Cam Newton Sings Lamar Jackson's Praises
Though Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's focus this Sunday will be on trying to best Baltimore's ferocious defense, it wouldn't be surprising if he keeps an eye on the field when the Ravens are on offense. His reason? To see rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson play.
"He's got a little bit more life in his legs than I do. A little bit more wiggle. I'll be trying to take some notes out of his book," Newton said yesterday. "Very, very exceptional talent Lamar is. I've been watching him for a long time."
Newton said he's been a fan of Jackson's since his freshman year at Louisville. He watched him play in person when Louisville played against Newton's alma mater, Auburn. Though Auburn won the game, Jackson was dynamic, especially running the ball, finishing with 106 yards on 16 carries.
The performance made Newton a fan, and he even followed Jackson through his draft process that resulted in the Ravens taking him in the first round, saying "I'm excited he got picked up when he did."
For Jackson, Newton's praise isn't coming from some random peer. During the draft process, Jackson said he wanted to become a blend of Newton and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady because they're both "superheroes."
As far as their similarities on the field, Newton described them as "two completely different players." Newton and Jackson are each Heisman Trophy winners though, and as Panthers.com's Jelani Scott put it, both "brought a unique game-changing play style with them to the NFL."
"Given that both players spent their college careers widely recognized as the NCAA's best dual-threat quarterback – and perhaps the best athletes altogether – the parallels between the two are obvious," Scott wrote.
Jackson's role in Baltimore's offense has expanded since the start of the season, and it was on display last week against the New Orleans Saints. With eight seconds left before halftime and time to run just one play, the Ravens put the ball in Jackson's hands, and he delivered with a touchdown scamper. Jackson also completed a pass, the first time he has done so with quarterback Joe Flacco on the field.
His 5.2 yards per carry lead the team (other than Willie Snead IV, who has one carry for 13 yards), and Jackson's also the only Raven to have a run that exceeded 20 yards.
"I definitely think that we're starting to grow, in terms of how successful we are at those kinds of things," Flacco said yesterday. "Obviously, I don't get to see him at quarterback and doing those kinds of things in our offense, but in terms of how we're progressing as an offense with him involved, I think we're definitely starting to do some good things and make a real impact on games, for sure."
As far as Jackson's future, Newton is optimistic that Jackson will be able to get the same results in the NFL that he did at the collegiate level.
"As he keeps growing in this league, I know his confidence will rise," Newton said. "Hopefully, one day, he'll have the reins to be a starter."
Defense to Face Different Kind of Challenge This Week
Last week, much of the focus for the Ravens' defense was trying to shut down the Saints' dynamic passing attack, led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. This week, the defense will focus on trying to corral Carolina's rush attack, which leads the NFL in yards per attempt (5.2).
"The Panthers have the NFL's most dynamic and productive ground attack, in part because 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback Cam Newton chips in more than 42 rushing yards per game," PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "Second year ball-carrier Christian McCaffrey (4.8 yards per carry) leads the way out of the backfield, while the Panthers also mix reverses and wide receiver sweeps into the offense."
Indeed, this is a multi-faceted running attack that has numerous ways of beating you.
The Ravens should be pretty well prepared to defend the run after playing New Orleans last week. The Saints ran the ball 39 times in Baltimore, averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
"Ravens defenders said the Saints' commitment to running the ball Sunday wore them down late, and the Panthers have the ability to offer a similarly punishing attack," Kasinitz wrote. "Baltimore has allowed the fifth-fewest yards per carry in the NFL this season [3.8], but its pass defense is even better, ranked as the league's best by most statistical measures. So, Carolina is likely to run the ball early and often."
So, what will be key to slowing the Panthers on the ground? Minimizing Newton's impact seems like a good place to start, but that is much more easily said than done.
Newton, who safety Eric Weddle referred to as "a dinosaur – a fast dinosaur, muscular and big, runs people over," (Weddle later clarified that he thinks Newton would be a triceratops) has been primarily used in short-yardage situations. He averages just under nine rushing attempts per game, and his 257 yards lead all quarterbacks.
Though a lot of players will be key to slowing the run, like defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce, a player who many pundits believe could help lessen Newton's impact is inside linebacker C.J. Mosley.
"Baltimore needs their defensive captain to make short yardage stops on money downs this week in order to avoid another time-of-possession disadvantage," Baltimore Beatdown's Vasilis Lericos wrote.
Thankfully for the Ravens, Mosley is coming off a performance that many pundits believe was his best of 2018. Mosley finished with 16 tackles against the Saints, nine more than Weddle, who had the second-most on the team.
Though Mosley will be key to slowing Newton, he spent much of his day against Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who like the Panthers' McCaffery, can make an impact both in the rushing and passing game. He stuck with Kamara though, and was able to limit his explosiveness.
It'll be an all hands-on deck approach for the Ravens defense. It would also help if Newton channeled Barney the Dinosaur instead of a triceratops, but that doesn't seem likely.
Flacco Will Be Protected, Regardless of Who is on Offensive Line
The Ravens offensive line is definitely banged up, there's no question about that. Last week, left guard Alex Lewis (pinched nerve) and right tackle James Hurst (back) were unable to play. Even Lewis' replacement, Bradley Bozeman, got hurt against the Saints, but battled through it.
As The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer put it, "As the Ravens offensive line finds its form, licks its wounds and grits its teeth through the unit's first injury-stricken stretch of the season, it is not tough to imagine just who is hurting. The answer, usually, is everybody."
Though the unit would obviously be most effective with everyone healthy, Shaffer thinks one part of its play will remain the same: Flacco won't be getting hit very much.
"If there were a lesson learned from the Ravens' uneven offensive performance last season, it was that the line, no matter who's on it, knows how to protect the team's most valuable (and expensive) player," Shaffer wrote. "In the Ravens' first season under offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris, quarterback Joe Flacco was hit just 59 times, the third-fewest in the NFL, and sacked 27 times, tied for seventh-fewest. This season, they again rank in the top 10 of both categories."
Indeed, in a year when the Ravens have struggled to consistently run the ball, "their pass protection has become an unexpected weather vane." The team has allowed 13 sacks and 29 quarterback hits, both of which rank No. 9 in the NFL.
Against the Saints, Shaffer believes the Ravens "largely kept Flacco upright." Flacco was pressured 11 times, which is pretty good considering the unit was missing two of its starters. However, it was the third time that Flacco's pressures reached double digits this season, and the Ravens have lost every game that has happened.
This Sunday, the Ravens will be up against a Panthers defense that has registered 16 sacks this season, which ranks No. 18 in the NFL.
It remains unclear who will be on Baltimore's starting offensive line in Carolina. Both Lewis and Hurst have indicated they've improved since last week, but neither fully participated in practice on Wednesday. It might be a battle against time as both aim to play this weekend.
"The toughest part about playing offensive line, [right guard Marshal] Yanda said matter-of-factly Wednesday, is 'the blocking part,'" Shaffer wrote. "This week, though, for a few of his linemates, it's all the parts that come before it."
Michael Crabtree Will Be Key Against Panthers
Lericos believes wide receiver Michael Crabtree could be in for a big game against the Panthers.
His reasoning is the strengths of the Panthers' defense, which could limit some of the options Flacco is used to having at his disposal.
"In [linebackers] Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson, as well as recently acquired safety Eric Reid, the Panthers field a group that is fully capable of taking away underneath routes and controlling the middle against the Ravens tight ends," Lericos wrote. "This, combined with their top-ten run defense, will put pressure on Joe Flacco to move the ball with his outside receivers."
Lericos also thinks the Panthers will put rookie cornerback Donte Jackson on wide receiver John Brown because of Jackson's speed. That would leave Crabtree paired with cornerback James Bradberry.
Bradberry is coming off a game he'll want to forget as he struggled against Philadelphia's Alshon Jeffery, who finished with seven catches for 88 yards and a touchdown this past Sunday. And after two excellent games by Crabtree, Lericos thinks he could be in for a similar performance as Jeffery.
"The key to victory for the Ravens is attacking the Panthers vulnerable pass defense and Crabtree is the ideal receiver to emphasize," Lericos wrote.
- CBS Sports' Will Brinson included the Ravens trading for Oakland Raiders safety Karl Joseph among hypothetical trades that would help contenders go on a deep playoff run. "He's a hard-hitting guy and although he has some coverage liabilities, he's still on his rookie contract and he wouldn't cost much to pry away from the Raiders," Brinson wrote.