Stopping Jackson is a different challenge for Bucs

by Gary Shelton on December 13, 2018 · 0 comments

in general

Pierre-Paul must contain Jackson./TIM WIRT

Thursday, 4 a.m.

For the most part, the Tampa Bay Bucs have struggled enough when opposing quarterbacks play quarterback.

They drop back, comfortable in the pocket. They slice and they dice, and the hardest thing is to figure out just which wide receiver is the most open. Most of them have had ridiculous quarterback ratings on their way to success.

Now comes Lamar Jackson.

He can run, too.

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For the Bucs, Sunday's problem will be to corral Jackson, the slippery rookie out of Louisville. For the most part, quarterbacks this season have been content to take target practice at the Bucs. But Jackson has the element of young legs, which will present a different problem for Tampa Bay.

In his four games, Jackson already has rushed for 336 yards, or at least 71 yards a game. Already, he leads the Ravens in rushing. Which means the ends must contain, and the linebackers must pay attention, or Jackson will be past them in a hurry.

“They’ve totally flipped," Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said of the Ravens. "They were like 60-40 pass under (Joe) Flacco. They’re more like 60-40 run now under Jackson. You’ve got to prepare for both. Our plan will be based primarily on their personnel and then their tendencies out of those personnel, just like it always is. Every team, based on the personnel they’ve got in there, they’ve got tendencies and that’s how you set up your game plan. A mixture of playing what you do best and also playing to their tendencies.”

It's a problem the Bus haven't had much this year. As good as opposing quarterbacks have thrown the ball, they haven't cared much to run. The Bears' Mitch Trubisky is the only quarterback who has run for more than 50 yards against Tampa Bay (he had 53). Of the rest, nine quarterbacks have had 16 yards or less running.

"Since Lamar’s gotten in that offense and got it rolling they’re averaging over 200 yards (rushing)," said defensive coordinator Mark Duffner. "I think the least they’ve had I think is 198 and I think they’ve had 265 as the most. They’re running the offense at a very productive rate right now and it’s a big, big challenge. It’s going to be 11-man football – as it always is – but you’’ve got a runner and a thrower with the capability of Lamar Jackson. It’s tough sledding. We’re working like heck getting ready for it.

This quarterback has excellent escapability. Disciplined rush lanes are going to be paramount. He’s an excellent scrambler. They’ve got quite a bit of perimeter movement for him in the passing game, whether it be bootlegs or sprints, so they get him on the edge. He’s covering a lot of ground. He’s not just in one spot as a quarterback, so that’s a huge challenge for not only our front, but our whole defense.”

A running quarterback can make for a tough afternoon for a defense. It is an extra element to be concerned about. Remember the best days of Michael Vick and Steve Young and Fran Tarkenton? Yeah, like that.

"Obviously, he’s a rookie and he just came in and he’s doing great things by being a starter now," Bucs' defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "He’s a running quarterback and I know a lot about running quarterbacks because I’ve faced them a lot. I’m going to be looking forward to playing him. Looking forward to running out there and playing their option stuff.

“Any time when you have a running quarterback, you’re looking at a more physical game. Just to play that is difficult. I’m not going to lie, their option stuff is difficult and anybody in the NFL – D-end-wise – if they say it’s not that’s a lie. That stuff – play with your eyes – but you’ve got to be disciplined with it and I think I do a pretty good job and our coaches do a pretty good job game-planning against it. I think we’re going to go out and do it.”

Historically, the best running quarterback the Bucs usually face is Carolina's Cam Newton. This year, Newton rushed for 33 yards in each of the two games against Tampa Bay -- less than half of what Jackson has averaged since becoming the starter. He's led the Ravens to three wins in his four starts.

Still, Newton remains the guide for the Bucs' defense.

“Cam Newton," Koetter said. "I think Cam Newton is obvious – in our [division]. They’ve taken it a little bit more to an extreme, but over the last few years off and on in this division, Cam Newton’s done all this. He’s run a little bit more earlier this year. I haven’t seen him since our game a couple weeks ago. Baltimore’s taking advantage of what this guy brings to the table. Since he’s been in there, he’s done a nice job.”

In particular, that puts an emphasis on Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib to contain.

“I’d say consistency is the main thing," Koetter said of Nassib. "Carl has been a consistent player. Like several other guys on that D-line, he’s had to battle through some injuries that some guys would’ve missed some time. He’s consistently done what the coaches have asked him to do. Carl’s length and his motor make him tough just when we have to go against him in practice. Just those two things alone – length and motor – make him difficult to handle. The fact that he’s usually where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there, that’s where the consistency part comes in.”

Then there is Pierre-Paul, who has been the best player on the Bucs' defesne.

"I think he’s just been a really complete player this year," Koetter said. "The thing that JPP is incredible, he can bend, man. For a guy his size and again has length, he can really bend and that makes him tough to block in the run game. He can get under blocks, he can get over blocks, he can get off blocks. Again, like Carl, he’s been a consistent player both run and pass.”

The Bucs play at Baltimore Sunday. Game time is 1 p.m.





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