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Patriots vs Ravens: Stopping Lamar Jackson’s running needs to be New England’s number one priority

Related: Asking Baltimore Beatdown: Ravens defense is vulnerable in the middle of the field

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

In 2018, Lamar Jackson only entered the Baltimore Ravens’ starting lineup after veteran quarterback Joe Flacco suffered a hip injury. The first-round draft selection never looked back, however, and ultimately led the club to the postseason which in turn made Baltimore move on from Flacco via trade — handing the keys over to Jackson heading into his second year in the NFL. Seven games into his 2019 season, the decision looks like a good one.

Jackson is a big reason why Baltimore has started the campaign 5-2 while fielding the second best scoring offense in all of football: the sophomore quarterback has looked good as a passer (136 of 215, 1,650 yards, 11 touchdowns, 5 interceptions) and is his usual productive self on the ground as well (83 attempts, 576 yards, 3 touchdowns). All in all, Jackson is a true dual-threat quarterback and a tough player to contain.

“I’m surprised Jackson has advanced so quickly from his rookie season, though it’s foolish to not believe in him and his abilities,” said Kyle Barber of Baltimore Beatdown when speaking about the Ravens’ quarterback earlier this week. “He’s now reading the field and searching for the open receiver. He’s trying to throw the football and not break loose on any given down. Honestly, he’s hung in the pocket to a fault, which can be aggravating, knowing he can/should escape and make a play.”

“He’s also learned to hang onto the football. Last year, Jackson fumbled 12 times. He’s only fumbled four times this season and two of them were in the pouring rain in Seattle on failed exchanges/bad snaps,” he continued before also pointing out some negatives about Jackson: “He stares down Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. He knows they’re the best playmakers on the roster and forces passes their way. He doesn’t always go through the reads, even when Chris Moore or Seth Roberts have opened up the field.”

Today, Jackson will face arguably the toughest challenge of his young career when going up against a New England Patriots defense that has surrendered just 5.0 points per game and leads the NFL in most statistical categories — a unit that has scored as many touchdowns (four) as it has surrendered. From the Patriots’ perspective, meanwhile, slowing the second-year man down will be the number one priority.

“Jackson’s running ability is what you want to eliminate most,” said Kyle. “That won’t be easy though because you can’t necessarily scheme for his speed, agility and elusiveness. Spy’s won’t work much because he will burn any linebacker on any roster. I’m not saying Jackson can simply waltz past everybody but I think it’s fair to say he’s going to get a first down on their defense at some point when the Patriots shut down all other options. He’s done it in every game thus far.”

“I also expect to see both ‘Hollywood’ Brown and Andrews locked up for most of the game,” he continued when speaking about which weapons the Patriots need to prioritize tonight. “Make Jackson beat you with Willie Snead and Seth Roberts. When they’re open, it will be suspect. Coach Belichick knows Jackson wants to air it out their way and we’ll see some clever coverages to try and force a turnover.”

Jackson and his pass catching group — led by first-round rookie receiver Brown and outstanding second-year tight end Andrews — are not the only aspect of Baltimore’s offense that can create problems for New England’s outstanding defense: the team also features a running back that has worked well alongside his quarterback and has been quite productive so far in his own right, despite having gained 106 fewer rushing yards.

Mark Ingram has seven rushing touchdowns and 470 rushing yards in seven games. He’s the perfect weapon and complement to Jackson and this offense,” said Kyle about the offseason signing. He named him as one of the non-Jackson players to keep an eye out tonight, alongside another tight end: “Nick Boyle is another name worth mentioning. He’s not going to do much in the passing game but he’s a massive weapon when blocking. He’s an extra guard and he earned a big extension for his blocking skills.”

Ultimately, however, the Ravens are still Jackson’s team — and their success is closely tied to his ability to move the football through the air and on the ground. Needless to say that an intriguing challenge awaits New England’s defense, as Kyle also mentioned: “Jackson’s fixed a lot with his game and his offensive coordinator isn’t running him into the ground anymore, but he’s still a 22-year old sophomore quarterback with room to grow and learn.”