No matter what your opinion of him might be as an overall player, or perhaps more notably, as a passer, it’s night impossible to deny that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is one of the most exciting players in the NFL today. He is a regular fixture on highlight reels thanks to his electric speed alone.
While there are questions about how far he can take his craft as a pure passer, and the Ravens have sought to address this by adding three more wide receivers this offseason, including a long-sought veteran presence in Sammy Watkins, he will still remain a major headache as long as he can run—and as defensive coordinator Wink Martindale told season ticket holders recently, there’s only so much you can do about that.
One of the common tactics teams employ against mobile quarterbacks, particularly if they have a tendency to scramble, is to use a ‘spy’ on defense, typically an inside linebacker whose assignment it is to track the quarterback’s movements and simply not ever give him a blind alley.
That might not be enough when it comes to defending Jackson’s unparalleled speed and athleticism. “You better make sure that spy can catch Lamar and I don’t know if there is a defensive guy who can”, ESPN beat writer Jamison Hensley quoted Martindale as saying.
He also said that Jackson becomes the Ravens’ best defensive player on the field during end-of-game situations in the five-minute offense, taking about his ability to finish games because of his ability to move the ball around, keep plays alive, and simply give defenses fits while tiring them out.
This is not a unique concept in principle, and in fact ties into what Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin regularly talks about: complementary football. It’s not just about the offense picking up the defense when they’re struggling or vice versa, but rather working in harmony, winning situationally, taking care of one another.
Cameron Heyward talked about how much the defense expects to like new running back Najee Harris. Even though they haven’t seen him in a stadium yet, they believe that he will add a dimension to the offense that will fulfill that ‘complementary football’ objective, like churning out the tough yards to move the chains and keep the defense off the field.
In other words, the best defense is a good offense, and Jackson and the Ravens do provide the defense with that. They ranked sixth in the NFL last season in average length of drive, and fourth in third-down conversion percentage, keeping the clock moving and shortening the game.