Meat-Eater Match Up: Steelers-Rams, Week 7

Many years ago, I was doing the color commentary on the High School Game of the Week for a local TV station here in the 'Burgh. Penn Hills was playing, and their opponent (I can't remember who it was) was attempting to block a young defensive lineman who simply refused to be blocked. 

Though the opponent attempted to block him with one and two guys, even up to three guys, he simply could not be stopped. He even scooped and scored on a fumble return. I remember being amazed at the strength, skill and unbelievable athleticism for one so young. 

At one point I made the remark that "We may someday see this young man playing on Sundays." Ha! Little did I know how correct I would be. That young man was Aaron Donald, and just like his high school years, he is an unstoppable force and our "Classic Jurassic Meat-Eater Matchup" of the week.

Forget about all of his accolades, such as being chosen three times as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, or the 7 times he's been first-team All Pro and Pro Bowl. He's also added Super Bowl champion to his resume. No, it's not about the many accolades. It's what he does when the ball is snapped. 

He is, as Mike Tomlin calls him, "A generational talent." 

Turn on the tape and the things I saw 15 or 16 years ago, I'm still seeing. The only difference is the power, quickness and ferocity, that are hallmarks of his playing style, have increased over the years and have not been diminished by his toiling in the trenches for the last decade or so.

Donald has a quick-twitch akin to a sneeze. Explosive and violent, he's often double-teamed as he was oh-so-many years ago. He's extremely adept at using his hands in an explosive way, using leverage and power to split double-teams, along with heavy hands to rock an opponent attempting to pass block him. 

Because of his height, or lack of it, he uses great leverage in bull rushing and overwhelming much bigger offensive linemen. As I watch video of Donald playing I can hear my coach, Chuck Noll, saying, "The lower pad level wins!" And Donald wins his matchups. A lot. 

From 4:30 a.m. workouts in high school with his dad and brother, to the specialized training he undergoes in the off season, Donald is the tiger shark of the trenches. 

I've seen Donald work in the offseason with his trainer, and they perform a drill I'm very familiar with after years of various martial arts experience. It's called "Hubud, Lubud," which translated means to tie and to untie. 

It's a training drill used in the Filipino martial art of Kali and Escrima. Essentially, it's a hand-trapping drill which, when used correctly, teaches you how to use your hands effectively in a way to defeat your opponent. When you see the way Aaron Donald uses his hands to escape and dominate an opponent, it makes sense. 

As a side note, the Rams have even begun to use Donald as a blitzer from the second level on passing downs, lining him up as a linebacker, and at the snap he will rush from 5 to 6 yards away, with a flying head butt technique. 

Though Donald is only 6-1, and 285-pounds, his exceptional strength and quickness allows him to operate in the trenches unlike anyone I've encountered over my years. The closest I can come up with is a former teammate of mine, John Randle, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle from Minnesota. 

Through six games in 2023, he has just 2.5 sacks, but his play wrecking ability goes beyond his 105.5 career sacks. Donald has recorded 17 games with at least four quarterback hits. When you watch Donald, you can tell he's a student of the game. He's taking in the down, distance and personnel packages all while lining up and preparing to unload violence. 

Almost all of the Steelers offensive linemen will have an opportunity to lock horns with Donald, as he moves about, seeking a matchup in his favor. His football IQ is very high. He's a one-man wrecking crew and the Steelers are going to have to do all they can to try and minimize the damage and negative plays Donald is capable of producing. 

And yes, someday, he will be wearing a gold jacket in Canton.

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