Every team in the AFC North realizes that to defeat the Baltimore Ravens, you have to beat Lamar Jackson first. Exactly how is this done? Cradle him in the pocket and make him win with his arm? Allow him to break free and tackle him in the open field. How?
Jackson (6’-2”, 212 pounds) is currently fifth in the NFL in rushing. Yeh, ahead of guys like Derrick Henry, Alvin Karmara, Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, and Dalvin Cook. Those are the players who make their paychecks running the ball and yet here is a quarterback outdoing them.
Jackson is the only QB listed in the league’s Top-25 in rushing with 451 yards and a 75.2 yards per game average. Any running back would love to have that average.
The talented signal caller is ranked 17th in passing yards with 1,277, 13 TD passes against six interceptions, and a 93.2 QB rating.
To be the best, you have to beat the best.
To win the division, you have to at least split with Baltimore. This means the Cleveland Browns will have to defeat La-mar. That is easier said than done as the franchise has been discovered countless times.
But how? How do the Browns neutralize Jackson? Let’s debate!
DBN Staff Writer
The best defense against Lamar is wearing #28 for the Browns.
is the ultimate Lamar defender, and he has been able to be a thorn in the side of Lamar before. Of course, I’m not referencing the hit that knocked Lamar from the game last season, before that only threw for 182 yards on 36 attempts. Did I forget to mention the 1-4 TD-INT ratio? The Browns kept him in the pocket as well holding him to 73 yards on 19 carries when he tried to test the Browns on the ground.
JOK allows the Browns the ability to crash the pocket with Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney (if healthy) while he spies and keeps tabs on him breaking out. He is something that other teams simply do not have.
As long as #28 is on the field the Browns will have a better chance than everyone else at slowing down Lamar.
DBN Staff Writer
Defending Lamar has been an elusive objective of the Browns for basically his entire career. It may well be that the best defensive maneuver we could have pulled off was the DeShaun Watson contract. Because it has had an impact on his contract negotiations with Baltimore, and it appears in turn to have affected his play in 2022.
What do I mean by this? Well, to watch the Ravens this year you do notice a bit of a difference in Jackson’s game. His whole career to this point has seemed to be an exercise in a running quarterback who also can pass effectively. It looks like there’s an effort, perhaps solely on the part of Jackson himself (which is just my rote speculation to be fair) to flip that and for him to become a passer-first that can also run the ball well when he so chooses. Count me among those that believe this is the right way for the Ravens to proceed, even if they may not agree (and indeed, neither does much of the public at large).
For evidence of this, we look at some pretty basic raw numbers. Through five games in 2022, Lamar is averaging about 30 passing attempts per game; which is up from his career average coming into the year (about 27 per). Now that’s not a monumental leap by any means, but along with that comes a bit of a drop-off in the number of times he’s running the ball as well. Coming into 2022 he was good for about 13 carries a game, but so far in 2022, that number has dipped to just under 10 (all numbers courtesy of Pro Football Reference).
Again, not a drastic disparity but if you combine those two numbers with what things look like on the field, this guy doesn’t seem like he’s running with the same intensity we’ve seen in years past. Maybe that’s deliberate, maybe it’s incidental, and maybe it’s a misreading on my part (and others who have noted the same). However, if there IS something to it, then it does probably change the way the Browns should approach defending him.
As it happens, last year we didn’t do a horrible job against him in the one-and-a-half games he played against us. You could make the case that QB Tyler Huntley looked better against us in relief. What teams started doing to Lamar a lot as the season wore in 2021 (before his injury) was, surprisingly, to blitz him more often. That seemed to work, but also doesn’t seem to be as effective this season (and perhaps that is the actual reason for the possible change in play style).
So in terms of what the Browns can do to stop him, there is some degree of hypothesizing that needs to go on here. By that, I mean that currently, Cleveland’s defense has a fundamental deficiency that puts us at a competitive disadvantage until we figure it out (and perhaps by this publication it will have been handled in the Patriots’ game) - not that “figuring it out” is a foregone conclusion. Therefore we have to sort of look at this through the lens of two different eventuates for this Browns’ defense.
The first is easy: if we do not get a green dot replacement for Anthony Walker, and continue not being able to (even come close to) accurately reading the run keys, then it doesn’t matter what the game plan is against the Ravens. If we continue being derelict at this most basic of run defense imperatives then you can pencil in Baltimore to put up about five hundred yards on the ground against us - and it doesn’t matter who they have at running back.
However, if we can make this correction (as in, if Deion Jones can come in and give us about B.J. Goodson-level play at Mike-linebacker) well now we can talk about a game plan against Lamar that could matter. If that’s the case, and also taking into consideration our defensive breakdowns from earlier in the year (which to their credit seem to be quelled), I would go into this contest thus:
We should play a lot of zones to keep eyes both on Lamar and the running game - assisting with the front seven’s problems with corralling the run. Cover 2 seems to be the league meta this year so I’d see us in that shell quite a bit. Will probably result in TE Mark Andrews making plays over the middle but I’d rather deal with that and try to crunch them in the Red Zone than concede the run (which we’ve been doing either by choice or practicality anyway) and/or let Lamar get loose in the secondary.
At the same time, I’d be incorporating the “mush-rush” by our EDGE’s, whichever ones happen to be playing. In this way, we can hopefully keep him in the pocket and force him to beat us there. If we go Wide-9 and try to rush with speed up the field I see him slipping that for big-gainers all day. So keep him contained by the way we rush and try to keep everything in front of the DBs. If our LB play isn’t completely non-functional I think this approach can work.
Ultimately, the name of this game is going to be DISCIPLINE! Let’s hope we have a little bit of it when the hitting starts.
The Mr. Deacon Experience Browns podcast
I’m going to be very blunt in my statements and analysis of this up-and-coming game versus the Ravens. The Browns cannot stop anyone right now and their chances of containing Jackson are slim to none. If I was DC Joe Woods, I would try and focus on keeping Jackson in the pocket and make him beat you with his arm. Yet, when I think about Jackson’s freakiest athleticism it’s like a double-edged sword. I could see Jackson running over 100 yards and hitting his favorite target tight end Andrews for a few touchdowns.
Taking Andrews away is probably the Browns’ best option and leaving a QB spy Linebacker like JOK or Deion Jones when he gets activated by the Browns.
Jackson has not been very good this year in the fourth quarter. I would need the Browns to take advantage of the fact, defensively. Woods defensive schemes have been very problematic in the quarter as well. Bottom line is to keep Jackson in the pocket and blanket his tight ends and hang on for dear life. This one could get ugly quickly.
The Browns’ inability to stop either the run or pass over the last four weeks leaves a lot to be nervous about when it comes to defending Ravens QB Lamar Jackson. The former league MVP continues to grow as a passer which creates even more difficulty for teams.
Finding optimism among... well, anyone that the Browns defense can do anything to slow down Jackson is close to impossible. That means it will start with Cleveland’s offense. Jacoby Brissett, Amari Cooper, and David Njoku must join Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in getting out to a fast start. It wouldn’t be surprising if HC Kevin Stefanski would choose to receive the kickoff if they won the toss to try to get the fast start on offense going. Getting out to a 7-0 or better lead can help put the pressure on Jackson and allow the defense to play smarter.
Against Jackson over his career, one of the primary goals has been to keep him in the pocket. The problem is that he can slide and escape possibly better than any quarterback in recent history. While he can escape out of the pocket around the edge like most mobile quarterbacks, he is at his most dangerous when he slides between his tackle and guard with options to run or throw the ball. Not getting the edges too far upfield while the defensive tackles (do something they haven’t shown a lot of ability to do) press the middle of the pocket can create a situation uncomfortable for him.
In the passing game, Jackson’s improvements are impressive but every quarterback has areas of the field he feels more comfortable throwing the ball to. For Jackson, that is generally the middle of the field to crossers or tight end Andrews. Dump-offs to backs near the line of scrimmage are his backup options. Trying to muddle the middle of the field and force Jackson to take shots to the outside is the best chance for Cleveland’s defense to make things difficult for Baltimore.
The Browns’ defense has the athletes to compete with Jackson especially with Garrett, Clowney, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Jacob Phillips, and Grant Delpit. What they haven’t shown, besides health, is the discipline to compete with even the likes of quarterbacks Marcus Mariota, Joe Flacco, and Bailey Zappe. Jackson is an even taller task.
DBN Staff Writer
Where Jackson kills any team every game, is when he breaks the pocket on a passing play and takes off. This is a huge advantage for Jackson.
For one, all four defensive linemen are behind. The linebackers are busy covering the tight end and running back while all secondary members are somewhere downfield mega yards away. Right off, Jackson does not have to worry about four players. And then he is double-digits in yardage gained by the time any other defender recognizes that Jackson is on the loose.
One thing you can’t account for is the ability of the quarterback to take off.
Or can you?
I have watched several Ravens games this year and have found a weakness with Jackson. He is horribly inaccurate when throwing deep.
His dinks to the running back and tight end are his bread-and-butter along with short-range tosses. The best way to neutralize Jackson is to make him beat you with his arm. And to accomplish this task, the Browns must keep Jackson from scrambling and keep him securely in the pocket.
So a great pass rush is not the answer. Blitzing five defenders won’t work either. And no matter what you do as a defense, Jackson will leave the pocket and take off. That is where he kills you.
The only way to contain Jackson is with a spy.
Cleveland needs a single player just against the Ravens with his sole responsibility being to contain Jackson in the pocket. Part two of this mission is to tackle him for minimal gain once he leaves.
Sound simple, eh? There are some issues. For one, Jackson ran a 4.34 in college. Now, he has slowed a tad, but still, he is very fast, and with that much speed he is downfield before anyone realizes where the mobile QB is.
The qualifications for the spy are as follows: great tackler, won’t take juke fakes, very quick and fearless. The problem with most defenders is that they buy into the head, hip, and shoulder fakes. A defender must watch the stomach area only – that never moves. Wherever Lamar’s stomach is, he is. Maybe they no longer teach this in football.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah runs a 4.56 and is a very sure tackler. If LB Deion Jones is activated, he ran a 4.59 at the Combine, a 4.38 at his LSU Pro Day, and is a tackling machine.
Now by using a spy. The Browns would be basically playing 10 defenders for 11 offensive personnel. But if JOK is up to the task, this eliminates Jackson scrambling at all, and then he must win with his arm.