CLEVELAND — Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has a unique blend of speed, athleticism and throwing abilities that make him the kind of dual threat player that keeps NFL defensive coordinators from getting a good night’s rest.
Jackson can extend pass plays by scrambling if protection fails, but when the pocket breaks down, he also can run free down the field for big gains, something that requires extra attention during the week of practice leading up to games.
“Playing Madden,” Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said when asked how he is preparing to defend against Jackson. “To be honest, he is probably the closest thing that I have seen since Michael Vick.”
Jackson burst onto the scene midway through the 2018 season and carried the team to an AFC North Division championship and return trip to the postseason for the first time since 2014.
And while there was much speculation about Jackson’s ability to be a dual-threat quarterback and remain healthy throughout a full season, the early part of 2019 has yielded positive results, as he has Baltimore out to a 2-1 start and in first place in the AFC North Division heading into Sunday’s game against the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
“This guy is extremely dynamic,” Wilks said. “He can make plays when you do not think there is a play there to be made. He is just Houdini, I guess. Phenomenal not just with his legs, but his ability to get the ball down the field, as well.
“One of the great things that he does when he gets outside of the pocket is he is not just looking to run. His eyes are still down the field. He is trying to push the ball down the field, and that is what they have been successful with lately.”
Known more for his athleticism and ability to run with the football, Jackson has worked to become a passer and a runner, and it has paid off, at least so far this season.
Jackson has completed 63 of his 100 attempts (63.0 percent) for 863 yards and seven touchdowns without an interception. The elusive Jackson has been sacked just six times for 33 lost yards, and he has added 172 yards and one score on 27 carries.
Currently, Jackson is top five in passing touchdowns, rating, yards per attempt and 20-yard completions among the eligible quarterbacks.
“He is very skillful, very elusive out in space,” Wilks said. “It is a little different in college. Guys at this level, you have some defensive linemen and linebackers that are just as fast as these quarterbacks.”
Wilks wants his players to be vigilant on locating Jackson at all times, and also, willing to play through a tackle attempt.
“You can’t relax,” Wilks said. “You have to go to the echo of the whistle. That is something that you talk about all of the time, but it is very pertinent with this guy and the things that he can bring.
“You can’t relax on this guy. When you think he is down and when you think you are in position, then all of the sudden, now he makes one move and all of the sudden, he is out in open space. Yes, it is hard to simulate that in practice.”