One of the most interesting fights of 2019 lasted 15 rounds, but you probably missed it.
During Week 16 of the NFL’s regular season, 49ers offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill made his first career start at guard -- Mike Person was injured -- and faced Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and best player in the league regardless of position.
Brunskill and Donald faced each other 15 times during that game. Call it a Super Heavyweight fight. How did Brunskill perform? Let’s do a blow by blow of the action. You can watch video of these plays above.
Round 1. First Quarter. 8:43. Third Down and 8 at the Rams 8-yard line.
This is a pass. It’s the 49ers’ first third-and-long of the game, so of course the Rams put Donald across from Brunskill. They want to test the rookie making his first start at guard. So the 49ers slide their center, Ben Garland, to the right to help Brunskill. But Brunskill doesn’t need help. He uses his long, 34-inch arms to push Donald to the outside, and creates more than enough time for Jimmy Garoppolo to throw, but George Kittle drops the ball.
Round 1 goes to Brunskill.
Round 2. First Quarter. 6:25. Second Down and 6 at the 49ers 39-yard line.
This time it’s an outside zone run to the right. Brunskill needs to get his helmet outside Donald’s and wall him off, like a screen in basketball. Brunskill succeeds. He turns Donald’s shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage and creates a giant lane for running back Raheem Mostert. But Garland and Emmanuel Sanders miss their blocks downfield and Mostert gains just one yard.
Round 2 goes to Brunskill.
Round 3. First Quarter. 5:49. Third Down and 5 at the 49ers 40-yard line.
This a pass. Donald rushes to the outside again, but this time Clay Matthews loops to the inside -- a tackle-end stunt. Brunskill tries his best to pass off Donald to Mike McGlinchey then turn to block Matthews, but gets slightly overwhelmed and gives up pressure. Garoppolo still gets the pass off, and it’s a decent one, but it bounces off Kittle’s hand.
Round 3 goes to Donald.
Round 4. Second Quarter. 14:55. First Down and 10 at the 49ers 25-yard line.
This is an end-around run to Deebo Samuel, who's running away from Brunskill and Donald. Brunskill ties up Donald and prevents him from chasing down Samuel from behind.
Round 4 goes to Brunskill.
Round 5. Second Quarter. 5:06. First Down and 10 at Midfield.
This is a pitch to running back Tevin Coleman, away from Brunskill and Donald again. This time, Brunskill lunges head first after the snap and Donald beats him with a swim move. Brunskill never touches him. This is what Donald does -- he embarrasses even the best offensive linemen. But fullback Kyle Juszczyk blocks Donald after blocking Matthews in the backfield, and Coleman gains five.
Still, Round 5 goes to Donald.
Round 6. Second Quarter. 4:32. Second Down and 6 at the Rams 45-yard line.
This is a pass. Donald tries to bulrush Brunskill -- meaning power directly through him. But Brunskill extends his long arms and punches Donald in the chest, catching Donald off balance. Donald jumps backward and slows down long enough for Garoppolo to throw a 15-yard pass to Kittle.
Round 6 goes to Brunskill.
Round 7. Second Quarter. 3:49. First Down and 10 at the Rams 30-yard line.
Another pass. Donald uses a quick jab step to the outside before cutting back to the inside -- he’s quick like a point guard. He gets a step on Brunskill, but Brunskill recovers and pushes Donald past Garoppolo, who completes a three-yard pass to Sanders.
Round 7 goes to Brunskill.
Round 8. Second Quarter. 3:10. Second Down and 7 at the Rams 27-yard line.
Another pass. Donald tries to beat Brunskill to the outside, but Brunskill pushes Donald into Mike McGlinchey, so he and Brunskill both block Donald, who gives up on the play, and Garoppolo completes an 11-yard pass to Kendrick Bourne.
Round 8 goes to Brunskill.
Round 9. Second Quarter. 2:26. First Down and 10 at the Rams 16-yard line.
This is a zone run toward Brunskill and Donald. Brunskill needs to turn Donald and wall him off, like earlier, and does. Brunskill turns Donald and moves him completely out of the way. Creates a huge hole for Raheem Mostert, who runs into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown.
Round 9 goes to Brunskill. Call this a 10-8 round with a standing eight count.
Round 10. Third Quarter. 14:56. Second Down and 10 at the 49ers 25-yard line.
Don’t know what this is, run or pass. Brunskill gets too eager to block Donald and commits a false-start penalty. Surprised it took Brunskill this long to lose his composure against the best player in the world.
Round 10 goes to Donald.
Round 11. Third Quarter. 14:56. Second Down and 15 at the 49ers 20-yard line.
This is a pass. Donald rushes to the outside, and Brunskill uses his long arms to push him further outside. Donald jumps backward and gives up on the play. Brunskill pushes him aside and creates a huge throwing window for Garoppolo, who makes an accurate throw to Sanders, but Sanders drops it and the Rams intercept it.
Still, Round 11 goes to Brunskill. Brunskill does a terrific job when he gets his hands on Donald, because Brunskill’s arms are longer than Donald’s.
Round 12. Third Quarter. 5:06. First Down and 10 at the 49ers 25-yard line.
Another pass. This time, Donald “crosses over” Brunskill with a jab step to the inside, a jab step to the outside and a quick move back to the inside. Even in slow motion, this move looks fast. Brunskill rocks back on his heels and watches in amazement as Donald explodes right by him and sacks Garoppolo in just two seconds.
Round 12 goes to Donald. And it’s a 10-8 round. This is why he is the best. He does this every game.
Round 13. Fourth Quarter. 12:46. Second Down and 7 at the 49ers 21-yard line.
This is a pass. Garland, the center, slides to Donald which forces him to rush outside. Donald gives up on the play and just watches. Brunskill eventually turns his head to see if Garoppolo still has the ball and to figure out why Donald quit. Garoppolo resets in the pocket and throws an incomplete pass to Samuel.
Round 13 goes to Brunskill.
Round 14. Fourth Quarter. 6:20. Second Down and 7 at the Rams 7-yard line.
Another pass. Donald rushes to the inside, where he’s had success against Brunskill, and beats him by a step. Brunskill recovers and pushes him past Garoppolo, who has to move. Meaning Donald pressured him. Garoppolo scrambles to his right and throws an incomplete pass to Sanders.
Round 14 goes to Donald.
Round 15. Fourth Quarter. 2:00. Second Down and 16 at the 49ers 19-yard line.
This is a quick screen pass late in the game. Clay Matthews tips it at the line of scrimmage Sound familiar? Same thing happened in the Super Bowl. But in that game, Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones knocked down the pass because right guard Mike Person couldn’t keep Jones’ arms’ down. On this play, Brunskill engages Donald and prevents Donald from raising his arms.
Round 15 goes to Brunskill, even though the pass was incomplete. He did his job.
Brunskill: 10 rounds
Donald: 5 rounds
Which means Donald won the fight -- an offensive linemen basically has to win every round to claim victory. The NFL is a tough sport. But in Brunskill’s first career start at guard, he certainly held his own against the best player in the NFL. More than held his own. On a few plays, Brunskill flat-out dominated Donald. Of course, Donald made Brunskill look silly a couple times, too, but Brunskill didn’t lose heart or get discouraged. He kept fighting, and even won the final round.
Brunskill should be the 49ers’ starting right guard next season. He’s good. I can’t understand how the 49ers watched this fight between him and Donald and decided Person should start at guard in the playoffs.
At least they can’t make that mistake again -- they cut Person. Right guard is Brunskill’s job to lose.