The 2022 New England Patriots defense is no stranger to going up against first-round talent at the quarterback position. It had to defend the Miami Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa in Week 1, followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mitchell Trubisky in Week 2.
Lamar Jackson, however, is a different kind of player. Frankly, the Baltimore Ravens’ starting QB is one of the best players in the entire league and as such a challenge for any defense.
Not only has Jackson proven himself a productive passer this year, completing 64.4 percent of his pass attempts for 531 yards as well as six touchdowns and an interception. Additionally, he has accounted for almost two thirds of Baltimore’s rushing yards: the team’s leading ball-carrier Jackson has gained 138 yards on just 13 non-kneel down carries and found the end zone once.
The numbers already paint a pretty clear picture. The entire Ravens offense is difficult to defend, but it starts and ends with Lamar Jackson.
The Patriots, of course, know that.
“Football comes down to 11 guys doing their job,” said safety Devin McCourty on Wednesday. “When you go against a good football team, and you go against some really good players out there, you can’t have guys out there, saying, ‘This is my play.’ You don’t know what the offense is going to do. No matter what, we have to stay disciplined especially with a guy like Lamar Jackson.
“There’s going to be times with some of the plays that they scheme, runs, different things, a guy has a guy. We’ll have a quarterback guy for Lamar Jackson. Do you have him, though? That’s the thing, and that’s where you talk about discipline.”
McCourty knows what he is talking about, having gone up against Jackson twice before. The Patriots suffered a road loss in 2019, following it up with a home victory the next year. The second game also featured linebacker Josh Uche, who notched a 7-yard sack against the dual-threat QB.
Like McCourty, he too mentioned the importance of discipline when going up against Jackson.
“It’s going to take discipline from all 11 guys on the field,” Uche said. “Just everyone executing their assignments.”
What will those assignments look like? That remains to be seen, but defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. has an idea that goes beyond spying on Jackson.
“Lot of pressure, honestly, and a lot of teamwork up front,” Wise Jr. said. “Being able to contain him and apply pressure is a challenge, but something we can do.”
Of course, talking about containing Jackson and putting pressure on him is one thing — actually doing it is another one altogether. Jackson, after all, has shown some notable growth since entering the league as a first-round draft pick back in 2018.
He has become less reliant on his immense athletic skills, but rather has developed a certain level of comfort staying in the pocket as well. As a result, Jackson is now the total package at the position.
“The hard thing with him is he got better. You watch him sit in the pocket a lot more patient, but I think the hardest thing is him reading the defense,” said McCourty.
“When you’re in zone, you can see he sees that. He stays in the pocket; he knows that within that zone, his guy’s going to uncover, he’s going to have time. When you’re in man, he still wants to keep his eyes downfield, but if that lane opens up and he sees all the routes are going in the other direction, he knows it’s trouble for you. You’ll see him take off, and you’ll see big plays happen like that.”