Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack were at the top of the NFL defensive world at 27 in 2018.
Los Angeles Rams’ star defensive tackle Donald won his second straight NFL Defensive Player of the Year trophy with a whopping 20.5 sacks, setting the NFL record for sacks by a defensive tackle . His efforts helped lead the Rams to Super Bowl LIII, where they lost to the New England Patriots.
But unbelievable as Donald was, Mack was right by his side in the defensive hierarchy. The top runner, traded to the Chicago Bears by the Oakland Raiders just before this season, was a first-team All-Pro selection, racking up 12.5 sacks and helping the Bears advance to their first playoff spot in eight. seasons.
But as the two meet Monday night at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., They don’t sit 1-2 at the top of the NFL defensive hierarchy. Donald, after 12.5 sacks and a fifth consecutive All-Pro selection last year, has already racked up 7.5 sacks this season and appears to be the favorite for a third DPOY in four seasons (he also won in 2017). Mack, while still a Pro Bowler, was not an All-Pro last year and his status as Donald’s main DPOY contender was threatened.
Separated by the age of three months, is there a greater separation in production? We ask Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson and Rams reporter Lindsey Thiry to break the defensive stars.
In 2018, the two had monster seasons. Since then, their trajectories have diverged somewhat. What went well for Donald and bad for Mack?
Dickerson: There is nothing “wrong” with Mack. Rather, Mack is a victim of his own success. Most players would be thrilled to end a season with 47 tackles, 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles – Mack’s numbers in 2019 – but Mack astronomically raised the bar the year before. He failed to dominate last season like he did in 2018; Mack’s first year in Chicago after the Raiders traded him before Week 1. The good news for the Bears – and the bad news for the rest of the NFL – is that Mack is back. He already has 4.5 sacks for one of the best defenses in the league. Mack terrorized Tom Brady in Week 5 and even threw Tampa’s starting right tackle for good measure. Good luck, Jared Goff.
Thiry: Ask any teammate, coach, or even opponent, and they’ll tell you that Donald’s effort on every game, whether it’s a practice or a game, is second to none. He doesn’t take a game and he doesn’t take a day off (even after the Super Bowl appeared, Donald only rested for a few days before resuming his grueling workouts). “He’s never complacent,” said Rams coach Sean McVay. “When you look at the way he works and gives himself a chance to improve because of the consistency and attention to detail, focus and focus he takes on every thing he does, it’s good to be around. Donald continues to find new ways to get his job done through unparalleled dedication and hard work.
In what type of defensive scheme does each prosper the most? Offer an example of their best game since 2018?
Dickerson: Mack is a pure 3-4 outside linebacker. He’s so talented that he sometimes lines up with his hand on the floor, but he’s the most dangerous outside of the two-point position. Mack showed the whole NFL – in case she didn’t already know – just how multidimensional he was when he made his Bears debut against the Packers in Week 1 of the 2018 season. Mack became the first player since 1982 to record a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, interception and touchdown in a half.
Thiry: Donald spent three seasons playing in a 4-3 defense, then moved up to a 3-4 in 2017 when former Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips arrived. New defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has maintained 3-4 base after being hired this season. Donald has thrived regardless of the schedule, but this season there is an increase in how often Donald lines up at different places along the line. “In some situations, we definitely want to make sure he’s not a static target and in the same spot,” says McVay. “It’s much easier to plan a game for a player of his size when you know where he’s going to be. The Rams and Donald therefore tried to guess their opponents. In a Week 5 victory over the Washington soccer team, Donald broke for four sacks of the season. “I got blocked in singles,” said Donald.
How does a team game plan for Donald? For Mack?
Dickerson: Carefully. Block Mack with a guy at your own risk. And if you overtake Mack, it frees up room for defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and passer Robert Quinn, who played around 30-35 shots per game. Basically the Bears are really, really tough on defense when Mack is at his best. You’d better blow Mack up and get rid of the ball quickly. Otherwise, it could get ugly for the opposing quarterback.
Thiry: The 49ers provided a plan last Sunday, when they beat the Rams 24-16. Donald had no sack and only had one quarterback hit on Jimmy Garoppolo. “It was a lot of perimeter type stuff, where you see a lot of that kind of flip game. … Lots of raffle action, ”McVay said. “Lots of concepts and different things that they were activating to minimize the impact you can have as an inner actor, where they really stretched your limits in your second and third levels. Watch out for other teams to try and emulate what the Niners have accomplished; However, it’s likely that Donald spent the week figuring out how to beat this ploy.
What was the Achilles heel of their respective games?
Dickerson: The supporting cast. The Bears had a ton of injuries last year, which contributed to Mack’s decline. Without Hicks (elbow injury much of 2019) or a constant passer on the other side (former first-round pick Leonard Floyd), the teams focused almost all of their attention on stopping Mack. For six weeks, the only serious loss the Bears suffered in defense was nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who stepped down this summer due to COVID-19 issues. Mack is especially dangerous when the rest of the defense is healthy.
Thiry: As an individual, Donald does not have an Achilles heel. He is dominant in every way. The only problem, like Mack, is that opponents are able to grab Donald due to a lack of dominant passers coming from the rim this season. Floyd, who the Bears released in the offseason, has maintained a lingering presence and has two sacks. However, the opposing position against Floyd remained in motion as the Rams shuffle several players in an attempt to establish a more consistent passing rush.
How will everyone impact Monday night’s game?
Dickerson: Mack is such a force that Los Angeles will have to convince him. Unfortunately for the Rams, Hicks is also having a monster year and is on the verge of being unable to block at times. Security Eddie Jackson is an opportunistic playmaker. Cornerback Kyle Fuller is a former Pro Bowler. Veteran Safety Tashaun Gipson already has two interceptions. Roquan Smith is Chicago’s main tackle. The defense feeds off the attention paid to Mack, who impacts games not only through his play but also through his presence.
Thiry: The bears will have to report to Donald at all times. Even facing a double team on 70.1% of his passes this season, Donald has a maximum of 7.5 sacks. And the worst news to date for the Bears is that Donald just put in a downward performance against the 49ers that will see him join quarterback Nick Foles. Donald has not been in two straight sackless games since weeks 5 and 6 of 2019. Watch his pressure to force Foles to make stray shots that the Rams secondary, led by cornerback Jalen Ramsey, will be ready to capitalize on .
The Bears will win if Mack… / The Rams will win if Donald…
Dickerson: … Play the way he is able to play. The Bears need Mack to sack Goff about once or twice and hit him five to six times. The Bears will have to rely on their defense to win. Maybe Mack can jump in on offense as well. It would also be helpful.
Thiry: … Makes Foles uncomfortable. The Rams’ defense got sacks in clusters – see their eight sacks against Washington. So if Donald is able to lead the way against an offensive line that has a 57.3% pass block win rate (16th in the NFL), it could be a long night for Foles and other pointers. play on an offense that, at least statistically, is ranked among the least productive in the league.