The NFL’s leader in the MVP race will be in the crosshairs of the NFL’s two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
When talking about making an impact on your side of the ball, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald are two players at the top of the heap.
Now Donald will be lining up on Monday Night Football trying to cause havoc for the Ravens’ top-ranked offense.
“He’s a legit monster,” running back Mark Ingram II said. “You talk about a game-wrecker, a game-changer, that’s who it is. If you don’t have the proper game plan for him, he’ll ruin your day.”
While pundits like to point to the Los Angeles Chargers’ use of extra defensive backs in last year’s Wild-Card loss as the solution for Jackson and the Ravens, it was more that Baltimore just got whipped in the trenches that day. The Chargers’ talented defensive line won.
Donald is a player that’s won a lot of battles, and the Ravens have to make sure he doesn’t break the offense. Donald had a mind-blowing 20.5 sacks last season and has eight through 10 games this season.
Ravens center Matt Skura remembers facing Donald in college in 2014 when Donald was playing for Pittsburgh and Skura for Duke. On one play, Donald burst into the backfield, through a gap vacated by Duke’s pulling right guard.
Skura tried to react quickly and block back on Donald, but it was too late. Donald tackled both Duke’s quarterback and running back – at the same time.
“I was like, ‘Alright, this guy is pretty legit.’ I just saw a flash before my eyes and he already made the play,” Skura recalled.
“His power. I’d never seen someone use their hands like that before, being able to remove an offensive lineman’s hands. Just the skill that he possesses to get off the ball and his athleticism is unreal. And he plays hard every single snap. … I know he’s gotten bigger and faster and stronger since then, so it’s going to be fun.”
Skura and Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda both said Donald has it all – speed, explosiveness, technique, smarts, power, hand usage. Yanda and quarterback Lamar Jackson both called Donald the best player in the NFL.
Skura and Yanda will be the primary guys handling Donald, but he can line up everywhere, so it will be on the entire offensive line to block him.
“Sometimes you’re going to have to have that one-on-one battle with him and that’s just part of it,” Skura said. “But it’s going to have to be a group effort. That’s going to be our biggest task, for sure, is taking care of him and also the rest of their defensive line – because they’re pretty loaded up front.”
The Rams also have linebackers Clay Matthews (7 sacks) and Donte Fowler Jr. (6.5 sacks) pressuring quarterbacks. Defensive lineman Michael Brockers is the fourth first-round pick in their front seven.
Jackson Doesn’t Change His Game for Anyone
Jackson was very complimentary of the Rams defense, which enters Monday night’s game ranked 10th in the league and No. 5 in rushing defense.
Jackson called the Rams’ front four “crazy” and said Donald is the top defensive tackle in the league. The Ravens quarterback brought up the addition of Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles secondary.
But it was also clear Thursday that Jackson doesn’t change his game regardless of who he’s facing. Opponents have to change for him.
“Just got to play ball,” Jackson said multiple times.
How would Jackson prepare to go against former Ravens safety Eric Weddle, who is as good as they come at disguising coverages and playing mental chess with opposing quarterbacks?
“I’ve just got to play football – be alert at all times on the field, just find No. 32.”
Would Jackson consult with cornerback Marcus Peters, who the Rams traded to Baltimore earlier this year, for tips on the Rams defense?
“Nah, I don’t. I haven’t thought about it,” Jackson said. “I just watch film on those guys, go from there.”
And how does Jackson plan to deal with Donald?
“I’ve got a great offensive line and I believe in them,” Jackson said. “Those guys are going to handle it and do what they’re supposed to do like they have all year. I just have to do my job.”
No Chip on Marcus Peters’ Shoulder
The Rams spent two first-round picks to add Ramsey. Before they did that, they traded Marcus Peters to Baltimore to make room.
But as Peters heads back to Los Angeles this weekend, he said he has no hard feelings.
“I don't got a chip on my shoulder,” Peters said Thursday. “How did it end? I got traded, and I’m liking the situation I’m in right now. I just keep moving forward. I don’t need other stuff like that. I understand the business of football.”
Peters has been traded twice in his young career, which started in Kansas City. He’s fitting in well in Baltimore, and his pair of pick-sixes and excellent coverage have been a huge driver in the defense’s improvement since Week 7.
Check back tomorrow for a feature by Clifton Brown on Peters and his return to Los Angeles.
This Is What Mark Ingram Imagined
Mark Ingram II is the lead back in the NFL’s top rushing offense. He’s reached the end zone 10 times in 10 games.
His punishing running style has been an integral part of Baltimore’s attack, and his fun-loving and goofy personality has been a perfect fit in the locker room and sideline.
The free-agent addition’s first year has gone quite well by just about every measure. Could he have expected all this?
“We’re on pace, we’re on schedule with it,” Ingram said of the offense. “When I signed here, I wanted to be a part of something special, and I think we have a special team here. We’re just trying to get better and accomplish special things.”