Rams’ Aaron Donald may be NFL’s best defender this season, and Seahawks’ Russell Wilson may be top offensive player. Please take a moment to appreciate this pinnacle event.
A case can be made that the NFL’s offensive and defensive players of the NFL year will face off Sunday at the Clink, armed with jousting lances and astride colossal steeds. Upon a signal from the king, they will charge fearlessly at one another for the prize of all lands, castles and treasures of the NFC West.
Some spoilsports would say that description is way too medieval.
I would say if Rams/Seahawks, and Aaron Donald/Russell Wilson, are indeed such big deals, then let’s get into this tournament with some High Middle Ages hyperbole.
Wilson agrees. Sorta.
At least he went off his carefully manicured script to engage in the hyperbole part. It wasn’t medieval, or even mean. It was complimentary. But still . . .
He’s never said something like this before.
“He’s probably, in my opinion, the best defensive player I’ve ever played against,” said Wilson of Donald Thursday at his weekly presser. “That’s a pretty big statement. I’ve played against some really good guys.”
He has indeed played against most of the best since his NFL arrival in 2012. And Donald, a first-round pick in 2014 (13th overall), seems to be playing at his best.
A 6-foot-1, 285-pound defensive end who seems to have T-Rex speed and attitude but with longer arms, Donald is rated by Pro Football Focus as the NFL’s No. 1 D-line inside player. In 12 games this season, he has matched his sack total of a year ago (eight) when he was voted All-Pro, despite drawing perpetual double teams.
“You never know where he’s going to be,” said Fletcher Cox, the Eagles’ star defensive end about his rival as the best D-lineman. “That’s the thing about him. He’ll make plays just all over the field. Everybody looks at him (and) they know he’s a little guy, but he’s a little guy that’s really physical. He plays the game mean, and that’s what I really like about him.”
Said Wade Phillips, the Rams’ first-year defensive coordinator after he saw Donald work up close:
“I thought he was good, but I didn’t know he was better than everybody.”
Wilson was nearly as gushy as Phillips.
“I have tremendous respect for how he plays the game,” he said. “He’s really, really tough, he’s really quick, and he’s pretty special. You look forward to those match-ups, just because those are things that you’ll remember.
“Those are the things that you’ll tell your kids one day: ‘I played against this guy,’ and those are fun things. He’s definitely one of those guys that will probably be a Hall of Famer.”
If we didn’t know Wilson better, we would say he’s setting up Donald to knock him off his high horse.
That would imply some base motives on his part.
But Wilson offered some proof of sincerity after the teams’ first meeting in October. Donald hit Wilson three times but had no sacks in Seattle’s 16-10 win. Post-game on the Coliseum floor, the pair exchanged jerseys in a traditional gesture of sports respect.
“Those are the type of things that you do when you get to play against a guy like that, and vice-versa,” Wilson said. “I think for us, to be able to exchange jerseys, was pretty cool because you go to battle against each other, but then you realize he’s going to be one of the best to ever do it up front. It’s pretty cool.”
Impressive as has been Donald’s season — he missed the Rams’ opener in a contract dispute — Wilson’s season individually has a higher ceiling. He’s in the discussion for Most Valuable Player, owing to the passel of fourth-quarter heroics that have kept Seahawks playoff hopes alive in the face of travail, misdeed, distraction, comeuppances and casualties.
Wilson is responsible for about 85 percent of the yards accrued by the Seahawks offense, which if it holds, would be an NFL single-season record. He’s the team’s leading passer, rusher and also had a game-saving tackle in the first game against the Rams, after he denied CB John Johnson a second-quarter touchdown following an interception returned 69 yards. The defense held LA to a field goal and the Rams did not score again.
The MVP award is different than the best offensive player, which is largely a function of big stats. Wilson’s brilliance in improvisation has no metric; quantifying his deeds is like trying Monday morning at work to use words to describe a Robin Williams skit on Saturday Night Live.
Whether there are more worthy candidates for their respective awards awaits the end of the regular season. For Sunday, if you can pause your nervous huffing during the game, please take a moment to consider the delight in watching two athletes matched against each other at the pinnacle of their respective crafts.
A joust worthy of a kingdom to the winner.