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New Orleans Saints defense faces unique challenge from Ravens QB Lamar Jackson

'There's mobile quarterbacks, then there's Lamar Jackson'

New Orleans Saints defensive backs Paulson Adebo and Chris Harris Jr and defensive lineman Kentavius Street in action during their 2022 Week 8 game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
New Orleans Saints defensive backs Paulson Adebo and Chris Harris Jr and defensive lineman Kentavius Street in action during their 2022 Week 8 game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

It seems every other week that the New Orleans Saints' defense has been presented the "mobile quarterback" scenario.

Atlanta's Marcus Mariota in the season opener and, two weeks later, Carolina's Baker Mayfield. Seattle's Geno Smith in Week 5, followed by Cincinnati's Joe Burrow and Arizona's Kyler Murray in Weeks 6 and 7.

None is in the same galaxy as Baltimore's Lamar Jackson, whom the Saints (3-5) will face in the Caesars Superdome on Monday night.

"First of all, there's mobile quarterbacks, then there's Lamar Jackson," defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "I think you put him in a different bracket. You can probably say (Eagles quarterback) Jalen (Hurts) is similarly fast, but you're not going to meet too many quarterbacks that run like Lamar does. If you look at what he's able to do in the air, on the ground, I think he's explosive in everything he does."

Twice in his first four NFL seasons, Jackson ran for more than 1,000 yards. In 2019, when he was named Most Valuable Player, he ran for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns on 176 carries, and completed 265 of 401 passes for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns, with nine interceptions.

In eight games this season for the Ravens (5-3), he has 553 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 75 carries, and has completed 148 of 235 passes for 1,635 yards and 15 touchdowns, with six interceptions.

Zone read, designed run or scramble from danger, Jackson, who led the Ravens in rushing the previous three seasons and is on pace to do so again, has been able to juke and dodge and speed his way to the head of the running class.

"He presents every type of challenge that you can imagine," linebacker Demario Davis said. "He's smart. Savvy. Creative. Can extend plays. Dynamic throwing ability. Excellent leadership. And the way he runs the ball is just an extra quality of all the many great things that he does.

"He has been a one of the top players in our league for a long time, dominant player. And so you definitely have to be prepared in every different way that he can hurt you."

New Orleans enters Monday coming off its best defensive performance of the season in a 24-0 victory over the Raiders, including a season-low 38 rushing yards on 13 attempts. Baltimore is the second-best rushing team in the league (165.6 yards per game), coming off a 231-yard showing in a win against Tampa Bay.

"Just watch 'em," Saints Coach Dennis Allen said. "I think they are, and they have been, one of the better running football teams in our league. And I think the element of the quarterback makes it even that much more challenging."

Jackson, the 11th leading rusher in the league this season, is No. 6 on the all-time list for rushing yards by a quarterback, and is 14 yards from overtaking Steve Young for fifth place.

"There's a reason why he was the NFL MVP," Jordan said. "He's a pain to play, and that's when he was a backup to Joe Flacco (in 2018), which is the only time we've seen him. And now he's the starter and I think he does a phenomenal job at what he does. He holds the team accountable, they hold him accountable. Everything you saw when (Saints running back) Mark (Ingram) was over at the Ravens (in 2019-20), he's still as explosive, he still makes those deep-ball plays.

"It's a tall task. You've seen him look at defensive ends and still pull the ball and turn the corner. He's that fast. It's going to take all of the front seven. I think there's opportunities for us to take advantage of, and I think there's also times where even being disciplined is not going to work. It's one of these games where we're going to have to fight all 60 minutes to get a win out of it."

Jackson presents a unique challenge, but New Orleans understands to a degree because it has its own running quarterback, Taysom Hill, who similarly presents stressful scenarios for opposing defenses.

"Here's what it is, like, every week I get asked questions about Taysom Hill, and why is that so effective," Allen said. "Because when the guy that's standing back there with the ball, when he can run the football, it makes it challenging because you're generally putting somebody in some sort of a two-gap conflict. And so, that's what makes it so challenging.

"Whether you're crashing down with an end and trying to come back with a linebacker, or whether you're having an end play cut-back in quarterback – there's a lot of different elements that go along to that. And usually, these teams that run this type of offense are usually putting two elements on one player. That's what makes it challenging."

Challenging, for every opponent. But New Orleans has seen its share of elusive quarterbacks, and it is coming off its best defensive showing of the season.

"No matter what you did with other teams, when it comes to stopping this unit and a player like that, you've got to be dialed in," Davis said. "It's going to be a great challenge for us, but I like our guys, man. When we're playing fast and physical, we can run with anybody."

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