A few weeks ago, Aaron Donald appeared on pace to challenge for a third NFL defensive player of the year award.
He still might achieve the feat — Donald is regarded as one of the NFL’s most dominating and disruptive forces — but he is preparing for Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers in the wake of being shut out , if not shut down, in Monday’s victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Donald finished the 27-24 win with no sacks, tackles or quarterback hits on Tom Brady. In the previous game, a 23-16 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, he had no tackles and two quarterback hits on Russell Wilson.
Asked if he had ever gone two games without a tackle, Donald answered without pausing.
“Never — ever — until this year,” he told reporters during a videoconference, “so there’s a first for everything.”
Donald has made the Pro Bowl in each of his six NFL seasons. He was the league’s defensive player of the year in 2017 and 2018, and he has amassed 81 sacks, including nine this season.
Donald is part of a team that is 7-3 and in first place in the NFC West. So he is not complaining, especially with teammates playing well beside him.
“It’s nothing that I’m mad about,” he said. “If I was out there playing bad I’d be more disappointed than that. Obviously, you want to make the plays but when you got a bunch of guys around you making the plays week in and week out, you really can’t be mad about that.”
Donald said he does not look at a statistics sheet after games.
“I know, playing the game, if I didn’t make a damn tackle, so it’s like, ‘Oh … I got to at least try to get one tackle,’” he said, adding, “You want to make the production but we’re winning, I’m still doing my job, still feel like I’m playing at a high level.
“And we got a lot more football left. I’m going to get a lot more opportunities to make a lot more plays, so I’m not mad about it.”
Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said Donald’s statistics are an anomaly. Donald is as disruptive as ever, has “definitely been part of the party” in rushing defense and frees others to make plays because he commands so much attention from the offense, Staley said.
Staley compared Donald to former Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal, who often did not get the benefit of foul calls because of his size and strength. Staley lamented the lack of holding penalties against opponents trying to block Donald.
“This guy, I think people take for granted how good he is,” Staley said, “and we need to make sure that people are seeing the game the way they need to.”
Donald often makes his case to officials.
“All the damn time,” he said laughing. “I talk to them like, ‘You got to see that holding call.’ They say they don’t see it. I’m like, ‘Man, guy’s got me around my neck, grabbed and pulled my shirt. I just beat a guy with a clean look.’
“But it’s all right. Hopefully, I’m going to get one sooner or later… so I just got to keep playing.”
Kyle Shanahan, coach of the 49ers, said Wednesday that Donald is so strong, “I’m sure there’s times guys are grabbing on to him and it’s hard for even a ref to notice because he’s still ripping away from it.”
But has Shanahan seen any drop-off in Donald’s performance?
“Absolutely not,” he said during a conference call with Los Angeles reporters. “I wish, but no I haven’t. Been waiting a long time for that. Doesn’t seem like it’s happening.”
During a 24-16 October win over the Rams at Levi’s Stadium, the 49ers limited Donald to two tackles and one quarterback hit. Donald said the Rams would bring more energy Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
“We ain’t going to come out flat,” he said. “We’re going to play how we’ve been playing. If anything we going to be a little more up for this game just because we know when we played last time that we wasn’t at our best, and there was little chatter after the game about certain things.
“So they get to meet with us again, and we’ve get to show ‘em how we play.”
The Rams designated outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo (elbow) to return from injured reserve…. Staley said defensive end Derek Rivers, claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots, will provide depth on defense and special teams.