MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP)A 327-pound offensive lineman running with the football was more exciting than Lamar Jackson.
Playoff Lamar showed up in the regular season.
If Jackson and the rest of Baltimore’s offense don’t figure out how to beat cover zero defensive schemes, the Ravens won’t have to wait until the playoffs to flop.
Jackson had no room to run and little time to throw against Miami. The Dolphins entered with the NFL’s third-worst defense but shut down Jackson and Baltimore’s high-powered offense in a 22-10 win Thursday night.
In a copycat league, the Ravens can expect to see more teams use Miami’s aggressive approach. The Dolphins brought heavy blitz packages, leaving no defenders deep. Jackson couldn’t take advantage.
He finished 26 of 43 for 238 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His 73.6 passer rating was his lowest since he posted a 61.5 rating in a playoff loss to Buffalo last January.
”We’ve seen it before,” Jackson said about facing a cover zero defense. ”We were practicing it the whole week. We have to do a better job handling it. We have to do our thing. There were plays we left on the field. We had some mishaps. We have to be us.”
The Ravens didn’t score a touchdown in the first three quarters for the first time in Jackson’s 46 career starts in the regular season. However, they didn’t score a TD in the first three quarters in three of four playoff games with Jackson. The 2019 NFL MVP is 1-3 in the postseason with a 68.3 passer rating.
Jackson’s frustration was clear on the sideline in the second half when he was pacing and yelling.
”I was hot,” he said. ”We weren’t scoring no points. We were putting our defense out there. I thought they played lights out but we weren’t getting it done on offense. So that’s why I was mad.”
The Ravens (6-3) came in with the league’s No. 2 offense thanks largely to Jackson’s exceptional performance over the first half of the season when he became the first player in NFL history with at least 2,000 yards passing (2,209) and 600 yards rushing through eight games.
But the struggling Dolphins (3-7) showed the rest of the league the blueprint for containing Jackson. They came after him in various ways, dared him to throw downfield and took away his playmaking ability.
Jackson was held to 39 yards rushing, his second-lowest output this season. He was sacked four times.
”We have to watch film and regroup,” Jackson said. ”The Dolphins played a great game. They had a guy coming off the edge hot so I tried to get the ball out to my receivers and have them make a play. Sometimes they tipped the passes. They played a great game.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh blamed himself for the team’s lack of preparation, though Jackson blamed it on execution.
”We just didn’t handle it well,” Harbaugh said. ”They’re blitzing us and we’ve got to handle it a lot better. And that’s on us as coaches.”
Despite playing an overtime game Sunday, a short week of rest and traveling to play on a humid night, the Ravens made no excuses. They had an opportunity to improve their standing in a wide-open AFC. Only the Tennessee Titans (7-2) have more wins. Instead, the loss to lowly Miami tightens the AFC North race – the Steelers (5-3), Browns (5-4) and Bengals (5-4) are on Baltimore’s heels.
The big concern is whether Jackson and the Ravens can adjust when more teams play a similar defensive style against them.
”(Cover) zero is one of those things where you’ve got to make them pay,” tight end Mark Andrews said. ”I don’t think early on we did that enough. That’s one of the things. You make them pay early on, they kind of get out of there. We did a lot of things toward the end of the game that I think we need to capitalize early on.”
That’s on Jackson. He has to make the reads, deliver accurate throws and get the offense rolling. Jackson has been spectacular throughout his 3 1/2-year career but the knock on him has been his playoff struggles.
Games like this are a reminder he still has a long way to go.
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