Falcons preparing for new challenge from Ravens QB Jackson
Of the two, rookie Lamar Jackson is the hot topic of the week in the Falcons’ locker room.
The Falcons, who face Carolina and Cam Newton in the NFC South twice each season, have prepared for other mobile quarterbacks. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett says Jackson belongs in a different category.
“I don’t feel there’s a comparison to what we’ve seen in terms of the level of athlete that he is,” Jarrett said. “He’s a guy who can play anywhere, at any position, on the offensive side of the ball. I don’t think there’s a comparison to anybody in the league to what he can do athletically at the position of quarterback.”
While the Ravens await the return of longtime starter Joe Flacco from a right hip injury, Jackson has boosted the team’s playoff hopes. The former Louisville standout and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner has led Baltimore (6-5) to back-to-back wins over Cincinnati and Oakland. Jackson suddenly is the team’s second-leading rusher after leading the Ravens to more than 400 total yards in each of the two straight wins.
Even coach John Harbaugh is stunned by the impact of Jackson’s unusual speed in games.
“We all are sports fans, and ‘speed kills’ is what they say in any sport, really, so it’s fun to watch,” Harbaugh said. “But, I do think it’s always more impressive to see it live than it is on tape, sure.”
Jackson ran for 117 yards against the Bengals and 71 in last week’s 34-17 win over the Raiders .
“It’s difficult to simulate, because he has such quickness and speed, like a wide receiver or a corner has, but he’s behind center,” said Falcons coach Dan Quinn.
The Falcons (4-7) have seen their playoff hopes devastated by their second three-game losing streak of the season.
Here are some more things to know about only the sixth meeting between the Ravens and Falcons:
RUN GAME MISSING
A priority for the Falcons this week is reviving a running attack which fell flat in last week’s 31-17 loss at New Orleans . Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith combined to net 6 yards on 12 carries.
Matt Ryan was sacked six times by the Saints. Quinn says he could make changes on the offensive line against the Ravens.
“At the end of the day, our execution as players needs to be better,” Quinn said. “We have to do a better job within our assignments.”
Ravens defensive end Matthew Judon had sacks on three different plays against Oakland last week, becoming the first player to pull off the feat since Brad Scioli of Indianapolis against Houston in 2002.
The sequence occurred after Baltimore went up by 17 points in the fourth quarter.
“You knew they were throwing, so Matt could cut it loose just a little bit more,” Harbaugh said. “Of course, you’re not planning for three sacks in a row.”
Judon has 4 ½ sacks in his last three games after getting only 1 ½ in his first eight games. Now in his third season out of Grand Valley State, he’s two sacks short of matching his career high.
POTENT PASS GAME
Harbaugh has respect for Ryan, who leads the NFL with 3,683 yards passing. The Falcons boast another NFL leader in Julio Jones, who leads the league with 1,305 yards receiving.
“The thing that really jumps out at you is his accuracy,” Harbaugh said. “He’s an on-time, on-rhythm, accurate thrower … He knows the system inside and out, and he’s good, and their passing attack is excellent. It’s right there at the top of the league in terms of every statistical category, and he drives that.”
Baltimore’s bigger surprise is the emergence of undrafted rookie running back Gus Edwards, who has topped 100 yards rushing in two straight games. Jackson and Edwards have given the offense a new look — and opposing defenses new concerns.
“He definitely takes pressure off of me,” Edwards said. “All defenses have to respect the read option. … He can make plays with his feet, so the defense has to respect it.”
SHORT ON TURNOVERS
Baltimore owns the top-ranked defense in the NFL and is allowing only 18 points per game. Perhaps the most glaring flaw in the unit is the lack of takeaways. Terrell Suggs‘ 43-yard fumble return in the fourth quarter against Oakland was only the Ravens’ eighth forced turnover of the season and first in four games.
“Hopefully, this can start a run of some big plays and turnovers,” safety Eric Weddle said. “It will make our defense even better.”
Baltimore has a winning record despite owning a minus-6 turnover differential. And, although the Ravens had a negative differential in each of the last two weeks, they won anyway.