NFL

Even Troy Polamalu Isn’t Sure How to Defend Against Lamar Jackson

The cliche that defense wins championships is being put to the test by the Baltimore Ravens this season. While the franchise may be associated with Ray Lewis and a stifling defense, Lamar Jackson is currently running the show. With each passing week, the quarterback’s legend seems to grow; no matter what opposing coordinators throw at the Ravens, they just keep scoring.

Retired Defensive greats, like Troy Polamalu, have also taken notice. But even the legendary Steelers’ safety isn’t sure how he would stop Lamar Jackson.

Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens’ unstoppable offense

While Lamar Jackson might be relatively new to the NFL scene, he’s always been a deadly offensive threat. He began his football career at the University of Louisville, where he started eight games as a freshman; as a sophomore, he threw for 30 touchdowns and rushed for 21 more, claiming the Heisman Trophy in the process.

Despite that college success, some NFL teams were concerned about Jackson’s ability to run a professional offense; some even felt he was better suited to wide receiver. That skepticism allowed the Baltimore Ravens to snagged him with the 32nd overall pick. He started the season as Joe Flacco’s back-up but stepped into the starting role after the veteran suffered a hip injury. Since then, the Ravens haven’t looked back.

Jackson’s ability to run and pass with ease has been a perfect fit in Greg Roman’s offensive system. While the coordinator likes to run the ball—and has plenty of weapons to do so—he also has a massive playbook full of unique blocking schemes. Other teams might rigidly try to play football a certain way; the Ravens use every tool in their arsenal to be “a first-rate version of [themself],” which keeps opposing defenses on their toes.

Troy Polamalu’s scouting report

Through the first 14 games of the 2019 NFL season, almost everyone has struggled to slow down the Baltimore Ravens offense; even if Lamar Jackson is limited, someone else picks up the slack. Former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu might be retired, but he still feels their pain. It’s only getting harder and harder to defend against modern quarterbacks.

“I don’t think we’ve seen anything like [Lamar Jackson],” Polamalu said on the Stephen A. Smith Show. “But it also seems that, on a week in and week out basis, there’s a lot of quarterbacks that really are true dual threats that can throw the ball (and) that can run the ball.

“When I was playing, a lot of the time, you could say, ‘Oh man, I can load the box and our corners win their one-on-one matchups on the outside.’ Or, you could say, for a quarterback that is truly a pocket passing quarterback, it’s, ‘Alright, let’s make him move his feet, we can drop as many as possible as long as we have him moving in a bad direction and throwing off-balance,” he continued. “But now, you have quarterbacks that really can do it all as well as (being) surrounded by specialists that are just as talented as well.”

How would Troy Polamalu defend against Lamar Jackson?

Despite all of his defensive success, Troy Polamalu simply isn’t sure how he would defend against Lamar Jackson. While his instincts would suggest slowing down the quarterback with physical play, that’s easier said than done.

“I don’t know what I could have done, to be honest with you,” the safety said. “I definitely would have wanted to be in the action and wanted to get my hands on a quarterback like Lamar, but nobody has been able to do it. One thing that I do understand about this league is that, when you have somebody who makes waves like Lamar or any of these really talented quarterbacks like Patrick [Mahomes], is that these defensive coaches will eventually figure it out.”

Whether it’s through physicality, dirty tactics, or simply choking the clock to limit his opportunities, someone will eventually figure out how to slow Lamar Jackson down. The Baltimore Ravens, however, will be hoping that realization comes after they lift a Lombardi Trophy.