Eisenberg: The Great Chess Match, Starring Lamar Jackson


The Cincinnati Bengals didn't know what to expect from Lamar Jackson last Sunday. That was evident right away, when the rookie quarterback took off up the middle for a 21-yard gain on the Ravens' initial third-down play. The Bengals weren't looking for that.

They developed a better grasp of Jackson's tendencies as the game unfolded, but he still kept them guessing enough to rush and pass for 267 yards in a 24-21 win.

That, however, will be the only game in Jackson's pro career in which the opponent had no film of him as a starting quarterback to study and use as a preparation aid.

The Oakland Raiders, who play the Ravens Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, have had all week to scrutinize film of the Cincinnati game. After Sunday, Baltimore's opponents will have film of two games to study. The video library on Jackson will only get bigger.

This bears mentioning because NFL defensive coordinators are really good at their jobs. I mean, reeeeally good.

Generally speaking, if something is working for an offense, just give the league's defensive coordinators time and some film to study and they'll figure out a way to stop it or at least slow it down.

Remember a few years ago when ultra-mobile quarterbacks such as Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III ran wild on defenses? Everyone thought the pro game was evolving, but soon enough, defense coordinators figured out how to slow those guys down.

This year, strong-armed young quarterbacks such as the Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes and Los Angeles Rams' Jared Goff are tearing apart defenses. Again, it appears the pro game is evolving, becoming more wide-open. Between the sophistication of those offenses and rules now in effect that limit defensive players' ability to hit and intimidate, the game might indeed be experiencing a fundamental change of sorts.

But soon enough, the Chiefs and Rams will discover their offenses aren't working quite as well. Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles, who are experiencing tough times on offense this season after winning the Super Bowl a year ago. The league's defensive coordinators always devise an antidote.

No doubt, Jackson was a revelation last week. But the Raiders' defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther, has been studying him all week. That's going to impact Sunday's game.

Guenther was the Bengals' defensive coordinator from 2014 through last season, which means he has won his share of games against the Ravens. He began his coaching career at what is now McDaniel College and has coached in the NFL since 2002. Many believe the Bengals would have made him their head coach if they parted ways with Marvin Lewis after last season.

After it was announced Lewis was staying in Cincinnati, Jon Gruden lured Guenther to Oakland as his DC. The Raiders' first season under Gruden hasn't gone well – they're 2-8 coming into Sunday's game – and Guenther's defense is ranked low in many metrics. But that's what can happen when you trade a defensive star of Khalil Mack's caliber, as the Raiders did to begin building for the future.

Don't make the mistake of seeing the Raiders' low defensive statistics and believing they're hopelessly lost. They won on the road last week. Their DC has been at this a long time, like Don (Wink) Martindale, Dean Pees and other NFL DCs.

With a week to study film of Jackson against Cincinnati, Oakland's defense surely will attempt to take away some of what he does well. The possibilities range from training a "spy" on him to making sure he doesn't just ease out of bounds without taking a hit.

It will be up to the Ravens to adjust, create new ways for Jackson to move the ball.

That's no surprise. After Jackson ran 27 times against Cincinnati, even he conceded that wouldn't be a winning formula for long. Everyone agrees he needs to pass more and get receivers Michael Crabtree and John Brown involved.

The Raiders know that, too, though. And thus begins the Great Chess Match starring Jackson. It's guaranteed to be interesting.

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