THOUSAND OAKS — Aaron Donald and Russell Wilson meet again Sunday. Often, in the backfield, if it’s up to Donald.
Like most great athletes, Donald remembers the ones that got away, so Wilson has been a source of frustration for as long as the Rams defensive tackle has been chasing the Seattle Seahawks quarterback around football fields.
“It’s happened multiple times over my career playing against him, where I have him wrapped up and he finds a way to get the ball away,” Donald said in a video press conference before practice Thursday. “He makes my job harder.”
Fact check: Donald makes Wilson’s job harder too. Donald has sacked Wilson12 times, more than any other quarterback, including eight times in their past five meetings, four of those being Rams wins. With Donald leading the charge, the Rams sacked Wilson 61 times in his first eight seasons, more than any other team.
The Rams (5-3) will need even more of that when they host the Seahawks (6-2) at SoFi Stadium.
The game between the NFC West’s first- and joint-second-place teams, between the league’s second-highest-scoring offense and its second-stingiest defense, also is between Nos. 2 and 3 players on the 2020 NFL Top 100 list voted by their peers.
Wilson moved up to No. 2 while Donald slipped from No. 1 the previous year to No. 3 this summer. Such an individual honor, or potential slight, is exactly the kind of thing that Donald claims not to care about. Trying to win a Super Bowl is motivation enough.
“Honestly, I don’t even look at that, as far as right now. That’s last year’s success,” Donald said. “We’re more focused on what we have to do this year to help the team win games.”
Sacks would help.
Wilson, 31, is having his most productive season with his arm, helped as always by his creativity with his feet.
But on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills beat the Seahawks by blitzing Wilson into five sacks, two interceptions and two fumbles even as he passed for a season-high 390 yards and two touchdowns.
If only it were as simple as copying what Buffalo did.
“Every game provides an opportunity to learn,” Rams coach Sean McVay said, “but I don’t necessarily know if it makes you feel like, ‘Oh, we figured something out.’”
Although the Rams don’t blitz as much as the Bills, they do outrank Buffalo in sacks, led by Donald’s league-leading nine.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll, whose Super Bowl and NFC title-winning teams used to be built on defense, praised the Rams’ defense in their first year under coordinator Brandon Staley
“They look unique, which is always good, so you have to learn them and adapt to them,” Carroll said in a conference call with L.A. writers. “They’re able to keep the explosives down and take advantage of one of the best players ever – ever – in Aaron Donald.”
In turn, Staley called Wilson “as big of a challenge as you’re going to find in the NFL” because of his combination of size and quickness.
“I think his track record speaks for itself, but I think he’s playing the quarterback position as well as it’s been played in the last 10 years, certainly since I’ve been following that position,” Staley said.
“Our rush will be at a premium,” Staley said. “It’s going to be an 11-man operation on the field. It’s going to be 22 (defensive) guys that need to play in the game. When you play against the guy like this, you’re going to have to be fresh in the fourth quarter.”
The Rams defense has given up more than three points in the second half only once this season.
“I’ve been more proud of just how consistent we’ve been playing these last couple of weeks,” Donald said. “We’ve got to keep that up, keep pushing each other, and feed off each other’s energy.”
Facing Wilson presents an opportunity, in a way. He’s passing more this season.
That’s paying off for Seattle, making D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett the only wide-receiver teammates with at least 600 yards and seven touchdowns. But it’s also giving an opponent like Donald more chances for sacks.
“You never know what they’re going to do against us. I’m sure they’re going to throw things at us that we didn’t see on film, or they didn’t do (previously) this year,” Donald said.
“When we get the opportunity to rush the passer, we’ve got to make it count.”
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth (back) and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (knee) didn’t practice Thursday, and linebacker Terrell Lewis (shoulder) was limited in practice. Running back Darrell Henderson (quad) returned to limited practice and wide receiver Cooper Kupp (wrist, oblique) remained limited. The Rams plan to activate Joe Noteboom, who has been in injured reserve for seven weeks with a calf strain. …
Tight end Tyler Higbee, on playing with protection on his bruised left hand, said, “I’m looking like Thanos or something out there,” referring to the Marvel villain. Sean McVay said it looked like a “Robocop contraption.” …
Whitworth was nominated for the Salute to Service Award, honoring an NFL player for commitment to the military community. Whitworth’s activity has included fundraising and purchasing and donating game tickets to military groups last season. The award is given annually by the NFL and USAA, a financial service company for the military families.