NFL insider notes: Big running back investments aren’t paying off, Ravens’ defensive surge and more - Jason La Canfora
Ravens making big strides on defense
For all of the talk about Lamar Jackson – and he is as special as they come – the Ravens’ surge has been due to making huge gains on defense as well. GM Eric DeCosta overhauled the linebacking group on the fly, added much-needed help at corner, dealing precious little for Marcus Peters, and the addition of safety Chuck Clark as a full-time starter at safety has been huge. Clark has played 100 percent of the snaps alongside Earl Thomas since Tony Jefferson was lost for the season last month, and the unit has been far better off. He is vital in getting everyone aligned, Thomas is thriving since his addition and it’s gone too far under the radar. He’s someone I’d be trying to extend to be honest, as the Ravens did recently with Willie Snead on the other side of the ball.
Revamped Texans Offensive Line Has the Baltimore Ravens Attention Heading to Sunday - Patrick D. Starr
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has been impressed with the Texans and especially their offensive line and running game. Averaging 142.8 yards on the ground, which is 4th best in the NFL, the offensive line and running game have caught Harbaugh’s attention.
”It’s just a big challenge with their offense,” Harbaugh said of the Texans. “They run the ball well. They have a heck of a back [in RB Carlos Hyde]. He’s breaking tackles and running that wide-zone, stretch-zone play about as well as you can run it, so that’s what we’ll be facing.”
“They got first-round pick a right tackle, you got a top 10 or 12 pick or whatever it was at left tackle,” Harbaugh continued. “Did a great job getting him in there. I think their guard, a rookie guard from Northern Illinois, (Max) Scharping, we liked. Big physical guy. Got one of the top centers in the league, Notre Dame guy. You know, one of the most physical right guards and football.”
Quarterback Revolution - Jeffri Chadiha
Jackson is merely the most extreme example of what can happen when a team goes all-in on the idea of making life easier for a young quarterback. He’s already passed for 2,036 yards, rushed for 702 more and accounted for 21 total touchdowns on a team that leads the AFC North with a 7-2 record. But Jackson isn’t an outlier. The NFL is filling up with more athletic quarterbacks, and coaches are becoming more creative in how they use them.
“This has been going on for a while and not just in my era,” said Jackson. “You look back and you had guys like Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick and Steve McNair (doing similar things). The difference is that the game is so much faster now. You need guys who can run and throw.”
“He is just way, way more advanced,” Harbaugh said. “We do so much more now. Our motions are more complex. Our cadence is more complex, both verbal and silent. We’re under (center). We’re in the ‘gun. We’re in the pistol. We’re (in) empty (backfield formations). We do a lot of different things and he does a good job of handling all of it.”
”There are so many different areas we can attack people,” Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said “We have Lamar, who can hit you with the run and the pass. We can hit you with Mark Ingram with the run. (Tight end) Mark Andrews and (wide receiver) Willie Snead can hurt you in the passing game. And up front, we have a variety of different things we can do. We can run toss cracks. We can run power. We can run outside zone or inside zone. The reason we’ve been so successful is that it’s a lot to prepare for.”
It was Oct. 1, 2016 when No. 3-ranked Louisville took on No. 5-ranked Clemson in Death Valley. As broadcaster Chris Fowler said at the start of the game, it was the “new sensation” Lamar Jackson versus the “steely veteran” Deshaun Watson.
The quarterbacks put on an absolute show. Jackson threw for 295 yards, ran for 162 yards and scored three touchdowns. Watson threw for 306, tossed five touchdowns and ran for 91.
In the end, Jackson and Louisville fell just one yard short of a first down and three yards short of scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds, swallowing a bitter 42-36 defeat. Jackson hasn’t forgotten that loss.
“He was just dicing us down the field. He was just doing Deshaun Watson things – scoring touchdowns, making incredible throws, and they came out with the victory,” Jackson said.
“I can’t wait to see him again.”
Players to Watch
While everyone’s eyes will be locked on Lamar Jackson, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is well worth a look, as well. He enters Week 11 ranked third among qualifying quarterbacks in PFF passing grade on passes of 10 or more air yards (93.7), completing 56-of-100 such attempts for 1,222 yards, 13 touchdowns and four picks in the process.