It’s arguable that there have been very few players in NFL history who have ever had an offense so specifically built around him the way the Baltimore Ravens have around Lamar Jackson. He wasn’t just the team’s leading passer, of course, he was also their leading rusher, becoming the second quarterback to ever rush for 1000 yards, in fact rushing for over 1200, despite sitting out the finale.
In contrast to the other quarterback who reached 1000 yards, however, so much of Jackson’s yardage came on designed runs. He wasn’t just scrambling but in fact just running the play that was called. How often do you see pulling linemen for a quarterback run?
The point is, the Ravens put Jackson in a lot of positions in which he will get hit. To date, he has done a very good job of protecting himself and avoiding significant hits, not to mention injuries. But defenses are still learning how to defend him in many ways.
The Tennessee Titans are one of the best defenses the Ravens will have faced so far this year, and the first they will face in the postseason. While head coach Mike Vrabel wouldn’t seemingly come right out and say it, one of the men responsible for defending him spilled the beans on the plan.
“The biggest thing is closing the gaps on him”, Jurell Casey said when asked how they will have to defend Jackson. “Don’t stop your feet. When that guy’s got the ball in his hand, take your shots. The biggest thing is getting a hit on him as much as you can, get him running sideline to sideline. Don’t let him get downfield”.
Interestingly enough, this was the approach that the Pittsburgh Steelers took—in the finale against the Ravens in which Jackson didn’t play. Robert Griffin III started that game, but they defended him much the same way that they would the future MVP. They even got a couple of penalties because of it, being overly aggressive in their efforts to get a hit on him on every play, whether he ends up with the ball or not.
Even if the Titans fail to win, if they set this defense up and show other teams that it can work, you should probably expect to see Jackson taking a lot of hits from this point forward. It was in the postseason a year ago that the Los Angeles Chargers finally shut the door on his surging play during his rookie season.
Defenses have had to learn how to defend him over the course of the year. The Titans will have seen all of his regular season tape and will be ready to defend him, and the Kansas City Chiefs or Houston Texans will be ready next week. Now we’ll see how Jackson responds to it.