The Jets have played against some incredibly talented defenders this season. In the last few weeks alone, New York has lined up against Miami's cornerback Xavien Howard and Seattle's safety Jamal Adams.
On Sunday, however, the Jets will face someone that veteran running back Frank Gore called "the best player on defense in the NFL right now."
That, of course, is Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Entering Week 15, Donald leads the National Football League with 12.5 sacks. He's hit opposing quarterbacks in all but one game this season while recording a sack in 10 of his 13 games played.
That's not all. Donald has the fourth-most tackles for loss in football (16) and has forced four fumbles thus far. He's a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, five-time All-Pro and has made the Pro Bowl in all six of his NFL seasons.
"This guy wrecks the game in so many different ways," Jets head coach Adam Gase told reporters in a Zoom call on Thursday. "Whether it’s the run game, pass game, creating turnovers, just constant pressure on the quarterback to where you can feel him so much the ball starts coming out quicker and then they’re tight on coverage.
"If he’s not the best player in the league, he’s top three."
Donald's dominance and disruptiveness is a nightmare for any team, but the Jets are particularly susceptible to a big game from this elite defensive lineman. Beyond the winless record through 13 games, New York is the worst team in football in yards per game (269.8), passing yards per game (166.1) and points per game (14.1).
This is also a group that managed only three points against one of the worst defenses in all of football (the Seattle Seahawks) last weekend. The Seahawks were able to sack Jets quarterback Sam Darnold three times in that game.
"Aaron Donald is a good player, he definitely pops out on tape. It seems like whenever a play needs to be made, he is always there making it," Darnold said on Thursday.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of preparing to face a player like Donald is his ability to move around on defense, never sticking in one spot for too long.
"They’re doing a great job of making it hard to locate him," Gase explained. "It’s not like you can say, ‘he’s just here, he’s always going to be in this spot or he’s always going to be this technique or right side or left side.’ They move him around a lot, he’s hard to just focus and target on, they make it hard."
That in mind, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains made it clear this week that every offensive lineman will be tested with blocking Donald on multiple occasions in this matchup. Considering the fact that New York is missing two starting offensive linemen, Donald is surely licking his chops in Los Angeles as he gets ready to suit up on Sunday.
One way to prevent any linemen being burned one-on-one against Donald is by double-teaming him. Gase quickly added that even if that's a good plan to have against Donald, it doesn't always work.
"I mean the guy is phenomenal at defeating blocks whether one or two guys are on him, whether he’s back side, front side of the run," Gase said. "You have to have a plan of how do you handle this guy, how do we make sure we protect the quarterback, how do we stay positive with the plays. I mean it’s a constant, problematic issue you’re solving throughout the game."
Donald isn't even the only player capable of doing damage on the defensive side of the ball for Los Angeles. This is, after all, the best unit in the game in limiting opposing offenses (allowing a league-best 285.8 yards per game).
If the Jets want a shot at defeating the Rams on Sunday, however, it starts with finding a way to take this "beast"—as Gore called him—out of the equation.
"You look at their front, their front is very disruptive, with their games, especially on third down, so we have to do a good job up there up front and then the back end, they have really good players there too and they do a good of disguising coverages and mixing it up that way," Darnold said. "We've got our work cut out for us, but we are excited for the opportunity."