Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris could have a front row seat (eh, sideline view) of one potential heavyweight battle he’s looking forward to watching unfold on Sunday, September 19.
It’s in the trenches at Lucas Oil Stadium and it involved two of the best at their respective positions: Aaron Donald versus Quenton Nelson of the Indianapolis Colts.
“They’ve got one of the better fronts that we’ll play led by Nelson. Looking forward to that matchup with him and A.D.,” Morris said to the L.A. media on Thursday, which can be heard near the 9:45 mark of the video below. “When those opportunities happen, they talk about it from a fanfare.”
Nelson has established himself as one of the league’s elite run and pass blockers. The former Norte Dame lineman has allowed just three sacks in his four-year NFL career, but only one in his last 47 games according to Pro Football Focus. Donald got his 86th career sack last Sunday in the 34-14 romp of Chicago.
Donald himself has given Nelson his due, saying on Thursday to the L.A. media “He plays hard. He plays through the whistle.”
Here’s what’s astonishing about the gladiator trench battle between “A.D.” and “Earl Grey:” Both men have never faced each other before.
Donald Experiencing a First on his end
Ironically, the eight-year veteran Donald is on the reverse boat with Nelson: He’s never faced the Colts.
That’s right, in 107 starts with the Rams including the time he was in St. Louis, Donald has never lined up across the line of scrimmage against Indianapolis.
This includes Sean McVay’s head coaching debut in the September 10, 2017 season opener at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The reason? Donald was a contract holdout for the Rams and was seeking an extension. He ended his holdout on the day before the season opener.
Turns out Donald wasn’t needed that afternoon. The Rams held the Colts to 225 total yards and forced three takeaways in the 46-9 rout of a Colts team then coached by Chuck Pagano. Indianapolis also went 0-for-10 on third down conversions against the Rams defense.
Donald Versus the AFC South
Outside of Indy, Donald hasn’t logged many games against AFC South teams. In fact, he’s only stood toe-to-toe with the AFC South gauntlet for one season, which was four years ago.
But he came out consistent and dominant. Here’s how Donald has fared against teams from the Colts’ division:
- Christmas Eve 2017: Two solo tackles and one forced fumble in 27-23 road win over Tennessee.
- November 12, 2017: Two solo tackles, one sack, one quarterback hit, one pass deflection and one forced fumble in 33-7 romp of Houston in L.A.
- October 15, 2017: Two solo tackles, one sack, two QB hits and one forced fumble in 27-17 road victory over Jacksonville.
As you can see, Donald has snatched two solo stops, a combined two sacks and had one forced fumble in all three 2017 interconference games. He’s had a lot of success against Nelson’s division. But what kind of matchup will the 25-year-old All-Pro guard present?
Will Nelson Play?
There is a health concern involving the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Nelson.
The right guard was listed as one of eight Colt players held out of practice on Wednesday, as announced below by the team’s Twitter account.
Colts beat writer Zak Keefer of The Athletic first reported that Nelson was among the names held out of Colts practice on the morning of Thursday, September 16.
But in all likelihood, Morris, Donald and the Rams are probably approaching this game with the feeling Nelson will start. If Nelson does play, the three-time NFL First Team All-Pro will reach a milestone 50th consecutive regular season start.