When talking about the Baltimore Ravens, the defense is no longer the first thing that is mentioned.
While the Ravens still possess a very stout defense capable of taking over games, the main focus for opposing teams has turned to the electric quarterback.
Lamar Jackson is one of the most exciting players to watch in the NFL today. The 2019 unanimous NFL MVP has to be accounted for on every play with the ability to sling it downfield or break open a massive run.
“With Lamar, there’s obviously the scramble factor and extension of plays,” Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said earlier this week. “I think that the teams that do a good job, they’re able to rush forward and coordinate that and be able to keep him in there. During the course of the game, he’s always going to get out a few times.”
He continued, “Then, the ability to – in your coverage, to be able to have tight coverage downfield and plaster those players. If you’re playing man, it’s a lot easier, but if you’re playing zone, you have to be able to do that. That’s where he makes his big plays and that’s where he’s been very successful. He’s done a good job of throwing the ball in rhythm too. So, he’s a dangerous athlete.”
As the Indianapolis Colts head to M&T Bank Stadium to take on the Ravens on Monday Night Football this week, containing Jackson will be the top priority.
In their matchup last year, Jackson had plenty of success. He finished 19-for-23 (82.6%) for 170 yards through the air to go along with 58 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The Colts are determined to give Jackson more of a challenge this time around. Indy will more than likely deploy a spy on Jackson on most plays to make sure he doesn’t escape the pocket and burn them for huge plays.
Who might be the spy you ask? None other than All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard.
The start to the 2021 season for Leonard has not been what we are accustomed to seeing from him. The tackling machine only has 25 tackles through the first four games this year, which is on the low side for Leonard.
The main reason we have not seen Leonard have as big of an impact is that he, like many on the Colts’ roster, is not at 100%. Leonard had surgery on his ankle during the offseason and is still not fully recovered. While it has not caused him to miss a game, Leonard is not nearly as fast as he normally is.
“(The ankle's) getting there,” Leonard said Sunday after the win against the Dolphins. “It's just taking a lot of time. I think this week of practice really helped out on Wednesday, then Thursday was a little slower, then Friday came and flying guys in, just being on top of it. That's the main thing. You've got to make sure that you understand what's the problem, understand what it is, and understand that you've got to take care of it.”
Leonard did look better against the Dolphins in terms of his speed and mobility. He will certainly need to take that up a notch against the Ravens.
While not at 100%, the playmaking ability Leonard possesses has still been on full display. “The Maniac” has been highly involved in generating turnovers with an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery so far in 2021. His playmaking ability is one of the qualities that makes him so valuable to the Colts’ defense.
Last year against the Ravens, Leonard tried his best to step up and stop Jackson. Leonard led the team with 13 tackles, but the Ravens still came out on top 24-10. Knowing Leonard, he is taking this as a personal challenge to make sure Jackson doesn’t have that sort of success again.
The key for Leonard will be staying disciplined. While he will certainly spy Jackson at times, he will also need to be aware of the Ravens’ receivers that come into his area. Leonard has struggled at times in coverage this year, and the Ravens will look to take advantage if he isn’t prepared.
The Ravens also boast the third-best rushing offense in the league. Running backs Ty’Son Williams, Latavius Murray, and Devonta Freeman pack a powerful punch next to Jackson in the running game. Leonard will also have a crucial role in not letting the Ravens’ backs get free for big gains.
So far this season, the Colts have allowed good quarterbacks to get the best of them. Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, and Ryan Tannehill have all had success against a struggling Colts defense. For Jackson to not continue this trend, it might just take a Maniac to stop him.
Have thoughts on the X-factor matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens Monday night? Drop a line in the comments section below letting us know how you feel!
Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMooreSI.