Aaron Donald hasn’t participated in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks since Week 16 of the 2020 season and even then he had two sacks in a wild card win over Seattle less than two weeks later. No non-QB player has dominated an NFL franchise like what Donald has done to the Seahawks over the last 10 years, not just in head-to-head win-loss record, but also changing the course of a division rival’s future for the worse and even impacting Seattle’s quarterback room two times in the last three years.
When Aaron Donald goes into the Hall of Fame, put Pete Carroll’s bust directly below his because that’s probably where it belongs. The Seahawks head coach may have won multiple Super Bowls if not for the inability to stop just this one player over the last decade.
Jeff Fisher-Donald Era
In his first game against the Seahawks as a rookie in 2014, Donald had one sack and three tackles for a loss in a 28-26 victory against the reigning Super Bowl champions. It didn’t matter that Seattle was 12-4 and the Rams were 6-10, or that the Seahawks would be going to another Super Bowl that year: Donald sacked Russell Wilson and stuffed potential Hall of Fame running back Marshawn Lynch for a loss two times.
Seattle won the Week 17 rematch 20-6, but Donald added another sack and forced fumble in a game that would have been difficult to win between Wilson and Shaun Hill starting at quarterback. Donald wasn’t responsible for St. Louis’s inept offense.
The Rams went 7-9 in 2015 but swept the Seahawks as Donald had five QB hits, four tackles for a loss, and five QB hits in the season series. If it was not for Donald, Seattle might have gone 11-5 or 12-4 instead of 10-6, which would have at least changed their playoff path as a wild card (Cardinals won the division at 13-3). The Seahawks would have avoided the 15-1 Panthers in the divisional round and may have at least reached the NFC Championship that season instead of getting embarrassed by Carolina that year. Maybe nothing changes, but obviously Seattle was a much worse team against Donald than they were against any other team...and 2015 was the beginning of the end for any chance of a Seahawks “dynasty”.
In 2016, the Rams were one of the NFL’s worst teams at 4-12, but still beat the Seahawks by a 9-3 score in Week 2. They quite clearly won because of their defense, a defense led by AD, who had four QB hits and two tackles for a loss in that dominant performance against Wilson. You could add that Week 15’s loss to Seattle that year was partially impacted by having fired Jeff Fisher and turning the team over to John Fassel for the last three games. If the Seahawks had swept a 4-12 Rams team, Seattle might have hosted the Falcons in the divisional round instead of going to Atlanta, where they were soundly beaten.
When Sean McVay was hired in 2017, the Rams dominance over the Seahawks was put into overdrive.
The first game between Pete Carroll and Sean McVay was a 16-10 victory for the Seahawks. Still, Donald had three QB hits and two tackles for a loss.
But a little over two months later in the rematch, the Rams beat the Seahawks 42-7, Carroll’s worst loss as Seattle’s head coach. Donald had three sacks in that game even though he only played in 38 snaps. If the Seahawks had won both games, they could have reached the playoffs as a wild card instead of missing the postseason for the first time since 2011.
In 2018, the Rams swept the Seahawks for the second time in the Donald era, and AD had 3.5 sacks, six QB hits, and four TFL in the two games. Seattle made the playoffs as a wild card, but if they had swept L.A. instead of getting swept, the Seahawks would have won the division. The Rams reached the Super Bowl that season while Seattle was knocked out in the first round by the Cowboys.
The next year, the Seahawks won the first meeting by a single point only because Greg Zuerlein missed a 44-yard attempt with seconds remaining. The Rams won the next game 28-12, a game in which Donald had 1.5 sacks and four QB hits.
In 2020, with the Jared Goff era winding down and L.A. still looking for answers after Todd Gurley had been cut, the Rams still beat the Seahawks 23-16 in the first meeting. Seattle won the rematch but then the Rams beat Seattle in the wild card round despite having to go on the road and mixing the QB position between John Wolford and Goff. Donald had two sacks and three QB hits in the wild card victory. If the Seahawks had won the series 2-0, the Rams still would have made the playoffs but Seattle might have gotten the number one seed.
Once again the Rams, led by Donald, kept the Seahawks from having their best opportunity to make a Super Bowl run.
You could now argue that was clearly the case in at least 2015, 2018, and 2020.
In 2021, Pete Carroll’s first losing season as Seattle’s head coach since 2011, the Seahawks were swept by Donald’s Rams again. L.A. won 26-17 and 20-10, showing that the teams were not even that close, and Donald had a sack in both games. If not for the Rams, Seattle might have had a winning 9-8 record, which could have made the playoffs. Not only that, but Donald sacked Wilson and knocked him out of that contest and the next three games, the first time Wilson had missed starts in his career. That’s what opened the door for Geno Smith to make three starts and that’s when Carroll decided that he could trade Wilson and give the job to Geno.
Donald was never trying to injure Wilson but it just so happens that when you constantly tackle the quarterback, you’re eventually going to hurt him. Donald changed the course of Seattle’s franchise again.
Donald vs. Geno
The Seahawks won both games in the series last year, however that was also the first time that Donald sat out both, let alone one, game against Seattle. Also, the Rams started Wolford and Baker Mayfield at quarterback in both games, both of which were decided by four points or less.
It was the first time since drafting Donald that Seattle swept the Rams, and it is no coincidence that Donald didn’t play in those games.
The Rams have now swept the Seahawks again with Donald being active for both games. He had three QB hits, a batted pass, and a tackle for a loss in Sunday’s win over Seattle, closing the gap between the two teams in the wild card race: The Seahawks are 6-4 and the Rams are 4-6 with two head-to-head victories.
It also just so happens that Donald hit Geno Smith so hard at one point that Seattle had to put Drew Lock in the game. It’s unclear if Smith will be ready to start on Thursday against the San Francisco 49ers. Could Donald be starting another new era in Seattle?
Aaron Donald vs. the Seahawks: 14-5 (including 1-0 in playoffs)
Stats in 19 games: 17.5 sacks, 48 QB hits, 27 TFL, 70 tackles, 2 FF, 4 PD
Playoff Trips Impacted: Probably at least 6
Oh, and prior to drafting Aaron Donald in 2014, the Rams had lost 16 of the previous 18 games to the Seahawks.
This one guy seriously impacted the course of two franchises at a critical time for both the Rams and the Seahawks. He is probably more responsible for keeping Seattle from having a dynasty than Malcolm Butler, Bill Belichick, or Tom Brady.
Bruce Smith holds the record for most sacks by a player against one team as he had 31 in his career against the Jets. But keep in mind that Smith is an edge rusher who played in 30 games against New York and Donald is a defensive tackle who has played in 19 against Seattle and maintained almost the same pace as that. Donald also mostly sacked a mobile quarterback who might make the Hall of Fame, while Smith was dominating the New York Jets.
The Seahawks are expected to be sold as soon as next year. But I think we already know who owns the rights.