Ravens QB Lamar Jackson believes offense is ready to face Steelers top ranked defense
It is hard to fathom the fact that reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson will be facing the Pittsburgh Steelers for just the second time since becoming the starter midway through his rookie season when the two teams face off for an AFC North showdown in Week Eight but that is indeed the case.
By the time Jackson made his first start in 2018, the Ravens had already played their archrivals twice and split the series at 1-1.
During his unanimous MVP-winning campaign last season in his first year as the full-time starter, the Ravens swept the Steelers, but Jackson only started the first meeting in a 26-23 victory.
He sat out the 28-10 win in the season finale because the team already had the division and home-field advantage wrapped up.
However, despite winning his lone career start versus Pittsburgh, Jackson also had one of his worst passing performances. He finished 19-of-28 for 161 passing yards and one touchdown, threw a career-high three interceptions, and was sacked a whopping five times which is also the most in his young career.
The Steelers had one of the best defenses in the league last season and through the first seven weeks of this season, they have the top-ranked overall unit that has been a key to their 6-0 start.
Pittsburgh is ranked first in total yards allowed, sacks, quarterback pressures, total rushing yards allowed, and are tied with the Ravens for the most quarterback hits.
“Their defensive line is great. Their front four, those guys get off the ball and get after the quarterback. A lot of strip-sacks,” Jackson said Wednesday. “T.J. [Watt] and Bud [Dupree], they do a great job against the quarterback and the run game. I feel like our offensive line is going to be ready and we’re just going to go out there and play football.”
Jackson and the Ravens are 5-1 and coming off a bye week. Even though the offense hasn’t been clicking on all cylinders just yet, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin told reporters Tuesday that they are still “a tough nut to crack”.
Ravens Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews told reports on Monday that it’s going to be a “dangerous last half of the season” for the Ravens and his quarterback concurred with that statement.
“Now the second half of the season is here,” Jackson said. “Coming off the bye week, great preparation. We’re going to see.”
Pittsburgh possesses one of the premier pass-rushing tandems in the league with outside linebackers TJ Watt and Bud Dupree who have 10.5 combined crashing off the edge.
If Jackson will want a better passing performance than he had last time he faced them as a starter, he’ll need to be keenly aware of where All-Pro free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is at all times.
Both players were breakout stars in their sophomore seasons last and earned First-Team All-Pro honors in the process. Fitzpatrick didn’t record one of the three interceptions that Jackson threw in their lone meeting last year after he was traded from the Miami Dolphins to the Steelers, but he did log a pass defended and season-high seven tackles.
“Minkah, he’s a ball hawk. He’s great at doing his thing, coming down making tackles, catching picks, scoring on pick-sixes,” Jackson said. “I feel like our receivers and our offense is going to be ready. We’re going to have to see when the game comes on.”
One key defensive piece that Pittsburgh will not have at their disposal this time around that key to keeping Jackson in check for the most part in his only career start versus the Steelers is inside linebacker Devin Bush.
The 2019 first-round pick was extremely disruptive in that game as a rookie with eight tackles, a pass defense, and one of Jackson’s three interceptions. Bush will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL he suffered in Week Six against the Browns.
While his backup Robert Spillane performed admirably well against the Tennessee Titans this past Sunday, he’s not the complete player or dynamic difference-maker that Bush is in their defense.
While Jackson respects the talent that the Steelers possess on the defensive side of the ball even without their star linebacker and is fully aware of the challenges they will present in this matchup, he is clearly confident that he and the rest of the Ravens offense will rise to the occasion on Sunday.