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Hey 49ers! When it comes to dominance, facing NFC West is best for Rams’ Aaron Donald

Aaron Donald hits Washington quarterback Alex Smith.
Aaron Donald hits Washington quarterback Alex Smith. Donald had four sacks against Washington.
(Greg Fiume / Getty Images)

In six-plus NFL seasons, Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald already has amassed 79½ sacks.

Thirty-four came against NFC West opponents.

That’s good news for the Rams — and an unwelcome reality for the San Francisco 49ers — heading into Sunday’s division game between the teams at Levi’s Stadium.

“You got to go to that mind-set that, ‘We’re back in the division now,’ ” Donald said Thursday during a videoconference with reporters. “I got to do a little bit more now.”

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More?

Donald produced four sacks in last week’s 30-10 victory over Washington. It marked the second time that Donald, a two-time NFL defensive player of the year, recorded four sacks in a game.

Robert Woods’ versatility is what makes him a great contributor to the Rams’ offense, but against Washington he finally got hands on the long ball.

The other came in 2018 — against the 49ers.

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Facing Donald after a four-sack performance apparently is not a surprise for 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.

“I don’t know when I’ve ever gone against him and he hasn’t been coming off a great game,” Shanahan told reporters this week, chuckling. “Because that’s what he does. I mean, he’s as good as it gets in the run game and the pass game.

“So, whatever you want to bring him up, he’s a problem.”

Donald has 7½ of the Rams’ 20 sacks. The Rams are tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the league lead, though the Steelers have played only four games.

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Rams linebacker Troy Reeder had three sacks against Washington, and six other Rams players have at least one sack this season.

Donald, 29, is a six-time Pro Bowl player. Since the Rams selected him with the 13th pick in the 2014 draft, he has feasted on division opponents, who he faces twice a season.

He has 12 sacks against the Seattle Seahawks, 11½ against the 49ers and 11 against the Arizona Cardinals.

Aaron Donald (99) puts pressure on the Washington Football Team's Kyle Allen.
Aaron Donald (99) puts pressure on the Washington Football Team’s Kyle Allen, who later left with an injury. Donald recorded one of his four sacks of the day on Allen.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press.)
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Donald does not enjoy looking back. He prefers instead to leave behind the wreckage he wrought the previous week so he can focus on disrupting the next opponent.

On Thursday, he was already deep into dissecting the 49ers and how they might attempt to control him. But Donald acknowledged his sense of accomplishment after his four sacks helped the Rams improve their record to 4-1.

“Hell yeah, you’re happy about it,” he said during a videoconference before practice. “That’s what you work to be, productive like that, and help your team win games. That’s what it’s about.

“So for me to say I wasn’t happy, wasn’t excited about it, I’d be lying to you.”

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Before joining coach Sean McVay’s staff this season, defensive coordinator Brandon Staley coached outside linebackers for the Chicago Bears and the Denver Broncos. Khalil Mack and Von Miller are vaunted pass rushers who played for Staley.

Neither had four sacks in a game.

“There were some great performances, but not four,” Staley said. “So certainly, Aaron had a performance to remember.”

Two years ago, Donald had 20½ sacks, the record for an NFL interior defensive lineman. His performance helped the Rams advance to the Super Bowl. Last season he had 12½ sacks for a team that finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

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Donald is regularly double-teamed and sometimes triple-teamed by opponents. He said he took advantage of “single blocks” against Washington.

That led to a flurry of production.

The Chargers lose another close game, this time to the Saints in overtime. Meanwhile, the Rams keep delivering in clutch.

“When I get opportunities to get them one-on-one blocks, I’ve got to take advantage of it,” he said.

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Staley has deployed Donald from multiple starting points along the line.

That’s fine with Donald.

“I like moving around — I don’t mind it,” he said. “You get some freedom here or there, trying to find different opportunities to still do my job and be productive about getting to the quarterback or whatever that case may be.

“So I kind of like it.”

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Etc.

Linebacker Micah Kiser (groin, chest) was limited in practice, per the injury report. ... Outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo (elbow) is expected to be placed on injured reserve Friday, triggering a corresponding roster move. ... During the individual drills portion of practice, running backs coach Thomas Brown limped off the field to the trainer’s room, accompanied by trainer Reggie Scott and McVay. A team official said Brown was being evaluated for a lower leg injury.


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