Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the type of guy who will eat your lunch, then come back for seconds.
And in the case of Cam Newton, a dollop of wallop on the side.
Donald, the NFL’s most statistically dominant pass rusher in quarterback hurries (38 entering Sunday’s game, according to Pro Football Focus) is a run-stuffing, stunting, quarterback-chewing lawnmower of a tackle. Against Carolina, he had two sacks (both on third down and for a loss of 10 and 9 yards, respectively), two hurries and four tackles, three of which were for a loss.
“I thought (we handled him) about as good as anybody can,” said coach Ron Rivera, fittingly perspiring after the Panthers squeaked past Los Angeles 13-10. “The guy’s an explosive football player. He’s got some good guys around him, too. I thought their pressure package was outstanding. They hit the quarterback a couple times.”
Donald helped the Rams’ defensive front to five sacks and five hurries on Newton, and was key in limiting the Panthers’ run game to 59 yards – hassling an offensive line without starting center Ryan Kalil (who is still recovering from a shoulder injury), and starting left tackle Michael Oher (who is advancing through concussion protocol).
Kalil watched from the sideline, and said he saw the “exact player they had all watched on film” in Donald.
“You got to give them credit,” added Rivera. “Very, very physical game.”
“You know, they were a physical bunch. They are explosive off the ball. They get in creases and they penetrate. … They forced Jonathan (Stewart) to move the ball outside. They played very well up front.”
Carolina’s offensive line did bend – and bend some more. Donald beat guard Andrew Norwell and fill-in left tackle Mike Remmers on his sacks, and Newton seemed to find it difficult to get into any sort of offensive rhythm. Running back Stewart was held to 8 yards on nine carries in the first half.
But the line kept working to punch Stewart through a gap, and in the fourth quarter he finally found a hole for his biggest gain of the day – – 17 yards, followed by a 6-yard carry – to set up a field goal by Graham Gano and push the Panthers ahead 10-0.
“I told Mike (Shula), ‘Call your game,’ ” said Rivera. “ ‘Don’t get out of your rhythm.’ ”
The Panthers never fully broke against the Rams’ physicality as they did in, say, losses to Denver or Minnesota this season.
“It’s very satisfying, especially in a game like this, to come out on top,” said Rivera. “We played a couple of real physical games, Denver being one of them. And so to come out on top in a game like this, it’s huge. It speaks very well to our ability to be a tough football team, a physical football team and hopefully it’ll pay dividends as we start to go forward.”
Carolina might not have been able to do much – the offensive line pulled gaps worth just 59 yards on the ground and the offense was held to 244 total (an average of 3.9 per play), but it was just enough to stave off the Rams.
“I felt like given the challenge of one of the better defensive fronts we’ll face all year, I felt like (the offensive line) did a great job,” said Kalil. “I know the guys would have liked to put up more points in the red zone, but I think if you can control the field position and come away with points … But our guys did a great job all week and that’s a big reason for this win.”
An exhausted Remmers echoed Kalil’s sentiment in the locker room.
“Just win. That’s the only thing that matters. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but we got the win and that’s all that matters. It’s just, everything feels better after a win. We’re happy now.”