Sunday, March 26 2023

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer

Aaron Donald is a transcendent talent headed for a gold jacket when his playing career is over.

But you already knew that, right? 

Donald reached another milestone in the Rams‘ win over the Arizona Cardinals last week, reaching 100 career sacks faster than any other defensive tackle in NFL history (130 career games). Donald took down quarterback Kyler Murray in impressive fashion, clipping his feet as he tried to escape.

Aaron Donald registers 100th career sack

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald registered the 100th sack of his career in the Rams’ victory over the Cardinals.

Donald is now second in career sacks by a defensive tackle (since 1982), behind Hall of Famer John Randle (107.5) and ahead of Steve McMichael (95) and Warren Sapp (89). 

Further, since entering the league in 2014, Donald leads the NFL in tackles for loss with 151. 

Rams coach Sean McVay said it’s hard to put into words how dominant the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is. But he gave it a try this week. 

“It’s one of the reflections of what makes him so special, because (of) the way he can impact the game,” McVay said about Donald. “What people don’t talk about is you’re getting that kind of production, but in spite of the attention that he has, to still be able to produce, to me, is what’s as amazing as anything else. 

“It’s why I think one of the best things that reflects his greatness is that guys usually play their best around him — because of the way that he elevates their performance and gives them some special opportunities, based on the attention that he grabs up front.”

From 2017 to 2021, Donald has been doubled 1,586 times but still has the highest pass-rush win rate among interior lineman, according to ESPN Analytics. Since 2014, Donald has won 22.2% of his pass-rush snaps, first among interior defenders with at least 1,000 pass-rush snaps. J.J. Watt is second at 18.9%. 

Donald currently leads defensive tackles through three weeks of the regular season with a 25% pass-rush win rate.

ESPN’s Seth Walder provides some context to McVay’s words here. 

At age 31, Donald has shown no signs of slowing down. After playing a career-high 1,041 regular-season snaps last season (90% of L.A.’s defensive snaps), he has played 186 defensive snaps through three games, per Pro Football Focus. Extrapolated out to a 17-game season, if Donald continues that pace, he would play 1,048 snaps. 

The Rams likely will be giving Donald a little more of a break in the coming weeks to make sure he stays fresh and healthy for when the games matter most at the end of the year. 

Donald’s dominance leads our weekly look at who’s rising and falling in the NFC West.


Rams DL Aaron Donald: He has 12.5 career sacks against the San Francisco 49ers — Monday’s opponent — and 3.5 sacks against Jimmy Garoppolo. However, Donald did not register a sack in three games against San Francisco last season, as the Niners focused on the running game. 

Deebo Samuel has put up big games against the Rams, totaling 642 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns in seven games, six of them wins. Trust that Donald knows who Samuel is by now and will know where he is located on every snap.

Cardinals WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown: Now that’s what we expected when the Cardinals traded for Kyler Murray’s former teammate at Oklahoma. Brown finished with a game-high 14 receptions for 140 receiving yards in Arizona’s loss to the Rams. 

With DeAndre Hopkins still serving a six-game suspension, and injuries to A.J. GreenRondale Moore and Antoine Wesley, the Cardinals will need more performances like that from Brown.

Arizona may be able to diversify where Brown lines up against the Carolina Panthers on the road in Week 4.

Rams CB Jalen Ramsey: After struggling against the Buffalo Bills in the season opener, Ramsey is back to his playmaking self, carrying an L.A. secondary dealing with injuries to veteran defensive backs Troy Hill and David Long Jr

Ramsey finished with eight combined tackles — including a tackle for loss — and two pass breakups as the Rams kept the Cardinals out of the end zone. Ramsey received a game ball in the locker room after the game and called it his team’s best defensive performance of the year so far this season.


49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: He hasn’t played a lot of football and must get into game shape, so it’s understandable that Garoppolo struggled in his first start this season, throwing for 211 passing yards with two turnovers and a safety against the Broncos

The Niners must use the extra time this week to build a game plan that accentuates what Garoppolo does best and protects him, while he continues to get into better physical condition and more comfortable in the offense. 

As I wrote about earlier this week, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan needs to focus on Garoppolo getting the ball out quickly on in-breaking routes over the middle of the field and get the ball in Samuel’s hands more often.

Related: Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan must find rhythm in Niners’ offense

Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury: Arizona’s scripted first 15 plays have been a mess. The Cardinals have not scored a single point in the first quarter through three games, while giving up 31 points defensively. They have never held a lead in regulation.

Being behind early affects how Kingsbury can call the game the rest of the way, with the offense always chasing points at the end of the game.

Running back James Conner was supposed to add balance to the offense, but he has only 90 yards and one touchdown through three games. 

Kingsbury must put Murray, his so-called “gift from God,” in more positions to succeed. 

Seattle Seahawks OLB Darrell Taylor: Taylor was pegged to lead Seattle’s pass rush this season, but he has just one sack, a forced fumble, three quarterback hits and seven combined tackles through three games.

The Seahawks have been awful against the run so far, allowing 157 rushing yards a contest, tied for second worst in the NFL. And Taylor’s defensive snap counts have steadily decreased since Week 1, with the Seahawks using rookie Boye Mafe and Darryl Johnson more up front.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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Source: FOX Sports


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