SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Aaron Donald often says that sacks come in bunches.
On Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle proved his theory correct as he sacked C.J. Beathard a career-high four times and wreaked havoc on the San Francisco 49ers in a 39-10 victory at Levi’s Stadium.
“It wasn’t easy,” Donald said after the game, grinning. “The secondary did a great job, made them hold the ball a little longer, gave us opportunities to get after them, and get them to the ground.”
While Donald got to the quarterback, the rest of the defense got to the ball, creating a season-high four turnovers as the Rams improved to 7-0 ahead of a matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, whom they’ll host next Sunday in Los Angeles.
“The defense’s overall energy, the sense of urgency that they had today was really special,” coach Sean McVay said. “They were great from start to finish.”
Over the last three weeks, the Rams made a habit of letting their opponents linger until the final minutes as their star-studded defense, which includes the defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Marcus Peters, struggled to put together a complete game.
But against the injury-riddled 49ers (1-6), the Rams defense pitched its most dominant performance since a Week 2 shutout of the Arizona Cardinals, holding the 49ers to 228 total yards and allowing them to convert only 27% (3-11) on third down.
Along with the four takeaways, they sacked Beathard seven times, and were so dominant that McVay took many of his defensive starters out with 10 minutes remaining in the game.
“I think we put it together today,” said defensive lineman Michael Brockers, who finished with five tackles, including two for a loss.
“We really just made an emphasis on everybody doing their job,” safety John Johnson III said. “You’re going to end up being a hero if you just do your job.”
On the 49ers’ opening series, outside linebacker Samson Ebukam sacked Beathard and forced a fumble that rookie Trevon Young recovered. The Rams converted the turnover into a field goal for a quick 3-0 lead.
Young, a sixth-round pick from Louisville, has seen increased opportunity since Dominique Easley was placed on injured reserve earlier this month with a knee injury.
Later in the first quarter, linebacker Cory Littleton sacked Beathard on third down and on the 49ers ensuing series, Donald made his presence – and his physical strength -- known.
Donald ripped the ball from the arms of running back Matt Breida then held onto it for a fumble recovery.
“The way I came off, I just got my arm on the ball and I just tugged and got the ball,” Donald said. The Rams scored four plays later on a seven-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley to go up, 10-0.
Later in the second quarter, cornerback Troy Hill -- tasked with filling in for Aqib Talib who is on injured reserve -- moved on from a shaky outing against the Broncos to intercept his first pass of the season.
Hill broke on a mid-range throw and snagged it as he went to the ground. Teammates hollered at him to get up and return it.
“Get your butt up!” Littleton recalled saying, as Hill climbed to his feet and returned the interception seven yards.
“It’s a big, big weight off my shoulders,” Hill said about his bounce-back performance. “I know what I’m capable of and I just have to stick to my technique.”
The Rams scored 17 of their 22 first-half points off of turnovers.
And they didn’t stop there.
Johnson intercepted his third pass of the season in the third quarter, when he ripped the ball from the hands of tight end George Kittle. Johnson's takeaway eventually resulted in another touchdown for Gurley, and a 32-7 Rams lead.
“I was just trying to knock it down but ended up tipping it to him and it just became a fight from there,” said Johnson, who also had 2 tackles and a pass deflection.
Littleton finished with a team-high 10 tackles and two sacks. He also blocked his second punt of the season, which resulted in a safety.
In the end, the Rams scored 24 of their 39 points off turnovers.
But as dominant as the defense’s performance was, Donald is convinced they must continue to get better as they turn their focus to Rodgers and the 3-2 Packers, who will be coming off a bye week.
“I’ve got room for improvement, we all have room for improvement,” said Donald, who finished with nine tackles. “You got to keep getting better and stay hungry and keep this roll on because 7-0 feels good, but we got to stay hungry.”