Seahawks have (mostly) protected Russell Wilson better, but here comes Aaron Donald

RENTON, Wash. -- Russell Wilson was enjoying some of the best pass protection of any NFL quarterback over the Seattle Seahawks' first seven games before he was sacked five times and hit 11 others in their 44-34 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

It was enough of a pounding to take some of the shine off the improvement the Seahawks have made this season to what has long been their offense's Achilles' heel.

Now here comes Aaron Donald.

To potentially make matters worse, the Seahawks (6-2) could be without starting center Ethan Pocic (concussion) Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox) when they make their first trip to SoFi Stadium to play the Los Angeles Rams (5-3) and the all-world defensive tackle who has tormented their offense more than any other player during the Wilson era.

If there ever was a good time to face Donald -- the NFL's two-time Defensive Player of the Year and this season's co-leader in sacks with nine -- this ain't it.

"They have the best player in the world on their defense right in the middle of the defense and he makes problems for everybody," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "They're utilizing him really well, much like he's been utilized in the past."

The Seahawks can't afford to fall into an early hole against Donald and the Rams like they did against Buffalo. They entered that game as one of the NFL's most pass-heavy offenses and were without their top two running backs, Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde. So by the time the Seahawks trailed 14-0 before running their fourth offensive play, it was no mystery they'd be throwing the rest of the afternoon.

The Bills teed off accordingly, blitzing Wilson on 47% of his dropbacks. Two sacks resulted in fumbles Buffalo recovered.

"We have to be better. We have to be better at the things that we can control up front," Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown said. "We have to be in tune with it and eliminate those [mistakes]. We’re very aware of that. We’ve been doing a pretty solid job, but last week was unacceptable, and we’re all up to the challenge of correcting that.

"Russell is extremely important to our team and our success, and for me, I hate seeing him get hit. ... We know the challenge that LA’s defense brings, so we’re locked in.”

The Seahawks entered that game tied for fifth in pass block win rate (65.2%), an ESPN stat that uses NFL Next Gen data to measure how frequently offensive linemen sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer. They were 28th (53.5%) last season. Wilson's average time in the pocket of 2.64 seconds before throwing the ball or getting sacked entering last week was fourth highest, according to ESPN charting. His 2.44-second average last year ranked 21st.

Most observers would have predicted more pass-protection issues early this season. The Seahawks had the makings of an improved offensive line, but that position group figured to be more negatively affected than most by the absence of OTAs, minicamps and the preseason, especially when breaking in several new starters. One of them was rookie Damien Lewis.

Before drafting Lewis in the third round, general manager John Schneider signed four offensive linemen in free agency, sticking with his usual bargain approach over high-priced splash additions. B.J. Finney looked to be their starting center before he was beaten out by Pocic and shipped to Cincinnati in the Carlos Dunlap trade. Chance Warmack was going to compete for the starting job at right guard before opting out. Cedric Ogbuehi was supposed to fill the George Fant role as an oft-used third tackle but has hardly played.

Brandon Shell is the only signing that has worked out, but it has worked out better than anticipated. The ex-New York Jet has been a significant upgrade over Germain Ifedi at right tackle. Lewis, meanwhile, immediately grabbed hold of the right guard job and has looked like Seattle's best draft pick, save his six penalties. Pocic has proved why he won the center job. Jordan Simmons has filled in capably in starting four games for Mike Iupati at left guard and playing most of a fifth for Lewis. Browns has been his usual Pro Bowl self, even at age 35.

Brown (94%) and Shell (91.5%) rank sixth and 13th, respectively, among tackles in PBWR.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was answering a question about the luxury of having two No. 1-caliber wide receivers in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf last week when he pivoted to the role the offensive line has played in Seattle leading the league in scoring and Wilson leading the MVP race.

"Those five guys up front are doing a tremendous job," he said. "The pass protection has been excellent, the stuff in the run game. For those five that are really a lot of new pieces -- Brandon's new and D-Lew's new. What Ethan Pocic has done has been so impressive. He's just mastered and really just taken control of that room. So they're the ones really allowing all this stuff to happen. They're the ones that are really the guys that are helping produce those big numbers, and so I couldn't be more pleased about the way those guys are performing up front."

Even Schottenheimer didn't know what to expect with all the new pieces.

"The big question that we had was just how they would jell together," he said.

The Seahawks are a respectable eighth in PBWR (63%) after the Buffalo game. But they haven't faced Donald and might have to do so Sunday without their starting center. Kyle Fuller, who has made two career starts, is Pocic's backup.

Among interior defenders, Donald has the league's second-best PRWR (21.4%) despite facing the highest rate of double-teams (70.5%).

"He's just a dominant football player," Carroll said. "He's as good as you can get. He's as good at his position as anybody has ever been. So it's a real challenge to go against him and it's good for us. We need the work. We need the challenge. It's hugely important for us to be able to handle him and not let him be a factor, and that's what we're going to try and get done."