Although Sean McVay was standing on the sideline to watch it, the head coach still had to check the video before he truly realized the scope of Aaron Donald’s dominance in the Los Angeles Rams’ latest win.
The All-Pro defensive lineman was in vintage form against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, leading a stellar defensive effort as the Rams (7-0) extended their longest perfect start to a season since 1985 with a 39-10 victory.
McVay saw Donald’s four sacks, and he knew Donald had forced a fumble that led to a score. Turns out, there was much more.
“I knew he had a really productive day, but then you go back and you just tally up all the plays that he made,” McVay said. “How he’s getting there and affecting and influencing the game in a variety of ways from his position was really impressive. That’s why he’s the man.”
Donald is back at the peak of his disruptive powers after a self-described slow start to the season possibly caused by missing the Rams’ entire offseason program and preseason during his contract holdout. With the $135 million man causing regular misery for opponents’ offenses, the rest of the Rams’ defense is backing him up with big plays — particularly against offenses that are still works in progress, such as the Niners’ injury-plagued unit.
All told in Santa Clara, Donald had nine tackles, five quarterback hits, six tackles for loss, that forced fumble from Matt Breida and a fumble recovery.
Los Angeles will need Donald’s leadership during its upcoming four-game stretch against four of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. The Rams are the NFL’s only unbeaten team as they begin the gauntlet with a visit from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (3-2-1) on Sunday.
McVay and Wade Phillips, his veteran defensive coordinator, haven’t said much to their players about the Rams’ unbeaten record yet. They’re aware of the length and difficulty of a full NFL season, and they don’t want the Rams to get ahead of their next challenge — particularly not before their bye week next month.
“The narrative is written every single week, and we want to continue to try to do a good job,” McVay said. “We don’t have to do anything other than try to be the best that we can one day at a time, and hopefully that leads to a good performance.”
The rest of the defense fed off the advantages created by Donald’s performance by forcing two fumbles and two interceptions. None of those turnovers arose from lucky bounces or deflections: Instead, McVay praised his defense for actively making plays to create opportunities for the Rams’ prolific offense.
“That was a big part of being able to win,” McVay said. “Get those short fields. Ultimately, it’s about scoring points. The yards are the yards. That doesn’t matter. What matters to us is scoring as many points as we can.”
McVay’s offense could be healthier when the Packers get to town on Sunday. Playmaking receiver Cooper Kupp is making steady progress back from the knee injury that sidelined him against the Niners, although McVay isn’t sure whether he’ll need one more week of rehab before playing again.
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