Lamar Jackson vs. the Patriots: What Can We Expect From the Showdown?

There’s not a ton of stellar football games in Week 9, but the Sunday Night Football matchup between the Patriots and Ravens deserves your attention.
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Lamar Jackson

On this episode of the Deep Dive Podcast on The MMQB NFL Podcast feed, Gary Gramling is joined by Conor Orr, and they examine the upcoming Patriots-Ravens matchup from all angles. 

(Listen and subscribe to the latest episode of The MMQB NFL Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Gary Gramling: We do have a great Sunday night game. And look, if Mahomes was playing and we had Vikings-Chiefs, that would be a lot more appetizing. Everything else is kind of meh. But the Sunday nighter is legit great. That will be the Ravens and the Patriots. And that's what we're going to talk about here. So here we go. My favorite factoid is that this will be the fifth of the five 2018 first-round quarterbacks that the Patriots have faced this season. They've done all of them. They've checked all the boxes.

Conor Orr: Good for them. What a fortuitous turn. I mean, this is are arguably the best quarterback—I don't even know if there's much of an argument anymore—this is the best quarterback that they faced out of that group. I mean, Lamar Jackson is the only one that's been able to sustain any success.

Gramling: I know. I mean, this really is the. And look, plenty of time to change over the years. Well, we'll see how things go if things turn around for Baker, if if Josh Allen gets a better grasp of what they're trying to do there. But yeah, Lamar is the guy right now. And look, Lamar has made huge strides as a passer, but what is giving defenses fits—and you saw it last time they were out there, when they really took it to Seattle a couple of weeks ago—is the not only the design stuff, but the scramble yards. He's leading the league in scramble yards here, and they are just coming at huge moments it seems like. He's got 262 on the year (and I pulled that off an ESPN article, if you're wondering, let's give credit where credit's due) 262 on the year. They're coming out huge times. And I do want to highlight one play from that Seahawks game a couple weeks ago. The Seahawks were doing some spying on Jackson with with Bobby Wagner, which makes sense. Bobby Wagner, very athletic linebacker, that's a good matchup for the Seahawks, you would think. The Ravens basically sent Gus Edwards out for ... it ended up being a big scramble by Gus Edwards, instead of being a check down receiver, basically ran straight out and just blocked a spying Bobby Wagner to spring Lamar Jackson for a huge chunk of yardage on a scramble. And it was just kind of, it was a really good idea. And it's really neat to see it. And I guess they've shown it now. And now the Patriots get to figure out how they are going to counter that.

Orr: Yeah, I think when you talk to coaches about the whole revolution with the movement quarterback—it was that it changes the numbers. So now it's no longer that the defense has a one-person advantage. The quarterback can block a defender simply by the way he moves or looks his eyes at the line of scrimmage. But what the Ravens are doing is they're building on that theory, and they're sort of accentuating the fact that like Lamar Jackson is a great quarterback. Yes., but he's also like position-less in a sense. On a given snap, he can be anything. And now we have a very good offensive line. We have very good blocking backs. And so we can totally take advantage of almost anything you're trying to do up front. And what I think is interesting about this New England game is the book on the Patriots has been, if you're going to beat them, you're going to have to run the ball this year.

Every team that has sustained even a little bit of success against New England, it's been on the ground. Freddie Kitchen said last week, where we tried to run the ball, they were forcing the ball to Nick Chubb in the third quarter when they're down 17 points, because the only thing that was working. So this is kind of their biggest weakness, if you can call it a weakness, against a humungous strength for Baltimore.

Gramling: I was going to say the Patriots, they just don't need a whole lot of help in the box to stop the run here. We all rightly worry about pass rush skills when it comes to defensive linemen to some of that. I mean, the Patriots just collect these guys. Lawrence Guy is a perfect example, and this is his revenge game here against the team that employed him for the first part of his career. But I mean, he made a couple of game-changing plays in the Cleveland win. But more than that, he's just you can't move him. They just have those guys up front that you just can't run on that defensive line. And it's almost like you don't really have to bring an extra guy into the box and change the numbers there. You know, not to mention when you have a guy like Hightower and guys like Van Noy who are who are so sturdy as well. But yeah, it's gonna be fun because you just kind of wonder what the Patriots are going to do schematically here. Yeah, I think obviously they will spy. Jackson when they play Josh Allen, they spied Allen with Jamie Collins a lot. But do you need almost like a safety for your spy at this point?

Orr: Yeah, it's funny. I mean, when you brought up the fact that the Seahawks used to spy on Jackson with Bobby Wagner, I'm like there's five guys on the Patriots defense that I could feel comfortable putting in that role—relatively comfortable. There's a few linebackers. I mean, you mentioned Van Noy. Their secondary is just full of, you know, replaceable parts and in a good way. Guys that can kind of lean between man and zone coverage. They can come up and play in the box. And so I'll be interested to see, because I think they're good enough that they could probably mix up the spies, so it's a little bit harder to identify pre snap to so that Baltimore doesn't get any sort of comfort. They can't run as many of those plays where they take a guy out like that. And I think that's what's crazy about New England's defense now, is they're so good and so used to each other. And so on the same page that it's going to be it's going to be something that Baltimore has never seen before and maybe the blueprint to stop them for the rest of the season.

Gramling: In the Super Bowl, they move Jonathan Jones to safety to get a little more coverage ability on the back end there. You wonder if they play around with that. I guess when it boils down to it, they're so good in man coverage. And that's I mean, that's kind of why they are as good as they are on the back end, because in the end, they're just they're really good at man coverage. But how often do you want to turn your back to Lamar Jackson with this defense? And I guess if you keep the guys in the middle sort of with their eyes on him, then then you find some mix of that of sort of man outside the number, zone in the middle of the field is probably what makes the most sense at this point.

Orr: I'm going to say one thing that I think is going to make some sense and one thing that I think sounds totally insane. The thing that I think makes some sense is the only X-factor here is the fact that Lamar Jackson’s scramble yards aren't typical quarterback scramble yards. If you look at some of the games that they've won, he is turning—and this is gonna sound cliche—but he is turning absolutely nothing into 14 or 15 yards. But by today's NFL standards, not by 2000 NFL standards when coaches would completely ignore the idea that a quarterback would leave the pocket. I'm talking about there's plans for him. He's contained all the way to the sideline and he still finds that space to get back out into the middle of the field where he's so dangerous. And, you know, I think that's what's really interesting.

And the insane thing that I'm going to say is: if I'm the Patriots, I lose this game on purpose. Because they're in your division. You know you have the pieces to beat them. You don't want to give everybody else the answer to the test. And so you use this if you're Bill Belichick to get rid of the 16-0 talk that's going to bother your guys anyway. And you keep that Lamar Jackson game plan bottled up deep inside, you let them make it to the conference championship game and then and then you blow them out of it.

Gramling: The only thing I'll say: 19-0, that's Belichick White Whale. This is his last chance because Tom Brady's obviously gonna go play quarterback for the, I don't know, the Saskatchewan Rough Riders next year, something like that. When I think back to the quarterbacks who have the most success against the Patriots, it tends to be guys who do the second reaction. So obviously Mahomes has success against anyone, but he's kind of scheme proof. And I think Deshaun Watson falls into that as well. Deshaun Watson, who is who is not quite the athlete that Lamar is, but he just has such a great sense of mapping everything when he's on the move. Russell Wilson is a guy who's had some success against these Belichick defenses. It's the guys who can not only, you know—it's one thing to be athletic as a quarterback and another thing just to just to be able to create as you use that athleticism. I think Lamar is trending in that direction. I think it'll be a really interesting just sort of a good gage of where he is at this point in his career to see what he can do sort of on the fly to create against this defense.

Orr: I mean, if they land within 10 points of of the Patriots and it's a relatively competitive game, given that this defense is on pace for a historic conclusion to the 2019 season, I would put that as a huge win for for Lamar Jackson. I think that's totally in line with the progress that we've seen so far. And I mean, nobody else has come close to to this defense this year. Jenny and I were talking about this on our podcast the other day. We really know who's calling the defense. That's how amazing it is. Not only do we not know how to stop it, we don't even know who's calling it. CBS had a three way split screen on the other day with three people on the on the headset and all could've been a possibility.

Gramling: Yep. And in reality, they're all just conversing amongst themselves. And I don't know—maybe just Kyle Van Noy is calling it on the fly or something like this. This will be this will be worth the time on Sunday night, which is nice because we haven't a lot of great primetime games this year.

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