Matchup to Watch: Steelers vs Rams
Throughout the Pittsburgh Steelers season I will be doing a weekly piece on an intriguing matchup to watch for each game. The focus will be on choosing important battle for the upcoming game and give you some background information that could be something to keep an eye on come game time. For example, it could focus on key players on each team that will be going head to head or how a defense will try to stop a specific player.
The 2018 NFC Champions the Los Angeles Rams come to Pittsburgh this week and there were plenty of options to go with for the Matchup to Watch. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp would be a good one to watch. He’s well on his way to crushing his career highs. Sean McVay’s play calling vs Keith Butlers defense deserved some thought as well. But there was one matchup that stuck out most.
Steelers Offensive Line vs Aaron Donald
The sixth year defensive tackle out the University of Pittsburgh is about as good as they come. He is a unique combination of strength and speed for an undersized, comparatively speaking, defensive lineman that has been as impressive on paper as he is on tape.
Though 86 games in his career he has racked up 5 Pro Bowls and 4 All Pro seasons. He has 64.5 career sacks and has never had less than 8 in a season. In 2018 he led the NFL with 20.5 sacks. He has 288 tackles, 108 tackles for a loss, 15 forced fumbles and 158 quarterback hits. Nearly 38 percent of his tackles have come behind the line of scrimmage.
It Takes a Village
Versatility is a big part of Donald’s play and that is why the focus on the Steelers side is the entire offensive line. Donald will line up anywhere across the Rams front and I can guarantee the offensive line will take notice of his position before each play.
He’ll mainly line up as the 3 technique shaded just outside the guard. The Rams primarily run a 4-3 over front so he’ll be on the strong side of the formation. In short yardage situations he moves inside to the 1 technique in the A gap.
On passing downs, he’ll kick farther outside anywhere from lined up over the tackle all the way out to the edge. Defensive tackles usually don’t go out to the edge on passing downs but he has the speed, technique and bend to be able to beat tackles on the outside.
Strength and Speed
Listed at 284 pounds he is on the lighter side of defensive lineman but you wouldn’t be able to tell from his play. He has the strength to anchor vs double teams and not give up an inch and can toss aside offensive lineman with ease. Then he uses his quickness and his hands in a variety of ways and get the blocker off balance and in a blink he is by them.
Vs Atlanta, Donald (99) is lined up as the 3 tech on the right side. OG James Carpenter (77) and Jake Matthews (77) are going to double team Donald. That’s 630 pounds of OL pushing on Donald and he doesn’t budge. This forces the runner outside where his teammates can clean up.
Vs San Francisco, here is another look at his strength. The RG Mike Person (68) and RT Daniel Brunskill (60) are going to combo block Donald. He holds his ground against the double team and when Person climbs to the second level he sheds Brunskill and gets in on the tackle.
At Cincinnati, he’s the 3 tech on the right and uses a quick hop to the right and swim move and is by guard Billy Price (53) in no time to force the throw away and draw a holding penalty.
At Cincinnati, this time he jab steps to the outside and swims inside. He’s about 2 steps into the backfield before the back gets the ball. Result, tackle for a loss.
At Cincinnati, he is lined up on the edge on the left side of the screen. He uses speed up the arc with a chop/club combo to level out and get the pressure.
Vs Atlanta, this looks like a tite front where he is lined up as the 4i technique shaded inside the tackle. He diagnoses quickly and takes a step to slide to his left with the OL while staying square. Uses good hand placement and strength to stand up and control the guard forcing the FB and RB to find another route and sheds to make the tackle
Vs Atlanta, he is on the edge on the right side of the screen now on a passing down with the defense in Dime. He uses a rip and shows nice bend around the corner.
Vs San Francisco, he uses quickness and leverage to move the RG back a step and then mirrors him to the outside. The edge is cut off and when the running back cuts back inside Donald is right there to make the play.
Vs San Francisco, his athleticism in on display on an outside Zone run. He swims over the guard to the inside and shows his change of direction and speed to chase down the RB.
Limit His Damage
Shutting down Donald completely isn’t a likely option so the focus will be limiting his production particularly behind the line of scrimmage. He produces from the inside. He produces from the outside. I would guess 6 offensive lineman, 2 tight ends and 1 fullback will be asked to help block him at some point.
Varying the blocking schemes when running the ball and using misdirection to try and keep him guessing. And take advantage of when he isn’t on the field. I saw several good runs versus the Rams second team defensive line.
On passing downs using tight ends to chip on the edge and making sure whoever is at running back doesn’t release too early. Block first, catch later.
I leave you with this stat. In the Rams 46 wins in his career he has 48 sacks and in the 41 losses he has 16.5.