Eagles facing NFL’s “most dangerous player” in Lamar Jackson
By Rob Maaddi
Desperate for a win, the Eagles are facing the toughest quarterback to defend in the NFL.
Lamar Jackson’s numbers are down from his MVP season last year but he presents an enormous challenge for a defense that’s been awful quite often this season.
No quarterback runs with the ball as much and as effectively as Jackson.
He leads the Ravens with 238 yards rushing after setting an NFL record for QBs with 1,206 yards on the ground in 2019.
Jackson quieted critics who thought he wouldn’t have success as a passer by tossing 36 touchdown passes last season and has nine this year.
“Lamar Jackson is probably the most dangerous player in the league because there are times you can do everything right on defense and can’t catch him, or he can throw a ball sidearm underneath of a free rusher and complete a pass,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “I think that you’ve got to have a resilient attitude when you play him, and you know that a playmaker like him is going to make some plays. You just have to limit his big plays, and you have to stay resilient.”
So how does an Eagles defense that hasn’t stopped any competent QBs this season limit Jackson. Do they put a spy on him? Do they mush-rush, squeezing all the pressure up the middle without exposing the edge?
Jackson was excellent against the blitz a year ago but he’s the league’s lowest-ranked passer against it this season.
“There’s a lot of ways to try to battle scrambling quarterbacks or guys with legs,” Schwartz said. “You can blitz. You can play visual zone where you have a lot of eyes on him. You can play man with spies. There’s a lot of different ways to be able to handle that. I don’t want to give too much of what we would do personnel-wise when it comes to Sunday.”
Here are three more matchups to watch:
1. Eagles Run Defense vs. Ravens Run Offense
Thanks to Jackson, the Ravens had the league’s best rushing attack by far in 2019. Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins, who was drafted one pick after the Eagles took Jalen Hurts, are averaging 5.5 yards per carry. The Ravens are third in the league with 160.8 rushing yards per game.
The Eagles have had success stopping running backs, holding them to 3.1 yards per carry. But receivers and tight ends have run all over them, gaining 161 yards on 13 attempts. Good news for the Eagles is that the Ravens have only ran once with a wideout.
“We’re known as a team that stops the run. Teams are attacking the run a little bit different, trying to get on the perimeter,” Schwartz said.
2. Eagles TE Zach Ertz vs. Ravens LBs
Defenses are keying on Ertz, who had just one catch last week and only 20 through five games. He also hasn’t seen the most accurate passes come his way. Getting Ertz on track against the Ravens, who’ve had trouble against tight ends, will be pivotal for the offense.
“Ertz has been doing it for a little while now, so we know what he’s like,” Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “He’s really savvy with his routes, he has great hands, and he has good speed. So, he’s going to be a factor this week that we have to take care of.”
3. Eagles WR Travis Fulgham vs. Ravens CBs
Fulgham had a breakout game in Pittsburgh and now goes against a formidable secondary. Smith and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey are tough and physical so this will be a legitimate test for Fulgham.
“He’s a big-time player and we’ve seen what he’s done in practice now for a while and how he’s kind of come along within our offense, within our system,” Wentz said.