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Spadaro: Aaron Donald presents a heavyweight showdown in the trenches

Jason Kelce
Jason Kelce

He is a game-wrecking player, the kind who requires an offensive line – the entire offense, really – to prepare to contain. It's far more difficult than it sounds, for Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald understands that he's a marked man every week and, given the extraordinary success of his career, only makes him a better player.

As the Eagles put together their game plan and preparations in for Sunday's game against the Rams, front and center is Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award winner who has been named a first-team All-Pro in seven seasons and a Pro Bowl defensive tackle nine times.

He's a handful.

"A great player and he's been a great player for a long time," center Jason Kelce said. "Obviously, he's somebody you have to be prepared for. He does everything well – power, quickness, he's smart. It's not an easy task at all. He's somebody you have to account for on every snap of the ball."

Said left guard Landon Dickerson: "Aaron Donald is an extremely good player, a once-in-a-generation talent, so our job is to block him the way our plays are called. He's a strong guy, smart, explosive, quick. He's got a lot of very good things about him."

From St. Louis to Los Angeles, the Eagles and Rams have had some intense battles. Check out the best moments and games in this week's Best Moments gallery.

The Eagles are well aware of Donald and it certainly helps that they practice every day against one of the best defensive lines in the league, but it's always a key theme when the Eagles play the Rams how they perform against Donald. Philadelphia has won three of four games against Donald and the Rams, and in those four games Donald has registered six total tackles (four solos), one tackle for loss, and six quarterback hits.

With right guard Cam Jurgens out for this game after suffering a foot injury in Sunday's win over Washington, the Eagles are likely to turn to Sua Opeta at the position. Opeta, a trusted and versatile reserve for his five Eagles seasons, replaced Jurgens on Sunday and played outstanding football. Head Coach Nick Sirianni and Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Jeff Stoutland don't hesitate when calling on Opeta because every time they've called, he's delivered.

Having Opeta is extremely valuable to back up both guard positions and Sirianni has been impressed.

"Just his performance of what he's done. Like I said, he played an unbelievable game on Sunday," Sirianni said. "That's confidence of games that he's played. He didn't play as much last year, but in 2021, gave us a lot and even before that, I'm just saying in the time I've been here, we won some big games with him in '21 on that field. We know he has great power.

"He really can do the things that we require of our guards to do. And so, we have a lot of faith in him based off his previous games that he's played but you know, that faith really gets built year-in, year-out. It is a 'what have you done for me lately' league. We understand that. So, it's built through the practice, right, and this is his first opportunity, first extended opportunity to go in a game this season, and I thought did he an outstanding job. But it's just the weekly, everything is evaluated and it's the weekly product that he's put on the field."

It's likely that Opeta will see a lot of Donald, a menace to every player in the trenches as the Rams move him up and down the line of scrimmage. Donald is off to a dominating start in the Rams' 2-2 first four games, with 2.5 quarterback sacks, 16 total tackles (10 solos), five tackles for loss, and six quarterback hits.

The communication and execution will have to be outstanding on Sunday with Donald at the top of his game.

"Obviously, he's a really good player, so we're just gonna trust in the game plan, watch extra game film, hone in on the game plan, and be ready for him," Opeta said.

That's the challenge, one of many against an aggressive Los Angeles front. It all starts with Donald, though, one of the greatest defensive tackles in the history of the game. To beat the Rams, the Eagles have to do the job against Donald.

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