In the two games this season in which Lamar Jackson lost, the second-year Baltimore Ravens quarterback was contained – somewhat – on the ground.
In a loss to the Chiefs in Week 3, Jackson ran just eight times for 46 yards, his second-lowest rushing total of the season. The next week, in a loss to the Browns, he rushed nine times for 66 yards. For any other quarterback in the league, that would be an impressive total, but for Jackson, who’s averaging 7.1 yards per carry and 79.6 yards per game, it was below par. He’s had three games of 115 or more rushing yards and is coming off a sensational victory over the Rams in which he ran for 95 yards and threw for 169 yards and five touchdowns.
The NFL MVP candidate for the 9-2 Ravens has been sensational, so when the 10-1 49ers visit Baltimore Sunday in what is being billed as one of the best matchups in the NFL this season, it’s obvious that San Francisco’s defense – ranked No. 1 in the league, allowing just 248 yards per game – must contain Jackson both on the ground and in the air.
That’s difficult, of course, because Jackson can escape even the best pass rush and buy time to allow his receivers to break away from coverage.
San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group this week that the Ravens have created the offense around Jackson’s skill set, and he’s thriving. While much of the focus is on how well he runs, Saleh told Inman that Jackson’s passing ability is "underrated" and points to the fact he’s No. 3 in the NFL in passer rating at 111.4, behind only Kirk Cousins (114.8) and Russell Wilson (112.1). The 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo is at 100.6.
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan says the 49ers will have to be conscious at every moment where Jackson is, and be able to try to limit the damage he can do if he takes off running. Niners defenders will have to take special care they never let down and never lose sight of their responsibilities.
He says Jackson is smart and sees the defense as it unfolds on every snap.
"I’m impressed with how unbelievable he has been in the run game," said Shanahan. "That starts with it. If you are that generational-type of runner, then you’re going to get some better passes, too. He’s been more than good at doing well in those situations. The way he’s thrown, he’s gotten it to the right guys, and if the looks aren’t there right away, he’s been unbelievable turning it into a run.”
The 49ers-Ravens game is set to kick off Sunday at 10 a.m.