The good news for Brett Jones is that he finally gets to pick on somebody his own size.
The Giants center usually has a disadvantage when it comes to stature. He’s listed at a generous 6-2 and is normally dwarfed by the humongous defensive tackles other teams line up across from him.
“Hopefully the size thing will help me match up,” Jones said of this week’s vertically challenged opponent. “Usually the guys are a lot bigger.”
The bad news? The shrimp he’s going against just happens to be one of the most dangerous interior defensive linemen in the NFL.
Aaron Donald may be listed at 6-1 and 280 pounds, but he has proved himself to be big-time player. Not only is he an aggressive run-stuffer with 64 tackles for a loss in 54 career games but he’s a ferocious pass-rusher with 31 sacks in his 3 1⁄2-year career.
“You could make a case that he’s the most disruptive defensive tackle in the league,” Giants offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. “Both run and pass.”
In the past few weeks it has been the Giants’ tackles who have had to withstand the pass rush of some of the league’s most feared players. This week, if the Giants are going to win and handle the Rams, it’ll have to be an inside job.
There was a good chance the Giants would have moved Justin Pugh, who started the last two games at right tackle, back to guard for this game just to put their best lineman in position to block the Rams’ best. Pugh was playing guard in London last year when the Giants faced the Rams and Donald was held to just three tackles and no sacks in a 17-10 win. But Pugh has not practiced all week with a sore back and center Weston Richburg will miss this game with a concussion. That could leave Jones at center flanked by John Jerry and D.J. Fluker to handle Donald.
Fluker, unlike Jones, has faced Donald in the past.
“He’s a little guy, but he’s a hard worker,” Fluker said. “He’s explosive. He’s just fast.”
Fluker, who is bigger than almost everyone else in the NFL (6-5, 345), said the key to slowing down Donald is to use his size differential.
“You have to be aggressive with him,” Fluker said. “I’ve got mad respect for him, he’s done a great job since he’s been in the NFL. But the thing about him is you have to match his intensity. Be violent with him.”
Donald’s size presents challenges, even for a player like Jones who will be able to look him eye-to-eye.
“He plays low because he’s short already and he’s got good leverage,” Jones said. “That helps him a lot in both the run and pass. It’s sort of a unique style he has, but he excels at it.”
He’s not the only weapon the Rams have on their defensive line. They lead the league in batted passes up front and have recorded 23 sacks. Robert Quinn and Conor Barwin provide pressure from the edges in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.
It’s Donald, though, who presents the toughest challenge for the Giants.
“You can’t take anything from him,” Fluker said. “He’ll probably be a Hall of Fame guy one day.”
That gold jacket will be size 99 short, no doubt. On Sunday, though, the Giants want to make sure he doesn’t earn it just yet.