Late for Work 10/22: Lamar Jackson Is the Hardest Player to Tackle in the NFL

102219_LFW

Jackson Is 'Hardest Player to Tackle in Football'

Lamar Jackson's spectacular performance and the Ravens' convincing win over Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in Seattle Sunday has had the NFL world buzzing.

"Aside from being a really good quarterback and a really good passer and a really smart player, he might be the hardest player to tackle in football right now," Kevin Clark of "The Ringer NFL Show" podcast said. "Right now, if I'm game-planning for somebody, I don't want to game-plan against Lamar Jackson."

Clark also praised the Ravens organization for realizing what they had in Jackson and tailoring the offense to his skillset.

"He's going to be the best Lamar Jackson in the history of football," Clark said. "They are celebrating what they have instead of trying to turn him into something he's not. I think there's a real lesson to be learned in that.

"They went all in on him in a very different way, which is they built a really unique offense around him and they celebrated him. … There are probably about 25 coaches looking at the Ravens, and not trying to run the Ravens offense, but trying to do what the Ravens did from a spiritual standpoint, which is say, 'We like our guy. How do we help him? … I just want to emphasize how cool what the Ravens are doing is."

Clark's co-host, Robert Mays, echoed that sentiment.

"It takes such a humility to transform your franchise and be willing to make a bold choice like that and do something different," Mays said. "And especially when you consider that John Harbaugh's been there so long and we have an established understanding of what the Ravens are. That's the coolest part of it to me, is that the Ravens are a known commodity.

"They are not the first team I'd throw out to reinvent themselves on the fly like this, and I think that's the coolest part of it."

Former Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth of the "I Don't Give a Damn" show agreed with the growing opinion that Jackson is in the discussion for league MVP at this point in the season.

"He's the reason why this offense is moving and he's the reason why this team is good, because their defense is nowhere near as dominant as it's been in the past," Foxworth said. "The way that he holds onto the ball and moves the ball allows this defense to play better.

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio said the MVP race is wide open, and he had Jackson at the top of his list of contenders.

"With the fourth double-triple (at least 100 yards in two different statistical categories in the same game) of his career on Sunday in Seattle, Jackson helped the Ravens legitimize their prior 4-2 record. He's currently the NFL's sixth-leading rusher, and he's averaging 235.7 passing yards per game. Most importantly, he has an electric presence that resembles his two-way dominance at Louisville more than many thought it would. The ever-present threat of an injury resulting from the hits that he takes becomes the biggest risk to his shot at winning it."

Fox Sports Radio Host Not a Believer in Jackson, Ravens

With all this previously said, there's at least one sports talker who remains unimpressed.

Fox Sports' Ben Maller's "hot take" is – stop me if you've heard this one before – that Jackson's style of play is unsustainable. Furthermore, Maller does not believe the Ravens, who are 5-2 and lead the AFC North by 2 ½ games, should be considered legitimate contenders at this point.

"Superficially, the Ravens are great, but if you look at this objectively … the reality is that this is an unsustainable formula," Maller said. "It is not sustainable to win big games in January playing this kind of football. And if you have a dual-threat quarterback who can't throw, he's not a dual-threat quarterback. And Lamar Jackson has shown that when he plays against the bottom teams in the NFL –the Dolphins and the Cardinals and teams like that – he can sling the pigskin with the best of them, but he's been exposed against better teams.

"Until Lamar Jackson is able to do this on a more consistent basis against the better teams in the NFL, then Baltimore's only a pseudo-contender in the AFC."

It's true that Jackson's passing statistics (9-for-20, 143 yards, no touchdowns) against the Seahawks were unremarkable, but the fact that there were several dropped passes (including a touchdown) and Jackson was without his top deep threat, Marquise Brown, should not be ignored.

Nor should it be ignored that Jackson's passing stats, pedestrian as they may have been, were better than Wilson's in several respects. Jackson had a 69.4 passer rating, 7.2 yards per attempt and no interceptions; Wilson, considered by many to be the leading candidate for league MVP, had a 65.2 passer rating, 5.9 yards per attempt and one very costly interception.

Of course, the only numbers that truly matter are 30-16, the final score of the game. The bottom line is that Jackson, who is now 11-3 as a starter in the regular season, did what he needed to do to lead (in every sense of the word) the Ravens to a win over a 5-1 team in a hostile environment. If that meant rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown, so be it. He put the game on his back in the most critical moment on the fourth-down touchdown run.

"It should matter that the Ravens offense had one touchdown and three field goals [Sunday]. You don't win many games like that. But it doesn't, "Schultz wrote. "No matter what obstacle is put in front of this team, Jackson guides them through the disappointment and emerges victorious.

"It should matter that his biggest strength is running the football in a world where quarterback play is predicated upon being able to sling the rock successfully. But it doesn't. Defenses try as they may, but they cannot stop Lamar Jackson from beating them."

CBS Sports' Jim Rome said of Jackson's critics: "If you don't know by now, that's on you, not on him, because this dude is a phenom. I can't wait to see what he does next. … Lamar is a special cat."

Getting back to Maller's point about sustainability, Schultz doesn't agree with Maller's conclusion, but he does think it's a fair question if only because Jackson is such a unique talent.

"I am not sure how well this style of play lends itself to long-term success in the NFL," Schultz wrote. "But the reason I am not sure is because we have simply never seen this type of talent on display. Jackson is the one and only in that regard."

Praise for the Defense

While Jackson and the Ravens offense continue to make headlines, the improvement the defense has made over the past three games has not gone unnoticed.

NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal listed the Ravens defense in his column on players and units that are returning to form.

"The changes to Baltimore's defense are quietly taking hold," Rosenthal wrote. "Inside linebacker Josh Bynes has made a huge difference, while recent pickup L.J. Fort had a big day in Sunday's win in Seattle. The addition of cornerback Marcus Peters via trade with the Rams bore immediate fruit in the form of a pick-six and a more aggressive defensive mindset.

"With Peters and Marlon Humphrey able to play man coverage on the outside, Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale has been freed up to get more creative with his blitzes up front. Against the Seahawks, Baltimore became the first team this season to hold Russell Wilson to less than 8.1 yards per throw and below 64 percent in completion rate while also handing him his first interception."

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec complimented Martindale and Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta for rejuvenating the defense with new players.

"Defensive coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale and his staff continue to do a commendable job rallying the defense from its early-season struggles while incorporating new faces every week," Zrebiec wrote. "I'm guessing they won't complain if they had to include another new face when the Ravens return to practice following the bye week and ramp up preparations for the New England Patriots.

"The defense sent a clear message with how well and hard it played against Russell Wilson and company. It is clearly improving, but that doesn't mean it still couldn't use a little more help. What DeCosta has gotten so far has paid immediate dividends."

The season-ending injury to veteran outside linebacker Pernell McPhee could spur the Ravens to trade for an edge rusher before the Oct. 29 trade deadline, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. However, Zrebiec cautions that pulling off a deal won't be easy.

"The Ravens have a lot working against them here," Zrebiec wrote. "They only have $2 million of salary-cap space to fit in a player. They have very few 2020 Day 3 draft picks that they can currently trade. You can't barter with projected compensatory picks and conditional picks that you don't currently have. And the biggest issue of all, several teams are looking for an impact pass rusher and so few that want to trade one."

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