Rams vs. SF 49ers: Why Aaron Donald is such a threat to Niners O-line

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

51. 2-3. 4-1. NBC. Sunday, Oct. 18. 42. Rams -3. 8 p.m. ET

If the SF 49ers want to have a chance at winning in Week 6, they’ll have to figure out a way to keep Rams All-Pro Aaron Donald from being a factor.

Why is Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald such a threat to the SF 49ers?

It’s simple. He’s the best defensive player in football.

That’s not a hyperbolic statement either. Last year, Pro Football Focus named Donald, a five-time first-team All-Pro, the best defensive player in football. With an elite-level 90.1 defensive grade over the first five weeks of 2020, third best among all qualifying PFF interior defenders, it looks as if the 29-year-old Donald will be right back into consideration for that same title again this season.


Especially when one considers what Donald is already achieving this season. His 7.5 sacks thus far already lead the league, and his 13 quarterback hits are tied with Pittsburgh Steelers EDGE T.J. Watt for the most in the NFL, too. And as was the case last year, Los Angeles isn’t hesitant lining Donald up wherever it can along the defensive line to take advantage of specific matchups where he can put his prolific pass-rushing skills to good use.

It’s working. Just ask those quarterbacks who have been victims of his sacks this season.

Aaron Donald 2020 Games Table
2020-09-131DALW 20-171.0134140
2020-09-202@PHIW 37-190.0011010
2020-09-273@BUFL 32-352.0516231
2020-10-044NYGW 17-90.5022020
2020-10-115@WASW 30-104.0404331

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/15/2020.

In 11 games played against the SF 49ers, Donald has recorded 11.5 sacks, 25 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles — numbers higher than any other opponent, save the Seattle Seahawks.

Well, perhaps Niners fans can at least thank Donald for that.

Those figures alone influence why the Rams are favored for this contest. And in previous years, Donald would be a massive threat. But given what’s currently going on along San Francisco’s beleaguered offensive line, Donald’s prolific prowess looms even larger.

SF 49ers are vulnerable to Aaron Donald even more in 2020

It doesn’t help quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is hurting from a high-ankle sprain suffered in Week 2 against the New York Jets. During his unsuccessful return to the field in Week 5 against the Miami Dolphins, it was evident Jimmy G lacked the already-limited mobility he otherwise would have when fully healthy.

So the onus would normally fall upon the SF 49ers offensive line to adequately protect him, right?

Well, unlike 2019, the Niners blockers haven’t exactly been effective in this department. San Francisco has surrendered 18 sacks on the year, which sits at fourth most over this opening portion of the season.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Football Outsiders‘ ranking of the SF 49ers’ collective pass-protecting efforts doesn’t provide much relief. The Niners O-line sits at 29th in this particular department.

Worse yet, some of the biggest issues in pass protection have come from the interior where guards Laken Tomlinson and Daniel Brunskill have already surrendered three sacks apiece, per PFF, while they’ve both given up a combined 27 pressures.

Right tackle Mike McGlinchey, meanwhile, has also allowed a team-high 14 pressures, tied with Brunskill.

It might be imperative for Garoppolo to hit on those short-area, high-percentage throws while ensuring he gets rid of the ball in under than 2.5 seconds — that notable mark where the probability of a sack increases significantly.

According to NextGen Stats, Garoppolo’s average time to throw is 2.71 seconds.

Next. 5 trade targets for 49ers at 2020 deadline. dark

The SF 49ers and LA Rams kick off on Sunday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. ET.