Only one team in the league has a worse run defense than the Raiders. That team is the Bengals who moved squarely into that last spot because last weekend Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson gouged them for 119 yards on 26 rushes. That’s crazy rushing numbers for even a running back, let alone a quarterback.
Containing the former Heisman Trophy winner is going to be a point of emphasis for the Raiders when they face Jackson and the Ravens on Sunday. The problem is three-fold.
Firstly, that was Jackson’s first NFL start, so the Raiders don’t have a lot of tape on him with which to study. And that means the plays the Ravens will run are going to be vastly different from the offense they ran with Joe Flacco back there.
“A lot of challenges, just because you don’t know what plays they are running. I don’t recognize some of the plays they are running,” said Jon Gruden. “You got to go back to Louisville and study him there. He’s got magnificent running ability. He’s going to get better and better the more he plays, and we got to respect his passing ability and these receivers. We know a lot about them.”
Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther said the Raiders have done their homework, both studying what little tape they have of Jackson in the Ravens offense as well as going back to his Louisville tape, adding “It’s a lot like old option football really. We’ve been keen to that.”
Where the work comes is simply being disciplined because much of what Jackson can do is elude pressure and improvise, and no amount of tape study can solve that.
“It’s about responsibilities, leverage, angles, all those types of things,” said Guenther. “Everybody has to do their part, all 11 on defense have to do their part to stop an offense like this which is unique.”
The phrase ‘Do your job’ comes into play here. Because it’s when players try to do too much and don’t commit to their own assignment that things go wrong.
The primary discipline must come from the edge defenders holding containment outside. If they give up the edge, you can bet Jackson will take it. The Raiders must also have to have a player assigned to the running back on option plays and spy Jackson on every play.
Then once you get to him, you must wrap up. If you need a lesson in how damaging missed tackle can be, you can look at several of the Raiders games this season, including a couple big plays last Sunday against the Cardinals.
There is no quarterback on this team who they can use to try and replicate Jackson’s abilities. For that the Raiders had to get creative.
“We got Rico Gafford, who runs about 4.2. He’ll get a ball and run around,” said Gruden. . . “Johnny Holton can run really fast. We will have him take turns. The best I can tell you is we are going to be very, very creative on how we try to emulate and simulate the Ravens.”
It’s a tough task the Raiders are facing. Having little tape to work with, an elite athlete at quarterback who can also make plays with his arm, no ideal player to imitate him in practice, and a young defense that struggles with its discipline.