Jack­son’s glitz makes Ravens un­stop­pable

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS - Mike Pre­ston

Ravens quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son isn’t a one-man team, but he’s the clos­est thing there is to one in the NFL.

When the San Fran­cisco 49ers failed to con­vert on fourth-and-1 at the Ravens’ 35-yard-line with 6:33 to play, call­ing a pass when they had been thrash­ing the Ravens on the ground, it was over. You knew the Ravens were go­ing to win.

They have Jack­son. Eleven plays later, Justin Tucker was kick­ing a 49-yard field goal as time ex­pired to give the Ravens a 20-17 vic­tory.

It has reached the point that no mat­ter who the Ravens play, and no mat­ter how many points they trail, they can still win be­cause they have Jack­son. He is the great equal­izer.

He makes their of­fense al­most un­stop­pable and their de­fense ad­e­quate. He can score from any­where on the field with his arm or his legs and has pumped life into a fran­chise that had be­come stale.

On Sun­day, the 49ers gouged the Ravens de­fense by run­ning the ball and stymied Jack­son by hav­ing their de­fen­sive ends and out­side lineback­ers push hard up the field hor­i­zon­tally, mak­ing Jack­son bow out­side more on runs.

Jack­son wasn’t hav­ing his best game pass­ing, but re­gard­less, the se­cond-year quar­ter­back has that magic, so he con­verted on a fourth-and-1 on the game-win­ning drive. He also com­pleted passes of 5, 12 and 10 yards and ran the ball him­self three times in the pos­ses­sion.

Big plays, lit­tle plays, fancy plays, wow plays; he gives the Ravens ev­ery­thing.

“We def­i­nitely love ‘Tuck’ [Justin Tucker] and La­mar,” de­fen­sive tackle Bran­don Wil­liams said. “They’re ballers. They’re G.O.A.T’s.”

Say­ing that Jack­son is pretty much a one-man team goes against ev­ery­thing I learned play­ing or­ga­nized team ac­tiv­i­ties. Coaches beat it into your head that ev­ery­thing is about the team con­cept and no one player is greater than the team.

I get it. I agree with that phi­los­o­phy. But if the Ravens didn’t have Jack­son, they wouldn’t be se­ri­ous Su­per Bowl con­tenders and dom­i­nat­ing the AFC North. If they didn’t have Jack­son, they wouldn’t have the NFL’s best run­ning game, and their sus­pect de­fense would have been smacked around sev­eral more times like it was Sun­day.

Let’s take it a step fur­ther. If the Ravens didn’t have Jack­son, they might be .500 team.

They have some other play­mak­ers, like cor­ner­backs Mar­lon Humphrey and Mar­cus Peters (even though he was a no show Sun­day), re­ceiver Mar­quise Brown and run­ning back Mark In­gram II, but they don’t have that swag or juice like Jack­son.

“He is a good de­ci­sion maker,” 49ers cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man said. “He knows an­gles, he knows lever­age, he knows when to get down, he knows when to stay up, he knows when to cut back, he knows when to keep it, he knows when to bounce out­side.”

He knows more than Bo Jack­son ever knew.

“He takes what the de­fense gives him. He doesn’t waste time tak­ing shots down­field,”

Sher­man said. “He played a good game.”

The magic from Jack­son is ex­pected ev­ery week. Some­times, he’ll juke an out­side line­backer into next week on an op­tion run or dis­ap­pear like Hou­dini dur­ing a pass rush.

Last year, teams could stack the line of scrim­mage and force Jack­son to beat them with his arm, but that doesn’t work any­more. He still strug­gles with ac­cu­racy, but not as badly as he did a year ago.

The rest of the NFL is start­ing to re­al­ize Jack­son is close to a one-man team, too. It was ev­i­dent Sun­day by the num­ber of hits 49ers play­ers de­liv­ered.

More will come. Some will be clean, and oth­ers will be bor­der­line dirty or just cheap shots, like those from the Von­taze Bur­fict or Joey Porter play­book. As the games get more in­tense, Jack­son be­comes a big­ger tar­get.

“The of­fi­cials gave La­mar fair calls today,” In­gram said. “Guys are leap­ing into his legs, hit­ting him late on the side­line. He’s a ball car­rier and de­serves to be pro­tected, just like the rest of us. He got a few calls today.”

But, who would you rather face: Jack­son or backup Robert Grif­fin III? Right now, the Ravens are rolling the dice with Jack­son and test­ing fate. You can’t blame them. They’ve made the in­vest­ment. They re­tooled their of­fense around him, im­ple­ment­ing more op­tion plays.

They’ve gone out and loaded up the ros­ter with tight ends so Jack­son doesn’t have to throw long down­field. His run­ning abil­ity keeps the de­fense off the field and those play­ers have be­come his big­gest cheer­lead­ers on fourth-and-short sit­u­a­tions be­cause Jack­son is usu­ally good for at least 2 yards when­ever he touches the ball.

A lot of play­ers would get big-headed when they’ve re­ceived as much at­ten­tion as Jack­son this season. He is con­sis­tently on mag­a­zine cov­ers, is a Most Valu­able Player can­di­date and has be­come a house­hold name across Amer­ica.

But he has a great sense of hu­mil­ity and only talks about win­ning one game at a time.

“We’ve just got to keep it go­ing be­cause it’s on any given Sun­day…,” Jack­son said.

And on any given Sun­day, the Ravens can beat any­body, sim­ply be­cause they have Jack­son, vir­tu­ally a one-man team.

The only thing he doesn’t do on of­fense is pass to him­self. That might come next week.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Ravens quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son eludes 49ers de­fen­sive line­man Nick Bosa (97) and cor­ner­back K’Waun Wil­liams dur­ing the se­cond quar­ter of Sun­day’s vic­tory..

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