Peace of mind and a hefty bank account.
For Aaron Donald, those are the two main differences between Week 2 of last season and Week 2 of this one.
In 2017, the perennial Pro Bowl player ended a holdout without a contract extension on the eve of the season opener. He was not ready to play until the second game.
Now, with a $131-million extension in hand and a solid season-opening performance against the Oakland Raiders behind him, Donald is preparing for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.
“Everything’s a lot better now,” Donald said Thursday.
Not that there isn’t room for improvement.
Donald, who sat out training camp and signed his extension 10 days before the opener, played most of the opener and made one tackle in the 33-13 victory over the Raiders. He recorded what appeared to be a sack but the play was nullified by a personal foul against Donald for falling on quarterback Derek Carr.
Donald said he could have played better.
“I’m always going to be my worst critic,” he said.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips agreed with Donald’s assessment of his performance.
“I want him to do better, he wants to do better,” Phillips said, “but he’s still a great football player.
“They had a rough time trying to keep him out of there.”
Facing a front that includes Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers, the Raiders employed a strategy that other teams are almost certain to emulate: Get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand as quickly as possible.
Brockers recorded the Rams’ lone sack, but the front helped limit the Raiders to 95 yards rushing and helped force three interceptions.
Donald, playing alongside Suh for the first time, characterized the ninth-year pro as, “just being him: a dominant football player.”
Safety John Johnson, who intercepted a pass in the end zone, said the Rams’ line can impose “wear and tear over the course of the game” on opponents.
“They might not have gotten the big sack that they wanted or, like, a blatant pressure,” Johnson said, “but the quarterback is thinking about that rush coming.”
Cory Littleton, who made 13 tackles and intercepted a pass in his first start at middle linebacker, “showed out as much as anybody,” against the Raiders, Phillips said.
Matt Longacre and Dominique Easley played well in rotation at one outside linebacker spot, and Samson Ebukam also provided pressure.
Cornerback Marcus Peters’ interception return for a touchdown capped the victory, and gave the Rams momentum as they prepare for a Cardinals offense that includes quarterback Sam Bradford, running back David Johnson and receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Asked if he expected Bradford to try to get the ball out quick, Donald grinned.
“I hope not,” he said, “but we going to see.”