Normally on Monday film room, we look at plays from multiple Sunday games. However, this week there was the football equivalent of a heavyweight title fight in the trenches, so today's Monday Film Room will exclusively break down the battle between Quenton Nelson and Aaron Donald.
Tale of the Tape
Nelson is the best guard in the NFL, and Donald is the best defensive tackle, so this was a marquee matchup. They lineup on each other or engaged 32 times in Sunday's contest, and Monday Film Room will look at 10 of those plays. It was difficult to determine a winner in this bout. Donald did not dominate Nelson, but Nelson also got help on many of his snaps vs. Donald.
The focus of this matchup is going to be on the one-on-one plays these two engaged in. However, early in the matchup, Donald was double-teamed by Nelson and Eric Fisher, and there was not much he could do. The audience should see what it is like the majority of snaps Donald takes, not just in this game, but in all games. He is such a great player that despite Nelson being the best guard in the NFL, the Colts scheme called for him to receive help on many plays.
The next play highlights a solo battle between them near the goal line. Nelson does a great job of neutralizing Donald with his power, and Donald is unable to have an impact on this play. But what is significant is how Nelson overpowers him at the end. Now, it is possible that Donald knew he was beaten, and the play was essentially over, so he stopped giving effort. But, we are not accustomed to Donald being put on his back with another offensive lineman on top of him.
In this third play, Donald gets the best of Nelson. It is a run play to the left, and Donald does a great job of first taking care of his gap responsibility, and then as the runner approaches the next gap over, he overpowers Donald to forcefully shed the block and get in on the tackle.
The fourth play shows Donald at his best in pass rush. He is a master at using his hands. Combine that with his incredible get-off and strength, and he is just too much for almost any guard one-on-one. Here, Donald sheds Nelson's block in about two seconds and forces Nelson to stumble and grab as he speeds by. The referees could have called holding on Nelson if they wanted to on that play.
The next play could be viewed as another Donald win but let's call it a draw. On one hand, Nelson never effectively anchors and stops Donald's forward momentum. On the other, Nelson did a good enough job holding up that Donald was not a threat to Wentz for at least four seconds, which is plenty of time on 1st & 10. Donald has an unbelievable motor, and it is on full display in this play. Many DTs matched up with Nelson on a play where he denies their initial rush would probably have stopped. Donald never did and ended up getting pressure on Wentz that forced him to throw the ball away.
On play six, Nelson wins. Results are a little skewed by Wentz quickly scrambling due to pressure from the right side, but on the left side, Nelson does a much better job of anchoring and stopping Donald's momentum.
Play seven is a run play in which to the layman's eye, might appear that Donald got the best of Nelson. However, Nelson definitely won this matchup. It is a run play to the left, and Donald has B-gap on that side. Nelson does a great job reaching Donald and with a quick display of his power, punches Donald to force him on an inside path that leaves him out of position and unable to make a tackle. Also, Donald's actions due to Nelson's block resulted in a huge running lane that Mack takes advantage of for a six-yard gain.
The next play is a pass play, and Nelson wins this one as well. Donald attempts to bull rush and overpower Nelson, and it is to no avail. This was one of Nelson's best pass pro snaps vs. Donald as it was completely one-on-one, and Donald does not disengage until after four seconds when the ball is long gone from Wentz's hands.
Play nine is a run play, and Donald gets the better of Nelson on this one. Donald does a great job of not going up the field and maintaining gap responsibility first. This is textbook NFL defensive line play, as Donald gets good arm extension inside of Nelson's pads to keep himself clean, maintains a position in which he can play his gap and see the ball carrier, and then sheds the block and pursues the ball carrier for a tackle.
The final play is a pass play late in the fourth quarter. Despite the negative outcome of Jacob Eason's interception, Nelson did a great job in pass pro. Donald attempts to beat Nelson with a speed rush, and Nelson gets into a great pass set and times his punch perfectly to negate Donald's swat move.
Donald had a great overall game, but he was much quieter when matched up against Nelson than anyone else on the Colts offensive line. The matchup did not disappoint, and neither dominated the other. However, based on all 32 snaps, OLS is declaring Nelson the winner in this one.