Eagles have silenced Aaron Donald in the past, but can they do it again?

NFL: DEC 08 Seahawks at Rams
LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 08: Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) during the NFL game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams on December 08, 2019, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles and Rams have a very intense history as of late. The Birds haven’t actually lost to L.A since 2004, but there will be one man who could single-handedly have the power to change that this week – Aaron Donald.

In the teams’ most recent meeting, Aaron Donald was held to just 2 tackles and a single quarterback hit. That almost seems impossible for someone who had 20.5 sacks that season and 59 tackles, almost making the remainder of that campaign even more impressive.

Going back one year further, the memorable 43-35 win that saw Carson Wentz tear his ACL, brought us an Aaron Donald game where once again, he was held to just 2 tackles…although he did get to the QB on two more occasions, amassing 3 total hits.

To say that Aaron Donald has been slowed against this Eagles o-line would be an understatement. But after watching him rip through the Cowboys’ group for fun in week one, it can’t exactly instill confidence in a group that gave up a career-high 8 sacks for Carson Wentz and 14 QB hits.

Lane Johnson’s return would be absolutely crucial in slowing down a player that has started to move all across the defensive line, opening windows for his fellow pass-rushers. The Eagles offensive line could look something like this:

LT Jason Peters
LG Isaac Seumalo
C Jason Kelce
RG Matt Pryor/Nate Herbig
RT Lane Johnson

Which is definitely an improvement over what we saw in week one. But there is every chance that the right guard will be circled in red for a generational talent to try and utterly destroy, and that’s something the Eagles have to be aware of.

“Obviously Aaron Donald is a great player, a tremendous player.” Doug Pederson said on Wednesday. “There are not many offensive lines out there that really kind of slow this guy down. I mean, he just goes from snap to whistle. He’s a hundred miles an hour and that’s tough. 

For us, it’s about understanding where he lines up and he does move — it’s a different scheme. It’s not the same Wade Phillips scheme. It’s a different scheme so they move him around the D-Line just a little bit more, so it’s imperative that we understand where he’s at. Communication is of the utmost, obviously, and it starts with [C Jason] Kelce and echos along the offensive line.”

Communication seemed to lack massively last week. There were several blown assignments and instances where pass-rushers were just given a free lane to swarm to the quarterback. The Washington Football Team did have a ruthless front four, but that challenge is hardly fading away in week 2.

The difference between how the Eagles handled Aaron Donald in the past, stifling his progress, is versatility. Brandon Staley is now coordinating a Rams defense that was once ridiculously tough but relatively easy to conceptually exploit. Now, it’s clear they’re looking to get quicker, more versatile, and hide their identity pre-snap. This presents a new challenge to Doug Pederson.

It’s more about awareness of where he lines up and is he to the tight end side; is he to the open side; is he playing a tackle; is he playing an end. It’s just part of their scheme. 

It’s not about necessarily game planning a specific player as much as it is the whole entire scheme, but within that, as I mentioned earlier, we have to be aware of where a player like Aaron Donald lines up.

Donald may not have brought down Dak Prescott in week one, but his pressure rating was the second highest in the NFL behind one Josh Sweat. He ploughed Zeke Elliott into Dak, carried linemen into him, and was just the human bulldozer we’ve all become so besotted with when watching.

This Rams defense may take a little while to find its footing, but with Donald moving around and Wentz maybe not having the luxury he did in 2017 against a very different defense, the addition of Jalen Ramsey could be one that forces Wentz to hold the ball that split-second longer, falling into the palms of Donald. It will be down to a weakened Eagles offensive line to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire