At this point in the Ravens’ transformation both in the front office and on the field, how Baltimore plans to progress quarterback Lamar Jackson is anybody’s guess. The only clear aspect of new general manager Eric DeCosta’s team-building strategy is that his 22-year-old franchise passer is indeed the centerpiece.
Of course, Baltimore’s handling of Jackson from an Xs and Os standpoint will be impacted by how teams choose to defend the QB who rushed for 695 yards and five touchdowns in seven regular-season games last season. So when Sporting News spoke with Ravens great Ed Reed on Tuesday, we were curious to find out how the former NFL safety would game plan against Jackson.
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“Here comes a whole lot of pressure,” said Reed, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year. “(Jackson is) getting a boat load of pressure from everywhere. Left, right, up the middle, safety, corner, linebackers.
“Might even (send) the guy who brings the Gatorade out.”
For the 40-year-old Reed, who speaks not only as a legendary defensive back but also as a guy who spent a year on Rex Ryan’s coaching staff with the Bills in 2016, it’s all about forcing Jackson to make decisions quicker.
“Get the ball out of his hands, or get him on the ground,” Reed said.
Though generating pressure could be considered a blanket strategy for NFL defenses against any passer — for example, Aaron Rodgers’ average QB rating of 97.6 in 2018 dipped to 66.1 when he was under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus — the numbers suggest Reed’s strategy is wise.
The sample size is limited since Jackson started just seven games in 2018 after taking over for Joe Flacco as Baltimore’s starter, but he had a knack for holding the ball longer than usual in the pocket. Among regular starting QBs, only Buffalo’s Josh Allen (3.01 seconds) had a longer average time in the pocket before a pass attempt than Jackson (2.9 seconds), per PFF.
And though Jackson was sacked on only 19.7 percent of the passing plays on which he was pressured — the number isn’t bad compared to that of Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota (29.8 percent) or Seattle’s Russell Wilson (25.1 percent) — PFF credited Jackson with 10 of the 23 sacks he took through eight games in 2018, playoffs included. In comparison, PFF credited Flacco with just five sacks in his nine starts.
Like many do, Reed, who spent 11 seasons in Baltimore and earned five career All-Pro nods, compared Jackson’s game to that of Michael Vick, the NFL’s all-time rushing yards leader among QBs. That prompted memories of the Packers’ game plan against Vick and the Eagles in the 2011 wild-card playoffs; Green Bay used defensive back Charles Woodson as a QB spy en route to its Super Bowl 45 championship.
Reed said a QB spy remains a viable option against a player like Jackson, and though not a perfect comparison, he used the Chargers’ game plan in their 2019 wild-card playoff win over the Ravens as an example.
“They had three safeties or four safeties on the field,” Reed said. “They were definitely spying him; somebody had eyes on him at all times.”
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Indeed, Los Angeles safeties Derwin James, Adrian Phillips, Jahleel Addae and Rayshawn Jenkins all received significant playing time against Baltimore. But the Chargers did not blitz Jackson “from everywhere” the way Reed might. Among those safeties, only James rushed the passer at any point in the game; he did so just once. Cornerback Desmond King, who recorded one sack in two rushes, was the only other defensive back who pressured Jackson.
Instead, six of the Chargers’ seven sacks of Jackson in the playoff game came via pressure from defensive linemen and edge rushers. That pressure bothered Jackson, who fumbled three times and finished with a completion percentage of just 48.28, the worst of his young career as a starter. The Chargers beat the Ravens and advanced to the AFC title game.
And they did not even need to blitz the Gatorade guy.
Ed Reed spoke with Sporting News on behalf of “Tickets for 100 Years,” a contest that offers season tickets to a winning fan’s preferred NFL team for the next 100 years; it’s the largest fan prize the NFL has ever offered. To enter, fans must follow the NFL on Instagram or Twitter, take a picture or video that illustrates their extreme fandom, and share it on Instagram or Twitter with the hash tag, #NFL100contest. “Just go crazy with it,” Reed said in offering his advice to fans who enter the contest. “Have some fun. That’s what it’s about; just showing you being a great fan, why you deserve the tickets. Do something different. Do something unique.”