CLEVELAND — There is no rest for the weary in the National Football League, not at least for the Cleveland Browns.
Fresh off of their first Monday Night Football appearance in nearly four years, a 23-3 win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium, the Browns returned home and immediately began preparations for their return to Sunday Night Football and what awaits is a game against the reigning NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams.
Although the offense gets the credit for the Rams’ run of success over the last two-plus years, defensive tackle Aaron Donald is one of the key cogs for the team and the Browns know they are in for quite the challenge Sunday night.
“He is the best player in the league,” offensive lineman Joel Bitonio said. “He is strong against the run. He is strong against the pass. He does everything well. People say coming out he was undersized slightly and things like that, but he has all of the power you need to play that position and all of the leverage you need.”
Despite having only two tackles through the first two weeks of the 2019 season, Donald is one of the highest paid and most productive defenders in the NFL, and has a penchant for getting into the backfield and disrupting opposing offenses.
In five-plus seasons with the Rams, Donald has recorded 59.5 sacks, including a league-best 20.5 during the 2018 season.
“It is a tremendous challenge for our guys up front to keep him under wraps and the disruption that he causes and put that on a very minuscule level,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. “Of course, it all starts with protection. Everything we do starts with protection.”
Running back Nick Chubb added, “He is a monster. He is a beast. Every play, he is going full speed, 100 miles per hour. He is hard to stop. We have to do our best every play to make sure we have someone on him and someone to try and slow him down.”
Listed at 6-foot-1, 280 pounds, Donald was considered small when he was auditioning for the NFL at the 2014 Senior Bowl, but despite the doubts, he has registered at least eight sacks in each of his first five professional seasons.
Donald has three single-season double-digit sack totals to his name (2015, 2017-2018), including a career-best 20.5 last year.
“I feel like those guys have built-in leverage,” Bitonio said. “They are not the biggest human beings, but they are not asked to take on double-teams all of the time. They are asked to penetrate and be disruptive, and that is something he is really good at.”
Like Bitonio, Kitchens saw Donald perform at the Senior Bowl and has not been surprised by his NFL production.
“His speed, his quickness and his reaction, he does not play small all the time either,” Kitchens said. “If you try to jump out on him and quick-set him and all that, he can get you with power. His speed to power is pretty good. He is almost rushing like an end most of the time.
“I saw Aaron Donald in Mobile defeat the center on one on ones. He beat the center, he moved out the 3-technique and he beat the guard, and then, moved to end and beat the tackle. He has been a good player for a long time, and he continues to get better. We have our work cut out for us there.”