LOS ANGELES – One play.
Lane Taylor shook his head.
Aaron Donald, the reigning defensive player of the year for the Los Angeles Rams, was held to one assisted tackle and a whistle-induced sack before a 3rd-and-6 play from the Green Bay Packers’ 25-yard line with just under six minutes left in the game Sunday.
The Packers' offensive line and quarterback Aaron Rodgers felt they did a good job on Donald (who had four sacks a week ago) in a 29-27 loss to the Rams – but one play will stick out.
On that pivotal third down and hoping to drain the clock with a one-point lead, Packers center Corey Linsley felt Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips countered the Packers’ protection scheme by showing a front the offensive line had not seen to that point.
Coming out of a Packers timeout, Phillips stood linebacker Cory Littleton up right over Linsley. Donald was in a three-point stance over Taylor, the Packers’ left guard. After Linsley snapped the ball, he initially followed Littleton to his right – opening a window for Donald. By the time Linsley reacted to help left, Donald was already by Taylor. Down went Rodgers, and on comes JK Scott and the punting unit.
A 25-yard punt and fumbled kick return later, the Packers went from potentially draining the clock on a signature victory to walking slowly to the buses at 3-3-1.
One play then led to a snowball that couldn’t be stopped rolling downhill.
“Just, made a quick inside move and made the play,” Taylor said of Donald’s sack. “Did pretty decent the whole game but you gotta block ‘em all, no matter which play it is.”
Added Linsley: “They hadn’t shown that a ton of times on film so we were going to come back and hopefully make an adjustment.”
As for Donald’s first sack, which came on a 3rd-and-2 play in the third quarter, Linsley and Taylor insisted a whistle was blown. The interior of the offensive line stopped, thinking the play was dead. Linsley said an official acknowledged he heard a whistle as well. Instead of advancing to a first down, the Packers settled for Mason Crosby's field goal and a 13-8 lead.
“He had four sacks last week, so there was a reduction in that area,” Rodgers said of Donald. “I’m proud of my guys. My line, I can’t say enough great things about them. They came together. Byron (Bell)’s been a galvanizing force for us at guard. His attitude, his approach, he’s been fantastic. Obviously, I think we have the best left tackle (David Bakhtiari) in the league. The guys, we fought through some stuff and we made it work at times. I’m really proud of the way the guys played.”
But while Rodgers was sacked just three times, he was hit eight times. The defensive line of Donald, Michael Brockers (tackle for loss) and Ndamakong Suh and the varied run and pass blitzes Phillips called for his linebackers and secondary proved to be difficult for the Packers to manage up front.
This was no better displayed than when the Rams pinned the Packers back deep in their own territory to start drives in the in the second quarter.
In that quarter, in which the defense was forcing punt after punt, the Packers began possessions at their own 18, 4 and 1-yard lines – the last of which resulted in a safety when Aaron Jones was tackled for a loss on a run up the middle.
The Packers were leading 10-0 when those drives began, but instead of being able to extend the lead and put pressure on the Rams, the offense earned just one first down and rushed for minus-2 yards on those drives.
When the quarter was over, it was 10-8 and the Rams no doubt felt they like dodged a bullet.
“It was tough,” Rodgers said. “The way our defense was playing, that was obviously a momentum swing that we didn’t want. Backed up, those can be the back-breaking drives for a game if you can get some first downs together and change field position and get on the other side of the field, but we couldn’t get it started.”
And in the final moments, in one play, Donald helped finish it for the Rams.