Has NFL figured out how to beat Lamar Jackson and Ravens?

The Ravens are 5-1, but this year Lamar Jackson and Baltimore’s one dimensional offense have problems. Also, the Jets are a disaster and Amy Trask offers her plan to fix them.

Lamar Jackson, the reigning NFL MVP, showed in Philadelphia on Sunday he’s capable of breaking land-speed records as a runner, but the Baltimore Ravens still had to withstand a torrid second-half comeback against the undermanned Eagles.

The Eagles were without their top three wide receivers, relying on Travis Fulgham. Someone named Jason Croom caught a touchdown. Jason Kelce was the only starting offensive lineman still on the field for the Eagles by game’s end.

Yet, Jackson and the Ravens very narrowly escaped 30-28 against Philly’s skeleton crew.

After Sunday, and a listless 34-20 Week 3 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s easy to wonder if this drag racer is built to survive the crucible of the NFL playoffs.

Last season, Jackson was a living highlight reel. He rushed for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019, while completing 66 percent of his passes for 3,127 yards, 36 touchdowns, and six interceptions while moon walking to the AFC’s top seed, a first-round bye, and every MVP vote cast. Then, a second straight postseason flop.

Yes, the Ravens are 5-1. But, nearly two months into this season, Baltimore finds itself squarely in the role of the hunter rather than the hunted.

The Ravens’ AFC North rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, look every bit the part of a Super Bowl favorite. The defending-champion Chiefs, led by future Hall of Famers Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, keep finding new ways to win (like rushing the ball 46 times vs. Buffalo!).

Then there’s Mike Vrabel’s surging Tennessee Titans who are punching above their weight at 5-0 with some breathing room atop the AFC South.

Jackson might remember the Titans.

“The Titans last year gave the rest of the NFL a blueprint on how to play him,” a former NFL scout tells FanSided.

Tennessee, of course, went into Baltimore on a warm Saturday night in the AFC Divisional Playoffs  and thumped the Ravens, 28-12. This as Jackson rushed for 143 yards, passed for 365 more and threw for a touchdown and two interceptions.

“Know that Lamar will get his yards,” the scout said. “But, make sure to hit and punish him when he does. He will struggle later in games when he has taken so many hits.

“The run game has to be strong around him, and he has to hit the deep shots because if they live with just the tight end and Lamar, a defense can sit on that all day long.”

Some of those trends are re-emerging for Jackson and the Ravens so far this season, as well as some new storm clouds beginning to gather on the horizon.

Jackson is averaging just 189 passing yards per game, has already been sacked 15 times (compared to 23 all of last season), and is averaging 23.4 fewer rushing yards per game through six weeks than he finished with in 2019.

Things aren’t going to get any easier for Jackson and the Ravens, either.

Beginning Sunday, here’s the next five games:

  • vs. Pittsburgh (5-0)
  • at Indianapolis (4-2)
  • vs. Tennessee (5-0)
  • at New England (2-3)
  • at Pittsburgh (5-0)

It’s fair to wonder if the Ravens are going to be able to beat playoff-caliber teams, let alone a potential playoff rematch against the Chiefs’ pinball offense in Arrowhead if their own offense continues to be almost exclusively built on Jackson’s legs.

“Yeah, that could be a problem,” a current AFC scout tells FanSided.

But, as the scout points out, it’s easy to watch and study Vrabel and the Titans’ masterclass from January, it’s another to be able to replicate it.

“It only works if you can get out in front of them where they can’t just run their way out of a hole,” the scout said. “When Peyton Manning was in Indianapolis, everyone thought playing keep away was enough, but I remember the Dolphins had the ball for 40+ minutes and only kicked field goals. Peyton scored touchdowns and Miami lost. Everybody has the book, but can you get it done? That’s the question.”

It’s a question that might define whether Jackson and the Ravens are Super Bowl contenders, or pretenders. We just may learn the answer in the next five weeks.

What the heck can be done to salvage the Jets?

The Jets are an abject disaster, the worst team in football, one of the least-talented and worst-coached teams in the past decade, and have a legitimate chance to go 0-16.

Unfortunately for general manager Joe Douglas, it remains an open question whether Sam Darnold will ever reach his potential in a Jets uniform, and he has dramatically regressed this season having already tossed four interceptions with a career-low 70.7 quarterback rating.

Watching the Jets every Sunday is like watching a sports car careen into a jackknifed tractor-trailer that slides off the road causing a fiery train derailment. You know it’s awful, you can’t take your eyes off the calamity, and you don’t know how to help.

But, as the now weekly calls for head coach Adam Gase continue to grow louder with each mounting loss, FanSided spoke to Amy Trask to get her thoughts, after having as Al Davis’ CEO of the Raiders from 1997-2013, on what she would do if she were in charge of turning the Jets around:

Fansided: If you were owner Christopher Johnson, or Joe Douglas, what are the first couple of moves you would make to turn the Jets around?

Trask: “I view this as a two-part issue: As a team owner, Christopher should first determine whether he has the right people in place throughout the organization to best effectuate the turn around. In that regard, he must decide whether Joe Douglas should remain in his position. If Christopher decides that the answer is now, then he should make a change at general manager. If Christopher decides the answer is yes, then he and Joe Douglas should look to the issue of the head-coaching position and the many other issues throughout the organization.”

FanSided: Why is Adam Gase still the coach here? Is there any upside keeping him until December? Holding on to him through the rest of the season?

Trask: “I can’t answer the question as to why he’s still the coach, as I don’t know Christopher’s thinking or Joe’s, in that regard. As to any upside in keeping him through the season, my thought is this: The Jets must consider the available options for an interim head coach. In other words, before firing Adam, those making the decision need to ask themselves ‘And do what next?’ If the answer to that question (about who will be the interim coach) is worse than the status quo, that is very telling. On a ‘funny but not funny’ note, I do realize that many Jets fans and analysts say that the ‘and do anything’ is the answer to ‘and do what next?’ question.”

Fansided: What should the Jets’ commitment level be to Sam Darnold beyond this season?

Trask: “At the risk of ‘punting’ (as that is neither my desire or my intent), I think it is too early to make that decision. Many factors, including the extend of input and decision-making authority given to a new head coach and/or new general manager (should Adam and/or Joe be replaced), Sam’s health, available alternatives — getting back to the “do what” analysis all need to be factored in.”

FanSided: Whether Darnold is the quarterback in 2021, do the Jets have any “cornerstone” players to build around? If they do, who are they?

Trask: “I have a two-part answer for this one … One’s sincere, one is snarky. My sincere answer is that I love that the Jets selected Mekhi Becton in the draft. I spoke enthusiastically about drafting Mekhi on our CBS Network NFL Draft show, and think it was smart of the Jets to do. My snarky answer is: Jets fans might prefer I don’t provide a list of the best players, as that might serve as a “list of players not to keep,” for the Jets. Jets fans, please know that I intend that in good fun and good spirit — and I’m sorry.”

Rookie watch

This year’s receiver class is more than living up to its billing as one of the deepest, and most talented in recent memory.

Against the Eagles back in Week 5, Steelers second-round pick Chase Claypool announced his presence to the world with a four-touchdown outburst while catching seven passes for 110 yards.

Sunday, Justin Jefferson powered the Minnesota Vikings offense with nine receptions on 11 targets for 166 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings’ first-round pick leads all rookies, and is fifth in the league with 537 receiving yards.

Meanwhile, Cowboys first-round choice CeeDee Lamb isn’t far behind Jefferson, currently seventh in the league with 36 receptions for 497 yards, and two scores.

So, who’s the next hotshot rookie receiver to have a breakout performance and stake his claim as one of the NFL’s premier pass catchers?

Jim Nagy knows a thing or two about this year’s rookie class. As a former NFL scout and regional scout for the Seattle Seahawks, Nagy has an eye for talent and is entering this third season as the executive director of the Senior Bowl.

When asked by FanSided who Nagy expects to be the next receiver to emerge from this class, he didn’t hesitate.

“If Henry Ruggs can stay healthy, it’s going to be him,” Nagy told FanSided.

Ruggs was chosen by the Raiders No. 12 overall, and the Alabama product has missed three games dealing with a minor knee injury and a hamstring injury.

It’s obvious Ruggs has game-breaking speed, after running the 40-yard dash in 4.27 seconds at the NFL Combine, but that’s not the only reason it’s only a matter time before he has a breakout performance of his own.

“Unlike most fast ‘track guys,’ Ruggs isn’t a one-trick pony vertical threat,” Nagy said. “He’s highly competitive and tough as nails. He was a great special teams player at Alabama. He also has very good hands and is one of the fastest guys I’ve ever timed … 4.25!”

What I’ll be watching Sunday

Seahawks-Cardinals might be the game of the week, and carries so many near and long-term storylines that it can make an argument as one of the biggest games so far this season.

Russell Wilson, the runaway favorite to win his first MVP award, and the Seahawks are fresh off a bye week. Seattle’s defense is going to need the fresh legs provided by the week off ahead of  covering every inch of the field required by the speed quarterback Kyler Murray, and receivers Christian Kirk and DeAndre Hopkins bring to the table.

Monday night, the Cardinals ran the Dallas Cowboys out of Jerry World with a 38-10 shellacking that was never quite that close.

Murray enters Sunday 14th in passing yards, 13th in passing touchdowns, while adding 370 rushing yards and six more scores through six weeks.

If Seattle isn’t careful, Arizona has all the tools to pull off an upset and make a race of it in the NFC West. Further down the line, Murray continues to improve each week, has a cannon for an arm, runs like a cheetah, and has the type of supporting cast around him that could one day propel him to meet Wilson-like heights in his career.


“The sky might be falling, but listen, I’ll bring my umbrella, and my raincoat to get the job done.”

– New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton during a Monday interview on WEEI.

New England is coming off two consecutive losses with a tough test looming Sunday at home against the San Francisco 49ers. Sitting at 2-3, Sunday might be a must-win situation if the Patriots are going to keep pace with the division-leading Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins now that Tua Tagovailoa takes over at quarterback.

Final thought

I will really miss Vaughn McClure.

Vaughn and I crossed paths a couple times over the years, but he was always one of my favorite colleagues in this industry to meet up with on the road.

Whether it was in a crowded Super Bowl media workroom, a bar in Indianapolis during the NFL Combine, or just crossing paths in the Atlanta Falcons’ press box before a game, I looked forward to the inevitable handshake, followed by the warm embrace of his patented bro hugs, and our conversations where he genuinely made you feel like the only person in the room. There isn’t enough of that in today’s society.

Vaughn covered the Atlanta Falcons for ESPN, and died in his apartment last week at the tragically young age of 48. If you’ve spent any time on social media this week or watched ESPN’s Monday Night Football Broadcast, you’ll understand what a colossal loss to people in our industry, and this world Vaughn’s infectious smile and compassionate personality really are.

Many people knew Vaughn better than I did, but he had a way of making you feel like long-lost best friends whenever you reconnected. Maybe all of us could try to be a little more like that, and our society just might become a more tolerable place to be.

Rest in power, my friend. My sincere condolences to the McClure family and everyone who cared about him.

Matt Lombardo is the site expert for GMenHQ, and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday for FanSided. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL. 

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