Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in football. That's not breaking any news. Until the emergence of Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, many actually considered the Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle to be the best player in all of football. A defensive tackle? The best player in football?
Just look at his list of accolades and it doesn't take long to actually consider that might be the case, even when compared to Patrick Mahomes.
Aaron Donald has made the Pro Bowl in each of his six seasons. He's been a first-team All-Pro selection for the last five years. Donald was the 2018 Pro Football Writers of America Defensive Player of the Year and he's won Pro Football Focus' Defensive Player of the Year Award four times in six seasons.
Tape grinders and statisticians both love Aaron Donald, which is a rare treat in today's NFL dichotomy. regardless of where you rank him in your NFL 100, Aaron Donald is a dominant force that changes the way you prepare and the way you play every single week.
In Aaron Donald's six-year career with the Rams, he's never had fewer than eight sacks in a season. He hasn't had fewer than 11 sacks in a season since 2016. Back in 2018, he had a mindboggling 20.5 sacks. In 2019, Donald had 12.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss per Pro Football Reference.
Per Pro Football Focus' grading system, Aaron Donald was the best pass rusher from the interior defensive line and had the fourth-highest run defense grade from the interior. His 80 total pressures led all interior defensive linemen and if you include edge rushers, he still would have finished sixth in the league.
The game plan the Dallas Cowboys have deployed against Aaron Donald over the years has been fairly effective at limiting his splash plays. In four games against Donald, the Cowboys have held him to zero sacks and two quarterback hits. In the run game, Donald’s recorded four tackles for loss.
Though he hasn’t registered much in the box score, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t impacted the football game. Just like a premiere edge rusher, the Dallas Cowboys have had to deploy extra attention and resources to limiting Donald’s impact on the game. Often, that attention allows others to find success.
Zack Martin, Joe Looney, and Connor Williams will have their work cut out for them when they line up across Aaron Donald on Sunday Night Football. If they’re able to limit his ability to collapse the pocket in passing situations it will be huge for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense.
Prescott has improved his pocket mobility and awareness over the last year, but the offensive line needs to provide him room to step up when pressured off of the edge.
The Cowboys have a tough test to open the season against the Rams and preventing pressure and sacks on Dak Prescott will go a long way to providing the Cowboys the outcome they want. Limiting Aaron Donald’s impact in both the run and pass game is a huge key to this week’s contest.