Browns preparing for dynamic threat Lamar Jackson, explosive Ravens offense

Lamar Jackson might inspire nightmares in the minds of defensive coordinators set to face him. He might not.

We aren't in their minds, so we don't know. But we do know how Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks feels about Jackson.

How might you and your defense attempt to simulate the dual-threat dynamo, coach?

"Playing Madden," Wilks responded Thursday.

It's facetious, of course, but the comparison to the popular NFL video game also offers a peek into how dangerous Jackson can be. The former Heisman Trophy winner, who did so by running and passing his way to stardom, has brought the same brand of effectiveness to the NFL. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has wisely tailored his offense around these special skills, and so far, it has produced two wins and the league's No. 1 offense in terms of yards per game.

Baltimore has racked up those yards on the ground and through the air with Jackson, who has answered anyone who doubted his ability to pass with games of 324, 272 and 267 passing yards to start 2019. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is 7-0. And he has a 120-yard rushing game to his credit in a Week 2 win over Arizona, too.

"To be honest, he is probably the closest thing that I have seen since Michael Vick," Wilks said. "This guy is extremely dynamic, can make plays when you do not think there is a play there to be made. He is just Houdini I guess. Phenomenal, not just with his legs but is ability to get the ball down the field as well. One of the great things that he does when he gets out side of the pocket, he is not just looking to run, his eyes are still down the field. He is trying to push the ball down the field and that is what they have been successful with lately."

Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Ravens Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey

The Ravens aren't just Jackson, though. Baltimore quietly made one of the better offseason moves in the NFL when it signed running back Mark Ingram, and he's proven to be more than worth the money paid to him. Ingram has rushed for 257 yards and five touchdowns on just 43 attempts for an average of 6 yards per carry in 2019. When he and Jackson share the field, the Ravens have two legitimate running threats. 

The difference: Ingram can pound it between the tackles repeatedly and arrives like a high-speed bowling ball ready to knock down all 10 (or 11) pins in the lane. 

That style might make a defense adjust, especially if Ingram is ripping up 10 or 15 yards at a time. 

"Toughness, the physicality, a downhill runner, which is just another element of Lamar (Jackson) being able to pull the ball so you get caught up really trying to play downhill so now all of the sudden now you are soft on the perimeter," Wilks said when asked to describe what Ingram brings to the Ravens. "There are different elements to what they do and I thought he brought a lot to that offense along with what Lamar was able to do already."

There's also Gus Edwards, a running back who came out of nowhere last season once Jackson became the starter and returns to fill a role within Baltimore's offense that makes he and Ingram "a one-two punch," Wilks said. 

"Again, you really want to look at three because all of them have the ability to be able to run the ball," the coordinator explained. "Our No. 1 goal each and every week is to stop the run. I think everybody puts so much on this league being a pass-happy league and I have said it time and time again that there is nothing more demoralizing to a defense than 15, 20, 25 yard chunks right there. It really just takes the wind out of yourself. They are going to rotate them in and out and we are going to have to do a great job of stopping the run and try to get them into third and long."

The Browns have done a solid job against the run through three games, allowing 102 yards per contest, good for 14th in the NFL. That has included stopping two premier backs in Le'Veon Bell and Todd Gurley, who combined to gain just 3.15 yards per carry against the Browns.

That's a good number, to say the least. It starts with how well Cleveland's front four has played against a variety of zone runs, which has allowed the Browns' linebacking corps to stay free of blockers and make tackles. There simply hasn't been much room for opposing running backs to run, which is exactly what Wilks wants. 

"You always want more, but I thought our d-line did a great job (against the Rams)," Wilks said. "Number one, they really controlled the line of scrimmage in the run game, staying in our gaps. We did a great job setting the perimeter of the defense. We knew they were going to try to get outside on the jet sweeps and I thought that is where it started. At that particular point in time, once they started trying to get the ball down the field, you saw Larry (Ogunjobi) get a sack. I thought we were getting good pressure on the quarterback at that time." 

It's no secret that this defense has largely kept the Browns competitive through three weeks. They'll have to take on an even bigger task this week, though, because Jackson adds another threat at all times. 

"You cannot relax; you have to go to the echo of whistle," Wilks said. "That is something that you talk about all of the time but it is very pertinent with this guy and the things that he can bring, You cannot relax on this guy."

We'll see who relaxes the least. After all, this isn't Madden.

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