Lamar Jackson can prove he’s different against Dolphins’ defense

On Sunday, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has a chance to prove he’s an improved version of his electric self against the Miami Dolphins.

In the NFL, styles make fights.

In Week 10 of last season, Miami’s style earned a knockout of Lamar Jackson.

The Dolphins entered that evening with a 2-7 record. Jackson’s Baltimore Ravens were 6-2, and sitting atop the AFC standings. On that warm November night, then-Miami head coach Brian Flores relentlessly blitzed Jackson, specifically in the second half. The Dolphins blitzed a defensive back on half of Baltimore’s 48 offensive snaps, per Next Gen Stats.

The result was a shocking upset. Jackson only threw for 238 yards on 43 attempts, also throwing an interception while being sacked four times. The Dolphins won, 22-10, and the Ravens began a downturn — also because of major injuries — that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time in Jackson’s career.

While the coaching has changed for the Dolphins, the blitzing approach isn’t likely to. After all, Miami has very similar defensive personnel to a year ago and can watch the same tape everyone else has access to. The Dolphins had immense success singling up their corners on overmatched receivers, bringing Cover 0 blitzes and forcing Jackson to either provide a Houdini act, take a sack or throw a contested ball.

On that night, Jackson and the Ravens had no answers. On Sunday, they need find a few.

Normally, one counter would be Baltimore spreading the defense by using 10 personnel (four receivers and a running back) or 11 personnel (three receivers, one tight end and a back). However, the Ravens’ receivers aren’t much trouble on paper for a Miami secondary which ranks among the league’s best, led by corner Xavien Howard.

So if Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh doesn’t want to try that route, he can use the screen game. The Ravens have a plethora of capable backs, especially if regular starter J.K. Dobbins is healthy enough to make his 2022 debut. Screens are particularly effective against man defense, and even more so against blitzes. The Dolphins could get burned here.

But most of all, the adjustments for Baltimore will come down to Jackson. The Ravens need their former All-Pro quarterback to diagnose the blitzes and check into the proper calls, something he’s more than capable of doing. When Miami sets up with an all-out assault on the line of scrimmage, Jackson needs to have a contingency plan ready if the current play-call isn’t optimal.

Of course, this is a huge season for Jackson and his first real test after beating the beleaguered New York Jets in Week 1. A pending unrestricted free agent, Jackson is aiming to have a career year, no small task considering he was an unanimous MVP in 2019. However, Jackson has never thrown for 4,000 yards, and the critical chatter has long been about Baltimore’s inability to beat teams consistently through the air.

Against Miami’s aggressive scheme, Jackson can flip the narrative of Baltimore only being able to win a certain way — running, running and more running with doses of high-leverage play-action calls.

But if Jackson gets the same Cover 0 barrage from the Dolphins and can’t adjust, the criticism will coming pouring in. The Ravens have to be expecting pressure from all angles. There’s no excuse for team or player to be so stymied this time around.

In the last fight between these two teams, Jackson and the Ravens got knocked out. In the rematch, Jackson needs to land a few haymakers of his own for revenge.

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