Prior to the fourth quarter of their loss to the Chicago Bears, the Cowboys had only scored 31 points over the previous 11 quarters. The result was three consecutive losses. In order to end their losing streak, the Cowboys will need their offense to round back into playoff form against the Los Angeles Rams. Unfortunately, they'll be lining up against a man who has spent the past three teams wreaking havoc on offensive game plans.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the two-time reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and he's currently the odds-on favorite to win it this season, which would make him the first player in NFL history to be awarded the title in three consecutive seasons.
Donald disrupts offensives in every phase of their attack. "[He's] just a remarkably good football player," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday. "He's an elite pass rusher. He's an elite run defender." Donald currently leads the league in tackles for losses.
Donald had a slow start to the season, at least by his standards, but unfortunately for the Cowboys, he has come on strong as of late to reclaim his status as the best defensive player in football. He has 11 sacks on the season, but 10 of them have come since Week 6. He's recorded
at least one sack in seven of the last eight games.
While plenty of eyes will be on running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley, or Jared Goff and Dak Prescott and their stable of weapons, the best matchup on the field may be the Cowboys' proven offensive line versus Donald, who has a rare combination of strength and speed. He goes around stronger linemen and goes through quicker ones.
"He's able to change it up and do it all," said guard Xavier Su'a-Filo. "The thing about elite players like that is they expose your weaknesses if you have them. He'll exploit them. He requires you to play at your best every single snap."
Prescott will likely have to complete at least a few passes with Donald in his face, but Elliott is more than aware of how the defensive tackle can prevent him from doing his job on the field. When asked what stood out about the Rams' defense Elliott immediately responded by stating Donald's jersey number "99." Donald's run defense helped hold Elliott to 47 yards rushing in their playoff matchup last season.
"He's probably been the most disruptive player in the league in the last three years," Elliott said. "He does it all. You've got to know where he is at all times."
Every team that wants to walk out of a game against the Rams with a victory has to contend with Donald. Consistently winning matchups against one of the most dominant defensive players in NFL history might be asking too much, but the Cowboys will need to at least manage to execute their gameplan despite his presence.
If you ask Garrett what makes Donald great, it's quite simple: "Someone told me a long time ago that the number one trait for a defensive lineman is 'be hard to block.' He's hard to block."