Clash of All-Pro Players Goes L.A. Ram Defender’s Way

Aaron Donald

Getty Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams pursues Carson Wentz of the Indianapolis Colts while Quneton Nelson chases Donald from behind.

The NFL trench version of a boxing heavyweight battle or UFC main event took place after all at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, September 19, between the Los Angeles Rams‘ prized defender Aaron Donald and the Indianapolis Colts’ dominant front line blocker Quenton Nelson.

Before the contest, there were questions if the line of scrimmage confrontations between the two men with nine straight All-Pro nods combined would actually happen, because the left guard Nelson was listed as questionable throughout the whole week.

Well, the epic battle between the league’s premier pass rusher and the NFL’s most dominant guard happened. Donald’s team got the upper hand 27-24. But who won the individual matchup? There were plenty of watchful eyes including a national analytics site and one national analyst who is an expert at line play. Here’s a dive.


Analytics Website Handed Nelson His Worst Grade Ever

How much of a handful was Donald for Nelson? Let alone, how did Nelson fare overall facing the Rams’ defensive line?

Well, Pro Football Focus calculated the Colt with his lowest grade yet, at 52.2.

Nelson wound up taking 66 total snaps against Donald and the Rams, but on 45 plays he pass blocked. That’s where the 6-foot-5, 330-pounder thrived the best because he didn’t allow a sack.

Run blocking, though, was Nelson’s weakness against L.A., as he was calculated with a 47.5 grade there by PFF.

But does PFF’s math really add up? Per Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network, both Donald and Nelson won their share of individual battles against one another.


Baldy’s Breakdown Shows How Nelson Really Fared

Baldinger, who played 12 seasons in the league including four with the Colts from 1988 to 1991, released a film breakdown of Donald versus Nelson late Sunday night as part of his “Baldy’s Breakdowns” on Twitter.

“We saw two great players go at it for a large chunks of time on Sunday afternoon,” Baldinger begins. “Big ‘Q’ got busy. Aaron Donald made a ton of plays. But there were against each other quite a bit.”

What “Baldy” discovered: Nelson needed an extra pair of hands on the Colts’ offensive line to counter “A.D” on numerous plays. The Colts threw double teams at Donald to ensure Nelson wasn’t always going to be placed on a trench island with the Ram. However, Nelson used his own hand technique to try to throw off Donald.

On the first clip Baldinger zeroed in on, Nelson operated as a pass blocker and immediately resorted to an offensive lineman punch to jab/throw off Donald’s first set of steps. Baldinger called it a good punch. Then, Donald tried to counter with an attempted swim move, but center Ryan Kelly comes over with the assist in sealing off Donald. That double team, “Baldy” said, helped give Carson Wentz enough time to throw the ball.

However, on the next play Baldinger points to, the Rams had Donald lined up between the gap of Nelson and fellow Pro Bowler but first-year Colt Eric Fisher. Donald extends his right arm to Fisher’s shoulder and is so quick out of his stance, that he swims over Fisher and knocks him over – creating a logjam in the trenches by result of Donald getting penetration. The penetration, which occurred on Nelson’s side, ends in a goal line stand.

The third starts like this: Nelson is twisting his foot into the ground, signifying he’s about to unleash his power as “Baldy” alludes to. Donald, lined up over Fisher as a defensive end, instead slants towards Nelson. “Q” picks up Donald’s rush and gets his hands inside Donald’s numbers, which were exposed on Donald’s swim (or arm over) attempt. Donald, however, keeps his feet moving to try to gain penetration toward Wentz. Nelson does enough to stay in front of Donald for Wentz to throw it downfield.

One more play Baldinger points to: Donald goes for the rip move (where his arm goes under a linemen in an uppercut motion) and gets a push on Nelson. Here, Nelson is forced into a situation where he can hope he can drive Donald into another line confrontation. Donald, however, doesn’t stop his feet and turns the brief road block into a QB hurry. More from “Baldy’s Breakdowns” can be seen here.


The Aftermath of Donald/Nelson

So Nelson received a low PFF grade. It wasn’t ditto for Donald.

The analytics site handed Donald a 92.1 grade, his first 90 rating this season. Donald ended his day with seven tackles, three solo stops, a tackle for a loss and three QB hits.

Nelson’s team may have lost to Donald and company. But the three-time All-Pro gave “A.D.” his praise.


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