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HOLD THE LINE: Can Saints O-Lineman Andrus Peat Stop Dominant Rams All-Pro Aaron Donald?

In the NFL, there have been a litany of feared and dominant defensive players that went on to become legendary; and even most "younger" Saints fans are familiar with the names of those all-time greats such as Chuck Bednarik, Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, Deacon Jones, "Mean" Joe Greene, Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, and recently-retired Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

And when the (6-1) Saints host the undefeated (8-0) (and the undisputed #1 team in the NFL) Los Angeles Rams this Sunday, they'll have the difficult task of facing the newest name to that list of defensive legends: 5th year All-Pro Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald — the current NFL leader in sacks (10) and easily the League's most feared and dominant player right now.

Photo courtesy of The Los Angeles Times

As of this very moment, the Rams are actually "only" tied for 8th overall in the NFL with a total of 22 sacks, but 10 of those came from Donald; who has been an absolute terror this season and perhaps even more so then last season when he won the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year award.

This past Sunday in Los Angeles' 29-27 victory over the Green Bay Packers, Donald sacked one of the League's "elite" QB's — Packers QB Aaron Rodgers — twice and delivered four quarterback hits. In 5 more days from now, Donald will have another "elite" QB he'll be going after, in Saints QB Drew Brees.

The analytics website Pro Football Focus says that Donald has totaled 52 quarterback pressures this season, which is the 2nd-most most for any defensive player during the first 8 weeks of a season since 2006.

In his career, Donald has recorded 49.0 sacks in 70 regular-season games. That’s an average of 0.68 sacks per game. By comparison, former Minnesota Vikings All-Pro DT John Randle, who holds the NFL record for sacks by a defensive tackle in a career with 137.5 sacks, averaged 0.63 sacks per game during his Hall of Fame career with Minnesota (1990-2000) and also with Seattle (2001-03).

Donald currently has a very good chance to become the first tackle to lead the NFL in sacks since former Saints defensive tackle La’Roi Glover led the NFL with a league-high 17 of them back during the Saints 2000 Regular Season. Since 1982, when sacks started to be recorded, only Glover and Randle (in 1997) have led the league in sacks as defensive tackles.

Donald’s career high is 11 sacks, which he first recorded as a 2nd-year player in the 2015 season, and then once again last year in 2017. He’s already within ONE single sack of that mark with 8 games to go, and that number seemingly increases from week-to-week at times.

Photo courtesy of The Los Angeles Times

As a matter of fact, it was only just 2 weeks ago when he THOROUGHLY dominated the San Francisco 49ers with four sacks, one other tackle for loss and a forced fumble, while nearly destroying 49ers QB CJ Beathard.

“You don’t see those kind of games very often by a defensive player who dominates a game like that,” Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips told reporters after Donald's performance at San Francisco.

“I’ve been very lucky to be around some great ones, and they’ve done it every once in a while, and it’s a tremendous accomplishment and obviously helps your team so much. It lifts your team when he’s making all kinds of plays like that.”

(Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Donald moves around a lot in the Rams’ 3-4 scheme; and last season against the Saints in Los Angeles' 26-20 win over the Black and Gold out in California, Donald made his presence felt early and often; and took full advantage of a Saints O-Line that was beset by injury issues.

With starting left tackle Terron Armstead out, the Saints were essentially forced to shuffle around their line-up along the O-Line, and Los Angeles was quick to pounce on New Orleans' weakness.

The Rams noticeably rattled Brees — and Los Angeles' front four led by Donald, hit and harassed the future Hall of Fame QB several times throughout the entire contest.

As it turns out, Brees was actually fortunate not to have thrown a few interceptions in last year's game against the Rams, since at least two of his passes appeared to be intended for Rams defensive backs rather than the Saints wide receivers.

But Armstead will be healthy this time around however, which means of course that starting left offensive guard and 4th year veteran Andrus Peat will draw the assignment on most snaps against the dominant Donald, in this coming Sunday's epic meeting.

(Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

As noted yesterday by The Ringer NFL writer Robert Mays: Donald isn’t likely to have same the impact against the Saints offensive line that he does against other units.

With guard Andrus Peat back in the fold after he's dealt previously with a few nagging injury issues, New Orleans has been one of the most complete pass-blocking lines in all of Pro Football.  Peat, who did not play against the Ravens 2 weeks ago because of a concussion sustained in practice, played well in the win at Minnesota and clearly is become a key contributor for the Saints' offensive success this season.

Mays notes that Brees is also getting rid of the ball in 2.38 seconds on average, tied for the 6th-quickest time in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Even for the best team in football, Mays adds that this coming Sunday's contest is a bad match-up for the Rams, in a historically tough road environment.

Mays also adds that it’s not hard to imagine the Rams offense scoring 40 points against the Saints, but it’s just as easy to see New Orleans turning the game into a shoot-out that favors whichever quarterback gets the ball last.

However, that only happens if Peat and his Saints O-Line teammates, can "hold the line" against Donald and the rest of that Rams D-Line featuring defenders such as Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers.

Photo courtesy of The Los Angeles Times

Collectively, this current Rams D-Line is almost as good as their own team's legendary defensive players, the famous "Fearsome Foursome" defensive front four (Rosey Grier, Lamar LundyMerlin Olsen and the previously-mentioned Deacon Jones) of the late 1960's and early 1970's.

Can Peat and the Saints O-Line manage to stop the dominant Donald and the rest of the Rams D-Line from hitting and harassing Brees this Sunday at the Superdome, in one of the most highly-anticipated Saints regular season games in recent memory?

In just 5 more days from now, we'll undoubtedly get the answer....

 

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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