October 10, 2023   5 MIN READ

Donald Stuck

All 22 Review: Birds Had Plan For Slowing Down Aaron Donald


Sometime years from now, in Canton, Ohio, when he’s delivering his Hall of Fame speech, Aaron Donald might actually conclude with: “And my numbers would’ve been even better if I never had to face the Eagles!”

While that peek into the future probably isn’t accurate, the context is absolutely true.

Donald on Sunday played his fifth career games against the Eagles, who stayed unbeaten thanks to the 23-14 win, and for the fifth time was held without a sack and prevented from wrecking the Eagles’ offensive game plan.

The Rams are 1-4 in the Donald era and the future Hall of Fame defensive tackle has just six quarterback hits in those five games, a pedestrian number for nine-time Pro Bowl interior force.

Aaron Donald

GETTY IMAGES: The Eagles held Rams DT Aaron Donald in check en route to their 23-14 win at Sofi Stadium.

How’d the Eagles do it? At the risk of sounding cliche, stopping Donald required a team effort from the offensive line.

The All-22 revealed the Eagles executed their plan of making sure multiple bodies got their arms and hands on Donald, who as he typically does, aligned all over the Rams’ defensive front.

A healthy combination of slide protection, double teams, triple teams (!), chip blocks and play calling designed, at times, to get the ball out of Jalen Hurts’ hands quickly all helped in the “Stop Donald” effort.

Rare was the Hurts dropback when Donald wasn’t accounted for, and wasn’t met with multiple bodies, like on this early quick out from Hurts to tight end Goedert:

With the Rams in a “loaded front” and Donald deployed over right tackle Lane Johnson looking to crash the “B” gap,  the Eagles slide their protection to the right side to have left guard Landon Dickerson wash down on the nose tackle to let Jason Kelce double team Donald, giving Hurts enough time to execute a three-step drop.

Same strategy on five-step drops – get bodies on Donald, and get Hurts cooking against five-man rushes that leave A.J. Brown singled up.

Here’s another slide to Donald’s slide with right guard Sua Opeta getting help from Kelce as Dickerson picks up the nose tackle.

The slide enabled Kelce, Opeta and right tackle Lane Johnson to form a wall of protection against Donald and the right-side edge pressure. Also key was tight end Jack Stoll on the left side holding his own against the Rams’ edge defender as Goedert comes across the line of scrimmage to look for work.

The Eagles were in 12 personnel more than usual – Stoll played 22 snaps – to make sure they had extra protection against other Rams pass rushers while they allocated two offensive linemen to Donald.

Remember that picturesque 48-yard catch-and-run from Hurts to Brown on 3rd-and-1 with 17 seconds to go before the break, setting up Hurts’ touchdown?

No slide protection this time as Donald lined up directly over center to maneuver an inside stunt with linebacker Michael Hoecht looping around him. But the Eagles were ready.

Donald gets swallowed up by Kelce, Opeta and Dickerson — three blocking one! – but Dickerson does an excellent job switching off to barricade Hoecht’s inside rush, giving Hurts and Brown the extra second they needed to beat the Rams’ defense on a deep crosser that led Brown perfectly away from the defender and allowed the Pro Bowl wideout to get a chunk of extra YAC yards.

Was it always this perfect? Of course not.

Here’s Donald single-handedly blowing up an inside zone run:

Donald drove back left tackle Jordan Mailata – all 350 pounds of him – into the left-side “A” gap and forcing D’Andre Swift to move laterally instead of north-south. The Rams swarmed quickly, holding Swift to a modest gain.

That left-side “A” gap would’ve had plenty of space for Swift as the weak-side linebacker was covered up in the second level by Dickerson, but Donald moved Mailata like few defensive linemen can.

Remember that nifty third-down conversion from Kenneth Gainwell that came from a Hurts scramble? Gainwell’s blocking actually made the play possible:

Donald lined up as an edge rusher and executes a stunt inside with Ernest Jones (53) , while another linebacker – Christian Rozeboom (56) – loops around the outside edge, creating an overload on the right side of the Eagles’ line.

Opeta and Johnson do a phenomenal job passing off the initial stunt from Donald and Jones while Gainwell, originally kept in for extra protection, comes across the line of scrimmage to help chip on Rozeboom.

The protection worked, but the traffic in front forced Hurts out of the pocket and to his right, where he found … Gainwell now leaking out with plenty of green in front of him.

Just really good all-around execution, from the offensive line, to Gainwell’s pass pro, to Hurts keeping the play alive, to Gainwell then turning from chipper to receiver.

That’s the kind of back-breaking play that can demoralize an opponent.

Last one – another excellent blitz pick-up from Gainwell that allows Hurts to find Quez Watkins on another deep crosser/.

Again, Donald lined up as a wide-9 edge rusher and faked a rush around Johnson before stunting inside – only to be stonewalled by Gainwell, doing his best offensive guard impersonation, at the point of attack.

– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.

About The Author

Comments are closed here.