said earlier this week. "That's his deal. But I think in recent years he's mixed the coverages a little bit more. When I went up against Wade when he was in Denver there for a little bit and had that defense, it was cover one almost every snap. I think he's mixing it up a little bit more, but still his primary DNA is that five-man rush, cover one just saying you've got to beat us. He has those guys playing well."
It all starts with Donald, the three-technique, "under tackle" who will also line up in the five-technique on occasion now that Phillips has brought his typical '30' front to L.A. The specifics, however, are just that as Donald will give any offensive line fits with an impressive combination of strength and short-area quickness rarely seen with interior rushers.
Undersized at 6-foot and 285 pounds, Donald mirrors what former Minnesota Hall of Famer John Randle was on the pass rush and is also a top-tier run defender. The cliche is every player has flaws but when you put any Donald film on, it's really difficult to find any issues with his game.
With eight sacks and three forced fumbles through the Rams' 9-3 start, Donald is a shoe-in for his third consecutive All-Pro honor and is on the short list of candidates to be NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“He’s among the best of the interior [linemen in the league],” Eagles center Jason Kelce told the Allentown Morning Call. “He’s certainly asserted himself in this league. Explosive, strong, powerful. Really, really good interior defender. He’s certainly a guy you’ve got to watch more film on, try to get a beat on. He’s a special player in this league.”
With the way Wisniewski has struggled over the past two games against Chicago and Seattle, you have to believe Phillips will make sure there will be plenty of Wiz-Donald matches on Sunday so expect the Eagles to counter by sliding Kelce to help as much as possible.
Donald commands a double team and he better get it if the Eagles plan on leaving the L.A. Coliseum in a good mood.
"They're pretty disruptive," Reich said of Donald and Co. "Physical, fast, typical Wade Phillips defense. Everywhere [Phillips] goes, he has a way of getting the most out of those guys up front."
973eson.com Prediction: Eagles 24, Rams 21 (2017 Prediction Record: 9-3; vs. spread 7-5)
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen