With Aaron Donald tied up, Rams need better pass rush

THOUSAND OAKS — Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald joked with a reporter last week that his pass-rush moves are limited because he has little room to operate with multiple defenders blocking him on nearly every play.

“I got this much space,” Donald said with his hands close together, “and I got three, four guys! There ain’t no way I’m getting that. Did you see that much space with me? No, I don’t get that no more. That’s gone. I ain’t never going to get that. Forget about it.”

Donald was wrong for at least one play in Monday night’s ugly loss to the San Francisco 49ers when he was left unblocked and recorded a hit on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Donald’s point, however, still stands. He rarely gets one-on-one matchups, but his defensive line teammates often do and the Rams’ defense hasn’t taken advantage of the Donald effect through four games this season.

“We got to get after the quarterback,” Donald said. “We got to find ways to affect the passer. … When guys get their one-on-ones, you got to win. Trying to find ways of affecting in all types of ways. That’s something we didn’t do last week that we got to do this week.”

Donald’s rare unblocked opportunity was the Rams’ lone quarterback back hit against Garoppolo and the 49ers. The Rams made it a priority this week to improve the pass rush against quarterback Cooper Rush and the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

“Our pass rush just in general has to pick up,” Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said. “It was a big topic for us this week, something that we’ve got to get going, particularly our four-man rush. All those things are what make us great. When those things get rolling and those things happen, our pass rushers get home, they cause disruption, they tip balls, they make the things happen that make defense easy. We need more opportunities like that. We need more of those things like that in order to make the game easier for us to play on defense.”

The Donald effect has worked most seasons for the Rams and it was at its best last season after they acquired star edge rusher Von Miller in a midseason trade with the Denver Broncos, but Miller left in free agency to sign with the Buffalo Bills. The Rams’ outside linebackers rotation of Leonard Floyd, Justin Hollins, Terrell Lewis and Takk McKinley has struggled to replicate Miller’s production.

Only two of the Rams’ seven sacks this season have come from outside linebackers. The Rams’ seven total sacks ranked 29th in the NFL heading into Week 5, and they have only 17 pressures this season, according to Pro Football Reference, which ranked last in the league. To compare, the Cowboys’ defense has 55 pressures.

“There’s going to be a couple plays when they’re going to have to hold the ball and we got to find a way to get him down, affect him some way, somehow,” Donald said about defending Rush. “It’s not always me. A lot of other good football players out there that need to win their one-on-ones. If they want to find ways to focus on one guy, that’s the opportunity for other guys to be the playmakers.”

Morris and the Rams avoid blitzing because they don’t want to disrupt what they do in the secondary with their two-high scheme that limits big plays. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said he would like to shadow Cowboys No. 1 wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, but that might not benefit the defense as a whole and he might not get opportunities to generate takeaways if Rush is avoiding his side of the field.

“We’ve seen when I shadow a player, they motion away,” Ramsey said. “We can’t play man every single snap, right? I know that’s probably what people want to happen, but I shadow a person and then they motion away, or I shadow a person and they become a decoy, so I’m not in the mix at all and I get no targets. It’s tough to get in the game that way sometimes. If I know somebody’s going to get a lot of targets and the ball is going to be forced to go there, then obviously that’s where I want to be. I want to be where the action is.”

Generating takeaways was also high on the Rams’ priority list this week because they haven’t recorded a takeaway in back-to-back games. They nearly got one when rookie cornerback Derion Kendrick jumped a route against wide receiver Deebo Samuel that led to a 57-yard touchdown for the 49ers. Morris said he wants to see Kendrick take more similar chances.

“I love it, love it,” Morris said. “I would never ever take that away from (Kendrick). Put yourself in those spots. You got to put yourself out there to make those plays. … I absolutely love the aggressiveness of the nature of that play for him and for all of us.”

The Rams want their players to stay aggressive, but it starts with the four-man pass rush. If they’re taking advantage of Donald’s double and triple-teams, that would create more opportunities for takeaways.

“We have full confidence in those front-four guys,” Rams linebacker Ernest Jones said. “Once it starts clicking for them, it’s going to be really beneficial for us.”

EDWARDS RETURNS TO O-LINE

The Rams will receive much-needed offensive line help with the return of left guard David Edwards, who was cleared from the concussion protocol and is available to play against the Cowboys.

Edwards told the team he was feeling symptoms after taking a hit in practice last week and was placed in the concussion protocol before being ruled out against the 49ers.

“Later that night, I was playing with my girls, I just didn’t feel right,” Edwards recalled. “Next morning, I went through meetings, just told myself, ‘If I still don’t feel right, then I gotta say something.’”

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The Rams will start their fifth offensive line combination in five games with Jeremiah Kolone playing center versus Dallas. Kolone replaced Coleman Shelton after the center suffered a high-ankle injury in the first half against the 49ers. Shelton is expected to miss four to six weeks, according to Rams coach Sean McVay.

“Big-time stability,” McVay said about what Edwards’ presence provides. “He’s obviously been a guy who’s been in there for a long time. I think just the comfort, even playing next to Joe (Noteboom), their comfort level. That’ll be big.”

Brian Allen, the Week 1 center, will miss his fourth consecutive game with a knee injury. Rookie cornerback Cobie Durant (hamstring) and safety Jordan Fuller (hamstring) were also ruled out for Sunday’s game. Cornerback David Long (groin) and safety Taylor Rapp (ribs) were listed as “questionable” on the final injury report of Week 5.