Editor’s note: This is the first part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Rams matchups to watch Sunday, 10 a.m., at Edward Jones Dome.
Rams DT Aaron Donald vs. Raiders RG Austin Howard
Tale of the tape:
Howard (77): 6-foot-7, 330 pounds, fifth season, Northern Iowa
Donald (99): 6-foot-1, 285 pounds, rookie season, Pittsburgh
Right guard Austin Howard has been criticized some during his first season as a Raider, when he has transitioned from tackle to guard. The veteran deserves praise for his play the last two weeks.
That’s especially true of Thursday’s victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, where he matched up with nose tackle Dontari Poe. Howard corralled him well, and was the lead blocker of choice during key quarterback sneaks on the game-deciding drive.
“I thought yesterday Austin Howard probably played his best game,” Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano said. “I thought he did a really good job in the inside there. I really felt Austin during the course of that game.”
Howard’s work won’t get any easier on Sunday in St. Louis. The Rams’ talented defensive line features rookie-of-the-year candidate Aaron Donald, a young tackle with a rare combination of speed and power.
And, with so many other threats up front, Howard will have to do well without much help. Donald leads all rookies with five sacks. He has eight quarterback hits, 18 hurries and has 15 tackles for loss.
“This guy is a really active player,” Sparano said. “When you get a guy that has speed and power inside and his speed and power inside, that combination is kind of rare. You either find a guy that’s a fast guy that plays inside or a big guy that plays inside, but when you get that combination like that it’s really dangerous. It’s a challenge; we’ve got to know where he is all the time."