Aaron Donald is a baaaaaaaaaaaaaad man.
Yes, all those “A’s” were necessary, why do you ask?
Donald is a big, mean, nasty dude. He bulldozes through blockers, eats double-teams for breakfast, and snacks on quarterbacks just for the fun of it. Donald is arguably the best defensive player in football (though, Khalil Mack might have something to say about that) and has a growing case to be considered a front-runner for the NFL’s MVP award.
With all that said, one question continues to burn our ears … So how do the Bears stop this guy?
The Bears will try to find a solution to that problem between now and Sunday, but there are no short-cuts and there are no easy answers – believe me, many have tried. It will take a group effort to take down this Goliath. And even then, I’m not even sure it’s all that possible. Because even in a sport featuring the biggest and toughest guys around, Donald is on another level.
So maybe we need to look at this differently. Instead of asking ourselves how the Bears can block Aaron Donald, perhaps the question is how to avoid him altogether?
That roundabout thought had me thinking about the last time the Bears played a talented interior defensive line – Week 11 against the Vikings. Minnesota’s fearsome front is anchored by Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson, who are a pair of interior defenders believed to be among the best in the entire league. Both players played more than 70 percent of the Vikings’ defensive snaps in Week 11, but their production was limited as they combined for 3 tackles, 0.5 tackles-for-loss, and 0 sacks.
After browsing through the box score, I found myself going back and re-watching the game. That’s when I found a trend that piqued my interest while reviewing the offense’s first 27 plays:
- Pre-snap motion: 10
- Misdirection runs: 4
- Jet sweeps: 3
- Play action: 3
- QB drop-backs with motion: 3
- QB drop-backs without motion: 6
- Turnaround hand-offs:
- T-Formation: 1
- Unknown: 1 (NBC was showing a graphic at the start of one play)
Head Coach/play-caller Matt Nagy and Offensive Coordinator Mark Helfrich threw the kitchen sink (and then some) at the Vikings defense on their first three drives. So much motion, misdirection, and speed coming from every which way seemed to throw Minnesota’s defenders for a loop. And it wasn’t lost on NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth, who pointed it out in real time during the second quarter:
“Try to imagine playing linebacker against these guys. Which way is the ball going? You’ve got guys going left, two guys going right. You’ve got two guys on the right and the quarterback goes left, I mean, it’s insane. So what happens to you as a linebacker, you just sit there. You don’t really know, you don’t trust your eyes, you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s the reason this offense has been so successful here, Philadelphia, and Kansas City.”
All that action and window dressing made for some interesting viewing and something worth stashing for a later date, which happens to be today. To be clear, I’m not claiming Chicago’s offensive minds have re-invented the wheel. It’s just that they really went out of their way to not run straight ahead at a pair of defensive menaces staring them in the face, and as a result, had a really talented defense playing on its heels because it had to be prepared to stop everything that could come from every angle possible.
So while stopping Donald entirely is out of the question, you can expect the Bears to try and scheme their way around him in an attempt to neutralize him and interior line teammate Ndamukong Suh. Because as a wise SportsCenter anchor once said about several athletes over the years: “You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.”