The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Baltimore Ravens Sunday at Heinz Field and that means the team’s defense will get their first real look at quarterback Lamar Jackson. To date, Jackson has thrown for 1,110 yards on the season with 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’s also rushed for 238 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries so far this season and is probably the NFL’s most elusive quarterback right now.
On Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talked some about Jackson and how he’ll be a challenge for the Pittsburgh defense this Sunday.
“We’ve seen some of Lamar Jackson, but we hadn’t seen the totality of it in the ways a lot of people have,” Tomlin said. “Looking at the tape, obviously it’s grown and he’s experiencing the natural maturation process that you expect from guys from year one to year two. He’s doing an awesome job of administering the offense.
“The offense is really challenging, quite frankly, because it stresses you in a lot of ways. He’s got the type of speed and agility that really stresses the defense on the perimeter, so we’ve got to do a great job of constricting and containing what they’re capable of doing on the perimeter.”
Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said on Wednesday that he expects to face a Ravens offense on Sunday that will be determined to run the football with running back Mark Ingram. As for Heyward’s thoughts on Jackson, the Steelers defensive captain thinks the Baltimore 2018 first-round draft pick out of Louisville has made a nice jump from his rookie season.
“You know, exponentially,” Heyward said when asked how much Jackson has improved from last season. “I think he’s just more comfortable in what he’s doing. He’s got some really good targets and in [Mark] Andrews and [Hayden] Hurst, you know, [Marquise] Brown. I think that running game really gets them started. They’re able to get out to some good leads and once you get behind in a game with them, you know, it’s hard to catch back up because he’s just going to continue to keep converting and keep getting positive yards.”
Containing Jackson in the pocket and preventing him from making plays on Sunday will be a tough chore for the Steelers defense and outside linebacker Bud Dupree is fully aware of the task at hand.
“Lamar is a very explosive guy,” Dupree said on Wednesday.
Dupree also said Wednesday that Jackson has already shown that he can make the kind of plays he did in college in the NFL thanks to his overall athleticism.
“Lamar brought that mentality kind of with him,” Dupree said. “He can make those types of plays. He made those type of throws at the college level, same thing in the league. And you know, he’s been doing pretty good this whole season. So, he’s stepped it up a notch and so we’ve got to make sure that we come out prepared for him and make sure that we contain him as well.”
On Sunday at Heinz Field, Jackson is sure to break containment a few times and if happens, the Steelers defense must do a good job of getting the young Ravens quarterback down on the ground in open space as quickly as possible. Dupree indicated on Wednesday how challenging that task will be and that it will likely take a team effort to prevent big scrambles from occurring.
“Yeah, definitely, we’ve got made those tackles when we have those one-on-one chances with him in space,” Dupree said. “He does a great job of making people miss. When you’re holding back, he’s gonna make you miss anyways so you just gotta go shoot your shot and hope the cavalry’s coming.”
On Tuesday, Tomlin was asked if the team will use a player from a different position to simulate Jackson in practice.
“I think you lose too much in the passing game when you do that, Tomlin said. “We will make do with the guys we have and that is just the reality of it. I am sure everybody goes through those things. No one has a quarterback that moves and throws like Lamar Jackson, so we are not alone in that.”
The Steelers did, however, sign quarterback Taryn Christion to their practice squad on Wednesday so that move was likely done to have him mimic Jackson as best he can on the offensive scout team this week in practice.
We’ll have to wait and see what kind of defensive pan the Steelers ultimately use Sunday to attempt to defend Jackson and the rest of the Ravens offense. As of Tuesday afternoon, however, Tomlin wasn’t quite sure what that plan might be.
“We’re at the early stages of plan development to be quite honest with you,” Tomlin said. “I’d be making it up if I answered that.”
Hopefully Tomlin and the rest of the defensive coaches have made quite a bit of progress in their plan developmental in the last 24 hours because Jackson certainly is a dynamic player who can single-handily beat the Steelers on Sunday if not defensed properly.