The New England Patriots’ offensive line is coming off a terrific two-game playoff stretch. Against the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs, two teams with a talented pass rush, quarterback Tom Brady was pressured just 15 times in total: he was hit thrice and hurried 12 additional times. While this speaks for Brady’s ability to quickly get rid of the football, it is also proof of the quality of New England’s offensive line.
Now, the unit will face quite possibly its toughest challenge to date — especially because of one man: Aaron Donald, who is not just the Los Angeles Rams’ best defensive player but arguably the best defensive player in all of football. The numbers speak for themselves, as Donald led the NFL with 20.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss during the regular season.
And even though he was kept sackless through the playoffs so far, the Patriots know about his talents and ability to single-handedly impact a game. “He’s a great athlete, the film study shows that,” said New England right offensive tackle Marcus Cannon about the 27-year old. “20+ sacks, numerous tackles for loss, forced fumbles. The guy’s a monster. It’s going to be a big task for us.”
“He’s an elite player,” added starting left guard Joe Thuney. “He’s in the MVP considerations as a defensive lineman, which is really almost unheard of. You see teams trying to prevent him from making big plays and he still manages to have remarkable numbers. It’s going to take a team effort, lot of communication, lot of technique.”
So far during the postseason, the Patriots have displayed all those traits at a tremendous level — which is what helped them slow down the likes of the Chargers’ Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa and the Chiefs’ Chris Jones, Dee Ford and Justin Houston. But Donald presents a different task due to his elite athletic skills and ability to fight his way through offensive linemen.
“He’s never blocked. You might think you have him at the next thing you know he’s past you,” said Patriots center David Andrews. “He’s quick, quick off the ball, he’s powerful. He’s a great player and he’s at the top of his game right now. He’s the best defensive player in football. We’re a good unit, played a lot of football together but it will be a big challenge this weekend and we’re going to have our hands full.”
The Patriots know that they have to be near-perfect going against Donald and the rest of Los Angeles’ terrific pass rush. But while Ndamukong Suh, Cory Littleton and company are all dangerous players in their own right, Donald is the focal point. You make a mistake against a guy like that, there’s no recovery,” said Andrews about facing off against the NFL’s likely defensive player of the year. “You gotta be on your game at all times. “