GREEN BAY, Wis. – Dealing with torn rib cartilage, Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald was a nonfactor in last year’s playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. He had just one assisted tackle in 40 snaps as the Packers destroyed the NFL’s top-ranked defense in a 32-18 victory.
Healthy again, Donald is dominating like usual.
“He looks like a monster. He looks like a game-wrecker,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Wednesday.
Donald is part of what, on paper, will be the biggest mismatch of Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field. The Packers are down three starting offensive linemen, with Pro Bowler Elgton Jenkins and rookie center Josh Myers on injured reserve and All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari out following a second procedure on his left knee. The Rams have a healthy Donald and acquired Von Miller in a trade on Nov. 1. Both players are sure-fire Hall of Famers. The 30-year-old Donald is a seven-time Pro Bowler and 32-year-old Miller is an eight-time Pro Bowler. Both were selected to the all-2010s team.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ head better be on a swivel.
“I don’t think Donald was 100 percent and they didn’t have Von Miller,” Rodgers said of the difference from last year. “Obviously, they added him to the mix and a healthy Aaron Donald is a menace to any offense he goes against. We’re going to have to have a good plan for the protection. Last year, we ran the ball pretty well. That’s always going to be a part of what we’re trying to do.”
Rodgers was 23-of-36 for 296 yards and two touchdowns, and Aaron Jones (14 carries, 99 yards, one touchdown), Jamaal Williams (12 carries, 65 yards) and AJ Dillon (six carries, 27 yards) combined for 32 carries for 191 yards as the Packers torched the NFL’s top-ranked defense to the tune of 484 yards.
Dillon might be the last man standing from that backfield, though Jones did practice on Wednesday.
Donald has 91.5 sacks in 120 career games. He led the NFL with 20.5 sacks in 2018 and is 10th in NFL history with 0.76 sacks per game. With six sacks this season, he’s on his way to a fifth consecutive season with 10-plus sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s third in the league among interior defensive linemen with 42 pressures. Last year, he was No. 1 among all defenders with 98 – a staggering 21 more than any other player.
“He certainly was hurting last year, there's no doubt about it, and he's a guy that you can't rest for one second when you're going up against him,” LaFleur said. “You better know where he's aligned on every play and you’ve got to make sure that you're putting your players in the best position possible to go against him. As dominant as he is in the pass game, he's equally as dominant in the run game, and I think that's what makes him so special. He plays a lot of snaps, his effort is relentless, he is a guy that just can completely take over a football game.”
LaFleur has some first-hand insight into Donald. In 2017, LaFleur was in his one and only season as the Rams’ offensive coordinator. Donald, in his fourth season at the time, had his best year to date with 11 sacks and five forced fumbles.
Along with the undeniable talent, LaFleur was struck by Donald’s dedication.
“I remember leaving the office some nights pretty late and he’s still in there watching tape,” he recalled. “It was really impressive. He might have been the only player in the building. He’s a pro’s pro.”