Colts well aware of Donald's dominance

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Sep. 16—INDIANAPOLIS — It's a heavyweight battle worthy of the price of admission.

Indianapolis Colts left guard Quenton Nelson and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald arguably are the best players in the world at their respective positions, and they'll go head-to-head Sunday for the first time at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"Last year they were the No. 1 defense in the NFL," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "It starts with Aaron Donald up front. My experience is — especially with these guys and these players — is that kind of brings something about in you. Like, 'Hey, I have to step up here. I have to rise to the occasion. I have to rise to the challenge. I expect to have a great week of practice.'

"You guys know, we focus on the process. We try not to get fixated on all that other stuff, but the matchup within the matchup is a big deal. So we'll work hard at it. I'm sure the o-line will as well starting with Quenton."

The matchup, of course, goes deeper than one premier showdown.

Donald is a perennially favorite for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and he made his impact felt on the stat sheet in last week's opener against the Chicago Bears with a sack, a quarterback hit and a tackle for loss. But he also helped open things up for defensive end Justin Hollins — a 2019 fifth-round pick by the Denver Broncos who finished with eight tackles and two sacks, the latter nearly matching his 2020 season total of three.

It's a stark reminder as much attention as Donald draws, he can't be the sole focus. The Rams have a new defensive coordinator in former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris, and that adds a level of unpredictability to their scheme.

Donald's snaps last season were split almost evenly along the left and right side of the line of scrimmage, and it stands to reason L.A. won't hesitate to move him around and take advantage of matchups. In fact, that's what the Colts are expecting and preparing for this week.

Donald is one of the rare defensive linemen capable of taking over games on his own.

"Aaron Donald is an elite defender, very good at what he does, his ability to beat o-linemen," Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. "Just like any other team, you figure out what their strengths are, and obviously he's one of their strengths on defense, and then you try to game plan around it where potentially you try to get some double teams when you can. Sometimes the front calls it where you can't, but you try to as much as you can."

The Colts struggled mightily up front in last week's opener against the Seattle Seahawks.

The official league statistics charged Indianapolis with 10 quarterback hits, but Pro Football Focus' 18 pressures is a more descriptive number. PFF had every offensive lineman except Nelson responsible for at least two pressures, with left tackle Julien Davenport (8) the most guilty party.

The numbers weren't much better in the run game, where PFF credited the offensive line with creating a total of just 9 yards before contact on running back Jonathan Taylor's 17 carries. He finished with just 56 yards, and the Colts averaged a subpar 3.8 yards per attempt as a team.

The lack of production in the trenches bled into every part of the offense. Per PFF stats, Carson Wentz averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt and had a quarterback rating of 71.0 when under pressure against the Seahawks. From a clean pocket, he averaged 7.1 yards per attempt and had a rating of 122.2.

As Indianapolis looks to make more explosive plays downfield in Week 2, it starts with the men up front. And the success of the offensive line is indelibly tied to its ability to keep Donald from wrecking the game.

"You're always aware of him," Wentz said. "Anytime you play a dominant d-lineman like he is — I mean everybody knows how good he is. So you have to be aware of him. We never say we fear anybody, but we're aware, and we know where he's at, and that factors into the game plan a little bit and some things like that. He's a great player, and we've got to take care of him."

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