INDIANAPOLIS – They are “star” players in more than one way.
Yes, they have several All-Pro and Pro Bowl designations in their bio, and one of them has the distinction of being one of three players in NFL history with also three defensive player honors from the year.
And that undeniable star status is why there is a second “star” when mentioning DeForest Buckner or Aaron Donald.
This guy is the one that catches the eye when the offensive coordinators make game plans for the next game. And the next game in question is Buckner’s Indianapolis Colts vs. Donald’s Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“He’s got to be the guy people put a star on when they talk about our defense and say, ‘Okay, we’ve got to have an answer for this guy,” Colts defensive line coach Brian said. Baker. man, Buckner.
Have an answer for Buckner or Donald, if not.
On Sunday, it will be nearly impossible not to notice the presence of Buckner, Indy’s advanced 3-technique tackle, and Donald, his Rams’ domineering counterpart.
Donald has certainly been at the forefront of the discussion whenever the Colts’ offense met this week, and quarterback Carson Wentz won’t need a tracker on Sunday to find him.
“You are always aware of it,” he said. “Anytime you play a dominant D lineman like him, I mean everyone knows how good he is. So you have to be aware of him.”
Since his selection 13e overall by the Rams in the 2014 draft, Donald has been a relentless force. Last season, he joined Lawrence Taylor and JJ Watt as the only three NFL Defensive Players of the Year (2020, ’18, ’17), and he racked up 86.5 sacks, 202 hits and 132 tackles for losses in eights and more. seasons and 111 games.
In 2018, Donald generated 20.5 sacks, 41 hits and 25 tackles for a loss, all ridiculous numbers for a defensive tackle.
“We never say we fear anyone,” said Wentz, “but we are aware and we know where it is, and that kind of goes into the game plan.
“He’s a great player and we have to take care of him.
This means frequent double teams by guard and tackle, or guard and center if Donald pinches more on the inside. That means giving him as few one-on-one opportunities as possible while still trying to get things done on offense, and the Rams are making it harder by knocking him side to side.
“Like any other team, you determine what their strengths are, and he’s obviously one of their defending strengths,” said offensive coordinator Marcus Brady. “You try to plan the game around that where you’re potentially trying to get doubles teams when you can.
“Sometimes the front calls where you can’t, but you try as hard as you can.”
In the Rams’ first 34-14 win over Chicago, the Bears limited Donald’s number, but not his impact. He was credited with three tackles and a sack.
The only sack came in the fourth quarter with the Rams in full pressure mode. Donald used his quick burst and efficient fight to slip inside Bears left guard Cody Whitehair and chase down Andy Dalton.
A few plays earlier, Donald shrugged Whitehair again and arrived at Dalton. He couldn’t finish the game but got an assist as linebacker Justin Hollins got his second sack of the game.
The Colts offense had a long glimpse of the disruptive effect of an elite defensive tackle during training camp. Every day he had to face Buckner.
Even without that daily exposure to Buckner in Westfield, the offense understands what lies ahead with Donald.
“Yeah,” Brady said with a smile, “I’m pretty sure they know what this guy can do. “
Likewise, the Rams realize the threat posed by Buckner. They faced him twice a year from 2016 to 2019 when he anchored in the middle of the San Francisco 49ers defensive line.
Whenever the opportunity presents itself, Buckner takes the time to read Donald carefully.
“Every time the Rams play, I watch Aaron,” he said. “It is a force. It’s a one-man wrecking team, and you absolutely need to know where he is at all times. ”
As dominant as Donald is, Buckner has taken his game to a similar level.
Since his selection 7e overall by the 49ers in 2016, he has more tackles (326) and solos (207) than any d tackle. His 39 sacks are third behind Donald (66.5) and Chris Jones of Kansas City (42.5), and his 49 tackles for a loss were second behind Donald’s 92.
Buckner was a 2019 second-team All-Pro selection and joined Donald as a first-team All-Pro selection last season.
They are the perfect example of elite players at the same position – who wear the same number 99 – from disparate molds. Buckner is 6’7 ″, 295 pounds. Donald is 6’1 ″, 280.
“We’re different builds, you know what I mean?” Buckner said. “He’s got different skills and little things like that. Obviously I watch some of the things he does, and I’m like, “Let me try to do some things.” “
“I try to do it with all types of players. I watch their game and see what I can take from them, and if it works, it works. If not, it isn’t. ”
Buckner was asked if he was motivated by Donald’s individual accomplishments – the three nods for Defensive Player of the Year, being named to the 2000s NFL’s Team of the Decade despite starting his career. career in ’14, all seven Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections in each of the last six seasons.
“I try to pursue my own end result,” he said. “Last year I played pretty well. I want to be better this year of course.
“I’m chasing mine. I’m not suing anyone else. ”
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