2018 has been the season of Aaron Donald in Los Angeles. Yes, Jared Goff is putting up terrific numbers, Todd Gurley is having a historic season and the receivers are all doing their thing on offense, but Donald has been the player that comes up big time and time again for the Los Angeles Rams. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year did so again Sunday in a 30-16 victory over the Detroit Lions.
The victory put the Rams at 11-1 and allowed them to clinch the NFC West title, the first team to clinch their division. It was an offensive struggle for much of the game, but the Rams defense came up with big plays that turned the tide in their favor.
Aaron Donald Goes Off, Helps Los Angeles Rams Clinch NFC West Title
99 Problems but Aaron Donald Ain’t One
The Rams haven’t played a game since the stellar back-and-forth contest with the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11 and the rust showed on offense. Sean McVay‘s unit was forced to punt and threw an interception in two of their first three offensive possessions. Despite the slow start, the Lions offense could not move the ball either thanks to the play of the Rams defensive front. Donald, Dante Fowler Jr., and Ndamukong Suh continued to make tackles behind the line of scrimmage and forced Matthew Stafford into making rushed decisions.
The Rams finished the game with four sacks and nine tackles for loss and Donald led both those categories with two and four respectively. No play was bigger than Donald’s sack of Stafford early in the fourth quarter. After back-to-back scoreless drives for the Rams, Donald came bursting through the offensive line and strip-sacked Stafford. The ball was recovered by Samson Ebukam at the Lions 24, and three plays later, the Rams capitalized by scoring a touchdown. With the score at 16-13, the game was still fairly up for grabs but Donald put an end to any comeback hopes in Detroit.
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 2, 2018
Donald and company continued to force pressure the rest of the game and accumulated holding penalties against the offensive line. The Lions were called for eight penalties Sunday, five of which were holding calls against their offensive line. Donald now has 16.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss on the season, both leading the NFL. Remember when the Rams did not want to pay Donald during the off-season/preseason? I am sure they don’t have any regrets about caving into his contract demands now.
Run Gurley Run
Gurley put on another fantastic display Sunday in the victory over the Lions. Like the rest of the offense, Gurley had a tough time getting things going early on in the match. However, he came through when his team needed him most, and finished the game with 132 rushing yards, three receptions, 33 receiving yards, and two touchdowns.
Like Donald on the defensive side, Gurley gets asked to close out a lot of the games for the Rams. Time and time again have we seen Gurley burst through the defensive front in a must-stop third down situation, with a game-clinching first down. He was able to secure the victory again against the Lions late in the fourth quarter. Up by a score of 23-16 with just under three minutes to go, the Rams needed to run as much clock out while the Lions were trying to make a stop with all three timeouts remaining. On a third and three, Gurley ran off the left side and busted out a 36-yard run to the Lions two-yard line. He could have easily walked into the end zone. Instead, Gurley ran laterally across the field chewing as much time off the clock as he could. Two plays and 50 seconds later, Gurley scored his second touchdown and gave the Rams a comfortable 30-16 lead late in the game.
The Rams have four games remaining on their schedule and only next week’s opponent, the Chicago Bears, have a winning record. With the division clinched, we could see more and more of the Rams backups play significant minutes as McVay will want to keep his starters fresh for the postseason.