ALAMEDA – Lamar Jackson ran more often in Week 11 against the Cincinnati Bengals than any Raiders rusher has in a game all season.
The Baltimore Ravens rookie's 26 carries for 119 yards isn’t all that unusual under normal circumstances. There is, however, one catch. Jackson’s a quarterback.
That’s the largest carry count by a quarterback since the NFL merger. The yardage total is second in history for a signal-caller.
But the QB wasn’t running for his life. He was running with purpose
That presents one huge problem for the Raiders defense: Containing the first-round Louisville product and Heisman trophy winner in his second career NFL start.
Jackson’s ability to run and throw – despite what some draft experts might say about that second trait – makes him unpredictable. That’s magnified because he has just one professional start. There just isn’t much tape to go on or tendencies to identify.
“[He presents] a lot of challenges, just because you don’t know what plays they are running,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “I don’t recognize some of the plays they are running. You got to go back to Louisville and study him there. He’s got magnificent running ability. He’s going to get better and better the more he plays, and we got to respect his passing ability and these receivers. We know a lot about them.”
The Ravens will build off what Jackson did against the Bengals, and give the Raiders new and unscouted looks. It’s certainly possible he’ll throw more than the 19 passes he attempted in a win over the Bengals. Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther must be ready for such chess moves.
Tackling Jackson is difficult, even if defenders know what’s coming. He has raw speed in spades. He ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash as Louisville’s pro day, showing that he can be gone in a flash.
The Raiders have someone who can match that pace.
“We got Rico Gafford,” Gruden said, “who runs about 4.2.”
Gafford is a practice-squad receiver and former college cornerback who turned in a 4.22 40-yard dash at Wyoming’s pro day. The Raiders will run Johnny Holton, activated Wednesday from the practice squad, as a Jackson clone as well.
“The best I can tell you,” Gruden said, “is we are going to be very, very creative on how we try to emulate and simulate the Ravens.”
Gafford will do his best to give Raiders defense proper looks as they try to get used to Sunday’s unique challenge.
“I love running,” Gafford said, via the Las Vegas Review Journal. “That’s the one thing about me: I love running. I’m a track guy. Anyone who knows me can tell you I run. I run a lot, and I run fast. I’m just going to do the best that I can … to be the best Lamar Jackson I can be, other than him.”