EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Joe Judge has a colorful description for how Aaron Donald can dominate a football game.
"This guy," Judge said this week, "will really ruin your birthday party in a hurry."
Judge won't celebrate his birthday until December 31, but Donald is certainly capable of creating an unpleasant afternoon for him on the first Sunday in October. Widely considered the NFL's best defensive player, Donald and his Los Angeles Rams teammates will attempt to overpower the Giants' offense when the teams meet Sunday in SoFi Stadium.
The Rams are 2-1, while the Giants are seeking their first victory after three defeats.
Donald has collected a long list of accolades in his seven years with the Rams. He was voted the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in both 2017 and 2018 (only the third player in history to receive the award in consecutive seasons), is a five-time All-Pro and was a Pro Bowl selection in each of his first six seasons. His 20.5 sacks two years ago were the most ever by a defensive tackle and he plays with uncommon skill, speed, power and effort.
In three games this year, he is one of 10 NFL players with at least 3.0 sacks, and his eight quarterback hits are tied for the league's second-highest total.
"Aaron Donald is a tremendous football player, probably one of the best to ever play the game," Giants offensive line coach Marc Colombo said. "He's going to line up all over the place. … He's got a tremendous get off. This guy gets up the field really quick. He's excellent with the snap count, he's explosive, he's extremely smart, he's a great leverage player. If you make a mistake and beat yourself, he's going to win every time."
The task of minimizing Donald's impact falls to an offensive line that is striving for improvement and cohesion. Assuming Donald spends most of the game inside, guards Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez and Nick Gates – playing his fourth ever game at center – will try to prevent the 280-pound tackle from disrupting the run and harassing quarterback Daniel Jones.
"Aaron Donald, he's the best player I have ever gone up against," Gates said. "Just try to take it snap by snap, get a good game plan for him and see how it goes."
The coaches and players know a group effort is required to diminish Donald's impact on the game.
"I think this guy, being one of the tops in the league and really one of the tops in a long time at what he does, any one person is really going to have a tough time blocking him," Judge said. "They've done a great job of really moving him around and creating matchups at different spots, whether it's early downs or third down. He does a good job against the run, he's very disruptive against the pass. He just does a tremendous job really disturbing what you're trying to establish in terms of rhythm and timing. You have to know where he is on the field at all times."
"He's a great player," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "He's one of those players that probably every week in every game that he's played throughout his career, he's gotten special attention from the opposing offense. Whatever that attention is, a chip, a double team, the way they slide protections, putting a back up there. And he always, somehow someway, finds a way to show up in the game, both in the run game as a run defender and pressure on the quarterback. He's just one of those rare, unique players. To a certain extent, you like to use his aggressiveness against him, but his productivity week in and week out over the course of his career speaks for itself. He's a great football player. It'll be a great challenge for our team this week."
Donald isn't a one-man wrecking crew. He gets help from front seven teammates Michael Brockers and Leonard Floyd, and Jalen Ramsey is one of the NFL's best cornerbacks.
"Aaron Donald is tremendous, everybody knows that," Judge said. "But look, Brockers, he's a top-flight guy. He's one of the tops in the league at what he does. Fluid off the edge, he's a physical thumper. They really do a good job. That pressure up front really creates plays on the back end for their players."
Playing against this group has intensified scrutiny on a line that has much room for improvement. The Giants are 31st in the NFL averaging 272.3 yards a game and last with 56.7 rushing yards a game and 3.2 per carry (including Jones' 7.7-yard average). Jones has been sacked nine times in three games.
"We're pissed off, we want to be better," Gates said. "We don't want to go out there and lose. We don't want to go out there and not run the ball. We're not trying to go out there and play bad. We practice every week, we go to work every week. We put a lot of effort and a lot of work into going out there and learning the defense. It is frustrating when you go out there and you can't run the ball and you can't protect well. It's frustrating."
"Obviously, we're not where we need to be yet," Colombo said. "We're working to really get this thing right. I thought we had a great week of practice (before last week's home loss to San Francisco); it's just not translating into games yet. We're a million reps behind, so we have to keep getting it, keep getting the technique down, keep grinding – some of the this we're seeing in the game, get it corrected. Seeing a lot of stuff for the first time. But now we're getting to a point, going into game four, this stuff should be ironed out. It's our job this week to iron it out and move forward and get some consistent play out of this group. And it starts with me."
Colombo isn't looking to change his lineup, but he expects improvement from his five-man group, including tackles Cam Fleming and rookie Andrew Thomas.
"Everybody needs to play better," Colombo said. "We need to coach better, we need to play better. Obviously, it's not up to standard. It's across the board. It's the entire team right now. We're going to keep pushing, we're going to keep working. We're going to get a million reps at this stuff. It's going to get better. We have to keep pushing and have this stuff show up on Sunday. The guys are working tremendously hard. That's something that's never been an issue. It needs to start translating and some of those need to be more consistent."
Hopefully, that begins to happen on Sunday.