Film review: How the Lions slowed Aaron Donald
Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, an interior lineman capable for wrecking a game plan. With Larry Warford sidelined with a hip injury, and Laken Tomlinson struggling, the Detroit Lions faced a daunting task to contain Donald with less-than-ideal personnel.
But the Lions did just that in the team's 31-28 victory. Donald still made some plays, including the Rams' lone sack in the fourth quarter. He also hit quarterback Matthew Stafford another play and pressured him on two others. But after recording a career-best three sacks against the Lions last season, limiting Donald's production was a major key in the win.
"We had some new guys playing in some different spots up front and they blocked their (butts) off," Stafford said after the game. "To play that front and give up one sack, and I felt comfortable all day, that's big time football for those guys to step in an play."
We went back over the film from the game to determine how the Lions managed to limit Donald.
First and foremost, we have to highlight the performance of rookie Graham Glasgow, making his first start. Playing left guard, no Lions lineman drew Donald more often, matching up against the All-Pro 16 times, including 11 snaps in pass protection. Surprisingly, Glasgow rarely was given the assistance of a double-team, getting help from a teammate three of those snaps.
Glasgow was terrific throughout the first half. He didn't give up any pressure, until losing his block on Donald during Detroit's final offensive play. Stafford managed to escape that pressure, bailing from the pocket and finding Andre Roberts for a short touchdown on fourth down.
Glasgow continued his strong play in the second half, although he was badly beaten by Donald on one fourth-quarter snap. That led to Stafford absorbing a hit as he let go of a rushed throw that was dropped by Golden Tate.
With Tomlinson, the Lions were more protective of the struggling guard, giving him help from a teammate on five of his 13 assignments. And when blocking Donald one-on-one, the play calls were designed for Stafford to get rid of the ball quickly, negating any potential pass rush.
Tomlinson was responsible for the lone sack, as Donald slapped the blocker's hands away, bent around the guard's outside shoulder and dropped the quarterback about two seconds after the snap.
Riley Reiff also contributed in limiting Donald, particularly on run downs. The veteran right tackle grew Donald on eight run assignments, utilizing a cut block four times to neutralize the defender. The Lions effectively used this strategy to convert an early fourth-down, running Zach Zenner right through Donald's gap.
Donald took a couple nasty spills on those low blocks and it could be what triggered his aggressive behavior on the kneel-down plays at the end of the game.
Donald did flash his dominance on one run snap. Fighting through a double team by Reiff and Tomlinson, Donald still managed to make a tackle three yards behind the line of scrimmage from his knees.
Most defensive tackles would be thrilled with a performance like Donald had on Sunday, recording a sack, a tackle for loss and generating some additional pass-rush pressure. But Donald is not most defensive tackles and given Detroit's banged-up offensive line, the group can be proud of its performance.