TV networks like to focus a camera on Aaron Donald as the Rams defensive tackle battles one, two, sometimes three blockers on his way to a quarterback.
Maybe they should train a microphone on Donald as the NFL’s best pass rusher squabbles with his other nemeses, the officials.
He gave a hint of the tenor of those little chats on Wednesday when was asked if he lobbies refs on the field.
“All the damn time, I talk to them,” Donald said vehemently before the Rams (7-3) began practicing for their game against the San Francisco 49ers (4-6) on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
“I say, ‘You’ve got to see that holding call.’ They say they don’t see it. I’m like, ‘Man, a guy’s got me around my neck, grabbing and pulling my shirt. I just beat a guy with a clean rush.’”
Donald returned to his usual even tone.
“It’s all right. I’m going to get one sooner or later,” he said, meaning a holding flag in his favor.
In the Rams’ victories over Seattle and Tampa Bay, Donald went two games in a row without recording a sack or a tackle for the first time in his great career. That doesn’t bother the Rams because he disrupts opposing offenses in ways that might not show up on stat sheets.
According to the Rams, the linemen blocking Donald haven’t been called for holding in the past few games. That does bother them, even though holding penalties are down sharply league-wide this season as the NFL seeks to speed up play by flagging only “clear and obvious” violations.
“That’s saying people are just blocking him (Donald) straight up, which we know is not the case,” Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said Wednesday.
“It’s like Shaquille O’Neal, back when he was playing. This guy, I think, people take for granted how good he is, and we need to make sure people are seeing the game the way they need to.”
Has Hack-a-Shaq become Hack-a-Donald?
The most egregious case of an opponent deciding that it’s worth risking a holding call to slow up Donald came on a third-quarter play with the Rams rushing the Buccaneers’ Tom Brady in the end zone. The play was controversial because what the Rams thought was a Brady fumble was ruled an incomplete pass. Replays also show left tackle Donovan Smith with his arm around Donald’s neck.
“I felt like (Morgan) Fox got the ball out, so I think that should have been a sack anyway,” Donald said. “And if it wasn’t, it should have been a holding call, it should have been a safety because he held me in the end zone.”
Rams coach Sean McVay said some plays involving would-be holding calls have been among those the team routinely submits to the league office to ask for “clarity.”
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said the Rams’ complaints might be valid.
“Aaron’s such a good player, guys are doing whatever they can to just block him for a second,” Shanahan said. “And he’s such a strong player, I’m sure there are times when guys are grabbing onto him and it’s hard for refs to notice because he’s ripping away from it.”
Shanahan didn’t see any drop-off in Donald’s performance.
“I wish,” he said. “Been waiting a long time for that, and it doesn’t seem like it’s happening.”
Donald, 29, is tied for third in the league with nine sacks and leads Pro Bowl voting at defensive tackle. (Rams punter Johnny Hekker leads voting at his position too.)
Donald sounded inclined to let the flags fall where they may.
“Talking about it right now ain’t going to do anything,” he said. “I’m just going to play.”
Receiver Robert Woods was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after his 12 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown in the victory at Tampa Bay, becoming the fifth Ram to win a weekly honor this year.
Micah Kiser (Week 2), Aaron Donald (Week 5) and Leonard Floyd (Week 10) were Defensive Player of the Week, and punter Johnny Hekker (Week 7) was Special Teams Player of the Week as well as Special Teams Player of the Month for October.
The Week 11 award could have gone to receiver Cooper Kupp, whose 12 catches for 145 yards made it the first time two Rams had 10 or more catches in the same game. The difference probably was Woods’ touchdown and two other key plays. Big gains set up an end-of-half field goal and jump-started the winning drive.
Inside linebacker Micah Kiser has a knee injury, and Sean McVay said he’d be “very surprised” if he plays Sunday. McVay said he wasn’t sure how many games Kiser will miss. Kiser leads the Rams with 77 tackles. Troy Reeder would fill in for him. … Tight end Tyler Higbee (elbow) also would have sat out if the Rams had held a full-on practice Wednesday, according to the injury report. … Outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo was designated to return to practice after four weeks on injured reserve with a sprained left elbow. Brandon Staley said the coaches will make sure Obo is fully fit before activating him. …
Staley said defensive end Derek Rivers, claimed on waivers from New England, was acquired to add “depth, insurance” in the outside pass rush and “a bigger-body guy who can run” for special teams. The defensive coordinator said he and other Rams coaches liked Rivers when they scouted him before the 2017 draft, when the Patriots took him in the third round. … Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey purchased $20,000 worth of Vons gift cards that were distributed at a Thanksgiving turkey distribution in South L.A. and Inglewood. The 10th annual event was put on by 2nd Call, an organization that tries to help parolees with life skills and personal development.
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