THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — San Francisco already knows what Aaron Donald is capable of. He has a sack for the Rams in their last six meetings with the 49ers.
The 49ers will spend this week breaking down a performance at Washington in which the most dominant defensive tackle in the NFL tied his career high with four sacks, but seeing Donald at his best is nothing new to coach Kyle Shanahan.
“I don’t know when I’ve ever gone against him and he hasn’t been coming off a great game,” Shanahan said Wednesday, “because that’s what he does. I mean, he’s as good as it gets in the run game and the pass game. So, whatever you want to bring him up, he’s a problem.”
While the 49ers will be looking back for hints on how to stop him, Donald was looking forward to Los Angeles’ NFC West opener almost immediately after the 30-10 win over Washington. He didn’t offer much reflection on his second career four-sack game, other than noting he was single-blocked on all four.
Defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has tried to limit how much opponents can focus their blocking schemes on Donald by moving him around the front. With 7 1/2 sacks through five games, Donald’s best start in seven seasons, it is working.
“I like moving around,” Donald said Thursday. “I don’t mind it, you know. Get some freedom here or there, try to find different opportunities to still do my job and be productive about getting to the quarterback or whatever the case may be, so I don’t mind it. I kind of like it.”
When offensive lines have double-teamed Donald, his teammates are making the most of their chances. The Rams are tied for the league lead with 20 sacks, and six defenders besides Donald have at least one sack.
“What we’ve been able to do, is show that there’s other people within our front, within our defense that have made plays,” Staley said. “I think that that’s what you’re looking for, is balance within your defense, where you have people in the other 10 positions that can make plays for you.”
Cornerback Troy Hill said Donald’s contributions to the team go beyond his ability to dictate matchups. Donald’s dedication to always trying to be better filters through the locker room, from tenacious workout routines documented on his social media accounts to relentless effort he exerts in practice.
“It motivates you to want to work a little harder because when you see somebody like that doing the little things right and extra it just motivates,” Hill said.
The 49ers should be just as fired up at the idea of finally slowing down Donald. He has 11 1/2 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 11 games against them, including his other four-sack game in Week 7 of the 2018 season.
Rams coach Sean McVay doesn’t believe there is any particular reason why Donald always seems to torment their Northern California rivals.
“Yeah, I think Aaron shines against a lot of people,” McVay said. “He’s had some pretty special games against these guys, but you could say the same thing about the Washington Football Team now too, couldn’t ya? We know what a good front they have, what a good unit they are, and I think Aaron finds a way to bring his best every single week and that’s what makes him as special as he is.”
Ask Donald why he performs so consistently against the 49ers and he doesn’t have an explanation either.
“I just go out there each week and I play, you know,” Donald said. “And hopefully it’s a good game, hopefully it’s successful, hopefully it’s productive. But, you know, you got some good days, you got them bad days. You got them games (that are) supposed to be your game, some games that you’re not supposed to be successful in it, but I just go out there and play.”
NOTES: LB Micah Kiser (groin) was limited in practice for the second straight day.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL