Aaron Donald was an equal opportunity destroyer in MetLife Stadium on Sunday. When the Rams defensive tackle got tired of tormenting the right side of the New York Giants’ offensive line, he moved to the other side and wreaked havoc anew.
“I mean, he can blow up a whole play by himself,” Rams inside linebacker Alec Ogletree said of Donald, a three-time Pro-Bowl selection and one of the NFL’s top defensive linemen. “That’s pretty much all you need to know.”
Donald spearheaded a feisty defensive effort with a strip-sack of veteran quarterback Eli Manning on New York’s first possession, the first of three first-half turnovers that led to two touchdowns and a field goal in a 51-17 shellacking of the Giants.
Ogletree stripped the ball from Giants running back Wayne Gallman Jr. early in the second quarter, Donald recovering the fumble to set up a touchdown, and cornerback Trumaine Johnson intercepted a Manning pass just before halftime to set up a field goal.
“That’s our job, trying to make plays and to get the ball back to the offense,” Donald said. “They’re rolling this year, and you know they’re gonna put points on the board any time they have the ball, so we try to get them as many opportunities as we can.”
Donald didn’t even have to bull-rush a lineman or hit a quarterback to make his presence felt early in the first quarter.
New York right guard D.J. Fluker, filling in for the injured Justin Pugh, tried to get a jump on Donald on a third-and-four play from the Rams’ 40-yard line but came out of his stance too soon. The false-start penalty pushed the Giants back to the 45, making it third and nine.
“I don’t care what the offensive linemen say, they’re a little nervous when A.D. comes up because you don’t know what to prepare for — his speed, his power, his counters?” defensive end Michael Brockers said. “It helps because, them being nervous, you get the false starts, the little tick-tack penalties.”
On the next play, Donald juked inside, blew past Fluker’s right side — “I call it a little stutter-swipe,” Donald said — and got a clean shot on Manning, knocking the ball out of his hand on a six-yard sack. Connor Barwin recovered for the Rams at their 48.
Todd Gurley’s 36-yard run then set up Jared Goff’s eight-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Higbee for a 7-0 Rams lead.
“A sack is good,” Donald said, “but it’s even better if you can get the ball out. I’m trying to do more of that this year.”
Trailing 10-7, the Giants had some momentum and the ball near midfield early in the second quarter when Gallman took a handoff from Manning and tried to run up the middle before he was greeted, rather rudely, by Ogletree.
The linebacker stood up Gallman for a two-yard loss and ripped the ball out of the running back’s hands, Donald pouncing on the fumble at the 50-yard line. Five plays later, on third and 33, Goff hit Robert Woods with a quick out pass that Woods turned into a 52-yard touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
“I was actually just trying to make a tackle — he kept bouncing out, and I was able to get my hand in there and punch the ball out,” said Ogletree, whose eight tackles tied Mark Barron for the team lead.
“We know turnovers directly correlate into wins and losses. We feel like if we win the turnover battle every week, we have a good chance to win.”
Just before halftime on third and 10 from the Giants’ 14-yard line, Manning forced a pass to Roger Lewis Jr. into tight coverage on a slant pattern. Johnson stepped in front of Lewis for an interception that gave the Rams the ball at the New York 30. Four plays later, Greg Zuerlein kicked a 46-yard field goal for a 27-10 lead.
“I felt the receiver behind me and had eyes on the quarterback,” Johnson said. “Eli let it go, and I made a play. That was the emphasis the whole week, creating turnovers on defense to help our offense go.”
The defense wasn’t as dominant Sunday as it was two weeks ago in London, where the Rams were 33-0 winners against the Arizona Cardinals. Manning completed 20 of 36 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns, and the Giants ran for 111 yards, , including Orleans Darkwa’s 24-yard run on the second play of the game.
But the Rams took the ball from the Giants often enough to build a 17-point halftime lead and a 21-point third quarter allowed the Rams to rest most of their starters in the fourth.
“You hear us talk about turnovers all the time,” Rams coach Sean McVay said, “and for us to win the turnover battle, 3-0, and come away with 17 points off those turnovers … is big. I can’t say enough about what that does for our team, to be able to give us a lead earlier in the game.”