‘He's playing terrific’: Why Lamar Jackson requires different preparation than most QBs

Every offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals’ coaching staff picks a day, sometimes two, where the entire day is devoted to film study and scheme discussion about the Baltimore Ravens.

Why?

Because of quarterback Lamar Jackson and the style of offense the Ravens run. He’s different than any other quarterback in the NFL and so it requires extra preparation.

“I've also said when Lamar steps on the field it feels like he's the best athlete on the field at any position and that he can do anything physically at all positions,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “I think that's what kind of separates him. He has such confidence in his ability, as he should that he can get out of trouble — those other guys can too — but he can maybe get out of a little more trouble and still have that strong arm to get it down the field. Again, he's league MVP for a reason and it shows."

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) is brought down by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (94) in the third quarter of the NFL Week 7 game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. The Bengals moved into the top of the AFC North with a 41-17 win over the Ravens.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) is brought down by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (94) in the third quarter of the NFL Week 7 game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. The Bengals moved into the top of the AFC North with a 41-17 win over the Ravens.

Jackson’s dual-threat ability is unlike any other quarterback currently in the game. To put into perspective why he’s such a difficult matchup for opponents, here are a few numbers to chew on.

As a quarterback, Jackson’s primary responsibility is what he does as a passer. He’s improved in this area significantly since he got into the league. But this one stat explains why Jackson is different. Jackson has more rushing yards (316) on fewer carries (37) than Bengals’ Pro Bowl running back Joe Mixon who has 221 yards on 82 attempts.

No other quarterback in the NFL ranks in the top-10 in rushing yards.

“If he gets through the four guys, which remember it’s five-on-four, somebody’s going to get doubled and if there’s a little crack, he’s gone,” Anarumo said. “Those are the problems that will keep you up at night in figuring out when to do certain things and when not to and be calculated on when you take those risks on the time to double a guy, the time not to, the time to play zone, the time to play man, because you’re risking something every time you do one of those things. That’s what an offense and a player like this forces you to do.”

Bengals record vs. Lamar Jackson

The Bengals have only beaten Jackson once under coach Zac Taylor’s tenure, which began in 2019. In the second meeting between these clubs last season, Jackson didn’t play due to an injury and it was backup quarterback Tyler Huntley Cincinnati’s defense had to prepare for.

Jackson is playing at a high level this season. In addition to his rushing stats, he’s thrown for 893 yards on 117 attempts and 11 touchdowns. His passer rating is tied with Patrick Mahomes for the league’s best at 105.1.

His main target is Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews who has caught 24 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns. Anarumo and the Bengals’ defense have a ton of respect for Andrews and his ability to take over a game.

“I mean everybody knows the ball's going to him and he still gets his catches,” Anarumo said. “We had him doubled last year and he caught a touchdown pass. It's just that way to get open, the great feel that he has to sit down in zones. You may have him bracketed, but he'll work away from the guy that has leverage on him. And then him and the quarterback are always on the same page when it comes to that. Really good blocker, but an unbelievable receiving guy. And then is a huge threat with the ball in his hands after he catches it.”

The main goal for the Bengals against Jackson will be trying to contain him and keep him in the pocket. When he can escape and make plays with his feet, that’s when he’s most dangerous. Cincinnati was successful in doing so in the first meeting between the Ravens and Bengals in 2021 when Anarumo’s defense hit Jackson seven times and sacked him five times.

How loss of DJ Reader affects the Bengals vs. Ravens

One of the key players the Bengals will be without who would be especially helpful in Sunday’s game is defensive tackle DJ Reader. He’s a force for Cincinnati inside and he sets the tone in how to stop the run. The Bengals also don’t have defensive linemen Larry Ogunjobi on their roster as they weren’t able to keep him in free agency. Ogunjobi played a significant role in helping get pressure on Jackson in the Week 7 matchup logging six tackles, two quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss.

It will be up to defensive linemen B.J. Hill and Josh Tupou to fill the void of Ogunjobi and Reader on Sunday. Anarumo said he’s expecting the Ravens to “test” the Bengals in the run game without Reader on the field. Hendrickson and Hubbard will also be important in setting the edge so Jackson can’t get out of the pocket.

“Sam and Trey were giving their experiences in playing against him,” Anarumo said. “Because if you give him even just (a break), duck your head inside at all, he's gone. He's that good. Not only does he escape outside but he escapes in the B gaps so, it's a lot."

Eleven of the Bengals' starters on this defense have gone up against Jackson several times.

It’s especially important for the Bengals to play well on offense and score early so they can play with a lead. If they can do it, it will make things significantly easier for Cincinnati’s defense.

“When you get a lead, it turns any team into a one-dimensional deal,” Anarumo said. “One of the many reasons why the Ravens are so good is they force you to handle all the runs they have. Big people, little people, you name it. By the way, the play action and drop backs. When you get ahead and they just have to throw it, then you can do different things to maybe offset that part of it. But when you're playing a 50/50 game, it becomes that much harder.”

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Bengals will require different preparation facing Lamar Jackson