Is Aaron Donald going to end the Dallas Cowboys season?

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys will face the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday. And DT Aaron Donald poses a huge threat to America’s Team. What will be the plan of attack?

The Dallas Cowboys are gearing up to face off against the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs on Saturday night. Coming off a huge win against the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round, the Cowboys have a lot of momentum heading into Los Angeles.

Everybody likes to talk about how stacked the Rams are offensively. Running back Todd Gurley, quarterback Jared Goff, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and they also have an amazing offensive mind in head coach Sean McVay. But the best player on the Rams, arguably the entire league, is defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Donald is having a monster year. Boasting 20.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, he is a lock for defensive player of the year, and in some analysts minds, the most valuable player of the year award. Somehow, the four-time All-Pro lineman always makes impactful plays when the Rams are in need of one.

Against the Kansas City Chiefs, Donald recorded 10 total tackles, 2.0 sacks, two fumbles, and eight quarterback hurries, per Pro Football Focus. When the lights are on, Donald balls out. It is just that simple. With a late Saturday night game against the Cowboys, Donald has to be licking his lips as I write these words.

The Cowboys have struggled all year against strong interior defenders. When the interior of the offensive line starts to crumble, quarterback Dak Prescott often panics. In the last two weeks, because the middle of the pocket has held up pretty well, Prescott has played very well.

If the Rams play Donald over the perennial All-Pro guard, Zack Martin, fans will not have to worry as much. However, most likely the Rams will try to have Donald embarrass Cowboys’ rookie left guard, Connor Williams. That should put shivers down the spine of every Cowboys’ fan.

So what makes Donald so special? From strictly a measurable standpoint, the 280-pound defensive tackle ran a 4.68-second 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL combine. He beats offensive linemen any way he wants.

Donald can slant across a guard’s face in the blink of an eye to make a tackle for loss, or he can bulldoze an offensive lineman off of his feet and push him into the lap of the quarterback for a sack. He is a truck whose motor never stops.

On a few plays where Donald does not get a great burst off the line of scrimmage, he keeps fighting until the whistle. A high number of Donald’s sacks are due to his perseverance.

For the Cowboys, the best way to deal with Donald is to add an extra tight end. If Donald lines up near Williams, adding a tight end to chip the defensive end could let left tackle, Tyron Smith help out the rookie for a second.

This could work a couple of times. But, the sad reality is that over the course of the entire game, there is not much the offensive line can do to prevent Donald from producing, other than just simply out-playing him at the line of scrimmage.

The fate of the season might rely on how fast Prescott gets the ball out. If Prescott gets to the back of his drop, sits down and sets up a nice little picnic, taking his sweet time, Donald will make a play. The ball needs to come out, and come out fast.

The Cowboys’ quarterback must be efficient pre-snap with his reads. Before the ball is snapped, Prescott should have a clear idea of where he is going with it. Expect wide receiver Cole Beasley to get a large share of the targets this week, as he might be a life-saver for Dallas’ season.

Beasley has been a little dinged up all season. And last week, he reinjured himself. Though he played the rest of the game, he was seen limping between plays and was not running the best routes. If Beasley can get his body right in time for the match, that could mean the difference between a win or a loss. So pay close attention to the injury reports this week.

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Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has a lot of film to watch. If the Dallas Cowboys can figure out how to pair a  quick passing game with the running game, the offense might stand a chance. This is easier said than done when facing such a game-wrecker in Aaron Donald.

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