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.
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.
Rams Todd Gurley reaches for the end zone as he is tackled by Calvin Munson of the New York Giants.(Al Bello / Getty Images)
Los Angeles Rams nose tackle Michael Brockers reacts during the second half.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Robert Woods of the Los Angeles Rams scores a touchdown as Nat Berhe of the New York Giants misses the tackle in the second quarter.(Al Bello / Getty Images)
Robert Woods #17 of the Los Angeles Rams celebrates after scoring his second touchdown of the day.(Al Bello / Getty Images)
New York Giants’ Wayne Gallman flips over Los Angeles Rams’ Troy Hill (32) during the second half.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Los Angeles Rams running back Malcolm Brown rushes during the second half.(Bill Kostroun / AP)
Giants running back Orleans Darkwa is tackled by Tanzel Smart of the Los Angeles Rams.(Al Bello / Getty Images)
Giants quarterback Eli Manning fumbles the ball on a sack by Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams in the first quarter.(Al Bello / Getty Images)
Rams’ Todd Gurley is chased by Darian Thompson in the first quarter.(Al Bello / Getty Images)
Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff looks to pass during the first half as New York Giants’ Dalvin Tomlinson closes in.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Rams running back Todd Gurley rushes for a touchdown during the second half against the New York Giants.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff throws a pass to Tyler Higbee for a touchdown during the first half against the New York Giants.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Rams running back Todd Gurley evades defenders during the first half against the New York Giants.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Rams tight end Tyler Higbee catches a pass for a touchdown in font of New York Giants Keenan Robinson.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Rams wide receiver Sammy Watkins catches a pass in front of New York Giants Landon Collins during the first half. Watkins scored a touchdown on the play.(Bill Kostroun / AP)
Los Angeles Rams Mark Barron breaks up a pass to New York Giants Evan Engram.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Robert Woods of the Los Angeles Rams rushes for a touchdown after catching a pass in front of Nat Berhe of the New York Giants in the first half at MetLife Stadium.(Rob Carr / Getty Images)
“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.”
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna