Aaron Donald vs the world; how the defensive tackle terrorized the Falcons

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Los Angeles Rams saw their wonderful run this season came to an abrupt end when they fell to the Atlanta Falcons in the opening game of the NFC playoffs. Their offense was inefficient and could not get by a stiff Falcons defense. Despite troubles on offense they managed to stay in the game until the end due to an incredible job by the Rams defense.

Los Angeles was able to hold the Falcons to field goals for a majority of the game, not allowing Atlanta to fully pull away from a struggling Rams team. Quarterback Matt Ryan was forced to operate under pressure almost all game, and they had trouble running between guards.

Much of this was the doing of defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

If you care enough about football to be reading a film breakdown in the first place you have heard of Aaron Donald and know his reputation around the league. Donald is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, and was recently named a near unanimous first team all pro. Saturday night was his first shot at putting his skills to test in the postseason, and he showed why he is regarded so highly around the NFL.

Pro Football Focus credits Donald with 10 hurries and a sack during the game, 9 of the hurries coming during the first half. He was consistently in Ryan’s face and the interior pressure he created helped his edge rushers create pressure of their own.

It did not take the Rams star interior lineman long to get going. He registered pressures on the first two defensive snaps of the game and kept Ryan on his heels near his own goal line.

Donald showed his versatility on those plays. While he usually lines up on the interior of the defensive line, where his brute force and strength allow him to bully the quarterback and push him out of the pocket. Despite his incredible size and strength, Donald still manages the speed necessary to become a dangerous edge rusher, where he can close around the pocket fast to land hits on the quarterback. He can line up anywhere on the defensive front and be an absolute terror for an opposing offense.

The Falcons offense was seemingly stuck in the mud for the early stages of the game. They only managed 16 yards on their first three possessions, as they could not get by Donald and Los Angeles’s defense.

On this play later in the first quarter of the Rams wild-card matchup, Donald gets the defense off the field on third down.


Donald is lined up as a defensive tackle as a part of Los Angeles five-man front on the play. His first punch deflects the hands of the guard in front of him. He catches a slap to the head, but is virtually unbothered as he blows by his opponent. Falcons center Alex Mack (No. 51), who was named first-team All-Pro by Bird Breakdowns last week, can not react in time switching on to Donald. Mack is late because he was distracted by the feigned blitz from one of the linebackers. Donald gets through the Falcons ranks with ease and barrels towards Ryan. The quarterback see’s him and attempts to slide away. With the defensive tackle breathing down his neck he is forced to throw an off balanced pass to his running back, which falls incomplete.

The ability to dispatch of blocks like they are nothing more than just speed bumps on the way to the quarterback make Donald a terror. He has incredible technique and can hand fight in the trenches better than anyone. He is a smart pass rusher and knows how to counter the first move of an offensive lineman as well as anyone, as he did on this second quarter play.

On this play, Donald is lined up in a similar spot in the same five-man front. Wes Schweitzer (No. 71) is the guard across from Donald here. The offensive lineman takes a few steps back off of the snap and eventually makes his first move to the defender. He leans in for the initial punch, and Donald embarrasses him. Donald uses a great swim move on Schweitzer’s shoulder and flings him to side with ease. Mack comes around to help, but the defensive tackle brute forces through him en route to the quarterback. Donald meets a teammate in the backfield as they join together to take down Ryan for a sack.

While Donald has a knack to stuff the box score himself, his pressure on the interior also creates plays for his teammates.

On this play, Donald is again lined up on the interior. He paths wide of his pass rush, helping the defensive end of the side overload the left side of the line of scrimmage, and open up space for a stunt on the inside. The overload from Donald, combined with the edge rusher from the other side, helps push Ryan into the pocket. With the pass rush behind him, the quarterback tries to make a play with his feet, and end up getting chased down from behind by the pass rushers.

While a majority of the plays that Donald makes are in pass rush, he is also an amazing run stuffer.

Tevin Coleman (No. 26) takes the handoff from Ryan on this second quarter play. He heads into the right side a gap. The Falcons pull a guard to help block on the play, and Coleman uses his agility to dodge the first potential tackler. Schweitzer is yet again on Donald and does a decent job creating space for Coleman. As the running back reaches his gap, Donald manages to shed his block and wrap his arms around the running back from behind and just tear him to the ground.

Donald’s run stuffing ability does not fill up the stat sheet the same way his pass rushing does, but he may be better against the run than he is when rushing the passer. His great instinct allows him always shed blockers and leverage himself to be in position to attack the runner.

While he had a great game, all of these plays by Donald were made during the first half. He was still an active pass rusher in the second half but was not as fearsome. He only registered one pressure after half time and had trouble getting to the quarterback. He was facing double teams pretty much all night, and while he managed to tear through them early on in the game he wore down. Just the pure gravity of having him stuffing up the middle allows his teammates more opportunity, but after Michael Brockers left the game with an injury the entire Rams defense began to slowly falter.

Donald is only 26 and should only get better over the next few years. He has a year left on his rookie contract with the Rams, and there are questions as to whether he will return in 2019. He held out of the early stages of training camp last summer, and if he does not receive an extension this year one of the most attractive free agents in the league may hit the market Spring 2019.

If Los Angeles does retain him, though, then they have found a centerpiece of what is a young, budding and exciting defense that can terrorize the NFL for years to come.


For more NFL news and breakdowns follow me on twitter!

More from Bird Breakdowns:

Jared Goff was a new man in 2017

Adrian Clayborn had a career day against the Cowboys

Header via GettyImages

Jared Goff is a brand new player in 2017

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Last winter I chose to do a film breakdown on a lot of the crucial players on a few bad teams. I chose many rookies, including Jordan Howard on the Bears and DeForest Buckner of the 49ers to highlight how good they were and how much they could bring to their team down the line. I decided to go a different direction with the Los Angeles Rams, though.

I chose Jared Goff.

Goff was arguably the worst quarterback in the league in 2016. He had an awful team around him but his decision making and mechanics were bad. I did not want to give up on him yet, but it seemed like it would be years before he at least became an average quarterback.

He has proved me wrong so far. Goff has completed 70% of his passes and has thrown five touchdowns through three games. His lone interception of the year came late in desperation against the Washington Redskins week two.

The Rams joined the San Francisco 49ers to put on a show on Thursday night football last week. They combined for 80 points in a game that went down to the wire. Goff put on a show for the national audience throwing for 292 yards and three touchdowns in what was his best game of his short career so far.

His best throw of the game was unfortunately dropped in the first quarter.

The Rams run a corner/vert combo on each side of the field with their running back running a shallow curl over the middle. The 49ers are in cover 2 man. Both of the 49ers linebackers drop in shallow coverage with the safeties behind them in zones of their own. Goff wants tight end Tyler Higbee running a vertical route into the end zone but the linebackers are blocking his throwing lane. He looks towards the shallow running back, which pulls one of the linebackers out of the way. He then throws a perfect bullet pass that should have been a touchdown had Higbee not dropped it.

The end result was not ideal but this is exactly what the Rams coaches want from their quarterback. His decision making and accuracy were questionable last year, but this play demonstrates a huge step forward for him. Last season he would have tried his best to sneak the ball over the linebacker. He clearly has increased his football IQ and has a better understanding. The pass itself was perfect, and one you would expect from the elite class of quarterbacks.

His deep ball was great all night for the second year quarterback. The Rams gave him the green light to let the ball fly downfield and his decision making and accuracy punished the 49ers defense.

The Rams run play action on this play against the 49ers blitz. Goff drops back to pass and his eyes instantly scan deep down the field. He sees Watkins has room ahead of his man. He delivers a great pass as he takes a hit from a defender and Watkins makes the catch for a huge gain.

Not only did Goff had the peace of mind to get that pass off despite the blitz, he placed it perfectly. The 49ers safety was coming over to help and should have gotten there in time to break up the play. He placed the ball towards the sideline instead of Watkins inside shoulder. Only the receiver could make a play on the ball and it gave him the ability to use his body as a shield to make sure he came down with it.

Goff would hook up with Watkins again late on a crucial touchdown, but it was a much shorter throw.

Goff again uses his eyes to clear room for his receiver here. Watkins and another receiver both run shallow curls, and there is a linebacker between them. The defender is in range to potentially break up a pass to either of them. Goff manages to look him off, causing him to clear the area. He darts the ball to Watkins who quickly turns upfield for a touchdown.

The second-year quarterback was not perfect, though. He sometimes would panic under pressure and get stuck on certain receivers. He had a tendency to always drop way back out of the pocket at the slightest signs of pressure and seemed scared to escape out of the pocket to the left. He also rarely steps up and into the pocket allowing the rush to close behind him.

On this play, he entirely misses an open man as he was too focused on his running back in the flat.

Goff drops back and has a clean pocket for the most part. The 49ers rush begins to come around the edge and the clock in his brain seems to go off. He stares down Todd Gurley the entire way and completes a pass to him that ends up losing a yard. Another receiver was wide open over the middle of the field, but Goff just never saw him. It did not cost the Rams much but being able to scan the entire field and not just panicking when the pressure still has not reached you are things that the young quarterback will have to work on over the next year.

It is clear that the improvements that Los Angeles made to the offensive line have done wonders for Goff. He is not spending the majority of his time just trying to escape the pocket with his life like he was last season, and has time to scan the field and deliver a good pass. When that protection does break down, though, he seems to struggle and make a few of the panicky mistakes you expect from a young quarterback.

Goff looks like an entirely different player this year, and the Rams look like a decent team that can steal a few games. With Seattle and Arizona struggling, a hot year from Goff could have the Rams competing for the NFC West title come winter.



I receive so many breakdown requests and I only wish I had the time to fulfill all of them. The best way to get your request done, and to support all of the content on Bird Breakdowns is to support the site on Patreon!

For more NFL news and breakdowns follow me on twitter!

More from Bird Breakdowns:

2016 Jared Goff

Stefon Diggs is a beast everywhere you put him

Deshone Kizer may also take a year to be good


Header via GettyImages

Was Jared Goff’s Rookie Season a Failure?

Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Los Angeles Rams were scheduled to have an exciting 2017. It was their first year back in Los Angeles after decades in St. Louis, running back Tod Gurley was set to have a breakout year, and they traded up for the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft. They selected Jared Goff out of California first overall, and Goff, alongside Gurley, were set up to be the faces of the franchise for the next decade.

Goff had troubles out the gate, though. Then coach Jeff Fisher chose Case Keenum as the teams starter for majority of the season, citing Goff’s inexperience and inability to call audibles at the line of scrimmage for the top pick being benched. Keenum was terrible, though, and the Rams needed a change to get back on track. Goff would take over as the full-time starter week 11, and Fisher was eventually fired.

The drafts first overall pick had a rough time once he did take over, though. This was his first career pass against the Miami Dolphins.

His offensive line falls apart in front of him and the ball is deflected by a defender.

It was an overall rough introduction to the NFL for Goff, only completing 54% of his passes for 134 yards. He also showed many of the flaws that would hold him back throughout the season, including inaccuracy and misplacing his passes.

On this pass to open up the second quarter, he attempts to throw to a receiver in tight coverage.

Goff attempts a back shoulder throw, a pass which works best throwing in to tight man coverage. Instead of throwing it just behind the receiver, Goff throws it over his head. The receiver can’t make a play on the ball and the down is wasted. Throws like this also potentially expose the receiver to brutal hit while going for the ball, and down the line can hurt his receivers as they have no way to protect themselves going up for the ball.

Overthrowing receivers was a problem throughout the season for Goff, and put his team in dangerous situations.

Against the Saints, with the Rams backed up to their own end zone Goff overthrew Tight End Lance Kendricks who had enough space to come down with the ball for a solid gain.

Goff again misses high, and dangerously lofts a ball into the Saints secondary. If the Saints Safety was hovering behind the play/ then the ball would have been intercepted and taken the other way.

While Goff escaped an interception there, he would not get out of the game cleanly. He threw this interception during the third quarter.

The pass was accurate, but it was a terrible pass to throw to a receiver with two defenders surrounding him. Another flaw is Goff’s play this season is also glaringly obvious in this play, he has a knack for ridding of the ball as fast as possible, almost always to his first receiving option, no matter what.

He may have picked up this trait due to the terrible offensive line he has in front of him, that we will touch on later, but on the previous play he had time to potentially look somewhere else and go through his progressions. He instead chooses to unload it into coverage and cost his team.

Goff had a decent game against the Saints, throwing for his first three NFL touchdowns, and his 214 yards are his highest total outside of a game against the Falcons where his stats were padded during a garbage time blowout (Saints blew them out too).

The second touchdown of the day is another example of some of the issues he has with quick passes.

The Rams ran a designed slant to Kenny Britt for a touchdown, and got the result they wanted. Goff’s pass was inaccurate though. When throwing a slant on a short yardage situation, you want to place your pass slightly in front of the receiver, so they can catch it with their momentum leaning forward. The pass was to towards the center and Britt had to jump horizontally to make the catch. If the Saints had better linebackers, Britt would have taken a hard hit upon catching it, if he could even hold on, and would not reach the end zone. Britt managed to make the catch and bounce off a man as he scored, but the play is still alarming as we see Goff miss throw a short routine pass.

Failure to properly read coverage and inaccurate passes haunted Goff throughout the season. He made a few crucial errors during the Rams surprising week 16 loss to the 49ers.

Early on during the game he threw an interception by trying to force a pass over two defenders.

He floated the ball over the first level, allowing the pass to be jumped in the secondary and returned for good field position for the 49ers.

Goff had his first chance to orchestrate a game winning drive late in the game, and with his team trailing by only one with less than a minute left, the pressure was on.

He failed to deliver. His last two passes of the game were awful, and sealed the defeat for his team.

On this play, he has decent protection in front of him, and his first option is open after breaking off of his route. Goff sees him open and throws into the ground in front of him.

Yet another interception ends the game for the Rams, and it is yet again and example of Goff not looking past his first option, and throwing a bad pass.

Goff takes the snap and is looking an Brian Quick (#83) the whole way. He throws a wobbling pass towards the sideline, where the defensive back has leverage and positioning. The pass was both a terrible decision and it was terribly executed. The ball is intercepted and the 49ers seal a season sweep over the Rams (they were 0-14 against everyone else).

Despite his errors, Goff still isn’t a terrible quarterback. He has shown flashes of the talent that earned him his spot as the top draft choice. He is only a rookie, and the Rams knew from the beginning of the season that he was a raw talent that needed work.

Many of the bad plays Goff was credited for this season may not even be his fault. Goff had little to no help around him this season, and the Rams may overall have one of the worst rosters in football.

Goff’s teammates gave him all sorts of trouble this season, like letting balls bounce off of their hands for interceptions

And an offensive line that lets defenders practically run over them all game, leading to easy sacks and errant throws

(I went further in depth into the 49ers pass rush during this game in the breakdown for DeForest Buckner)

The Rams need help all around the roster. With one of the league’s worst offensive lines, a non existent defense outside of Aaron Donald and awful receivers, the Rams have time to wait for Goff to find his way in the NFL. Rebuilding their receiving corps and offensive line will be huge priorities for the Rams this summer, whether through the draft or free agency, the Rams roster needs help. Once they finally put the pieces together, Goff may finally emerge as the talent they hoped they were drafting last spring.

For more NFL news and breakdowns follow me on twitter!

More from Bird Breakdowns:
Watch out for Joey Bosa

Kenny Stills; more than just a deep threat

Header via GettyImages