It used to be fun for Brian Daboll to peek up from his offensive coordinator’s play sheet and watch the one-man highlight reel that is Lamar Jackson.
Just like it used to be cool for Justin Ellis to watch from the sideline as Jackson, then his Ravens teammate, raced past defenders seemingly trapped in slow motion.
All that entertainment is over now, because Daboll is Ellis’ head coach with the Giants, who will be tasked Sunday with chasing down the Ravens’ dual-threat quarterback.
“You can send the entire defense and you might not get him,” defensive tackle Ellis said, “but you’ve got to send a bunch of guys to at least try.”
The Giants passed a difficult test last week against Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Aaron Rodgers, holding the Packers scoreless on three second-half possessions to rally from a 10-point halftime deficit. But Jackson is Rodgers’ stylistic opposite, ranked No. 10 in the NFL (first for quarterbacks) in rushing yards (374) and No. 3 in passing touchdowns (12) this season, while accounting for four of the 10 single-game performances of 100 or more rushing yards plus three passing touchdowns in league history.
“He’s somebody that I would use on ‘Madden,’ for sure,” Giants cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said, “to help me get out of tough situations.”
Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale doesn’t want to hear tired knocks on Jackson’s throwing ability. Jackson had a 125.8 quarterback rating from the pocket in September, according to Pro Football Focus.
“Anybody that wants to say anything that he’s not, OK,” Martindale said. “Because he’s unbelievable, and he’s playing at an MVP caliber right now like he was back in 2019. Not only can he beat you with his arm — he’s throwing the ball really well — but he can beat you with his legs, his mind and everything else.”
Martindale faced Jackson in practices for four years when he was the Ravens defensive coordinator, which sets up an interesting cat-and-mouse subplot because of deep familiarity with strengths and weaknesses from across the line of scrimmage. Two Giants assistant coaches, plus Ellis, outside linebacker Jihad Ward and safety Tony Jefferson (injured) are former Ravens.
“He was drafted in 2018, my son was born in 2018, and one of the first words he could say was, ‘Lamar,'” said outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins, who followed Martindale over from the Ravens. “He’s got all the action figures and the bobbleheads and the jersey. It’s been great to watch [Jackson’s] growth as a quarterback, and I have to make sure my son is rooting for the Giants this week.”
Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson has found himself saying the same words over and over this week: “Take a snapshot, don’t take a video.” It is meant to drill home the importance of eye discipline for his cornerbacks, who could be tempted to look back at Jackson after a clock in their head goes off that he might be scrambling.
“We’ve been working on quick eyes this week in practice,” Henderson said. “If I look back and the ball is still in his hands, I better get my eyes back or I’m going to end up with my guy [deep] somewhere. Playing together for so long, you can see that as soon as he breaks, [receivers] go the other way. If my eyes are in the backfield looking at him, I’m going to lose my coverage. A lot of people go into the game saying they won’t.”
The Giants’ secondary is expected to be close to full strength, after Jackson and fellow starting cornerback Fabian Moreau missed time against the Packers. Despite leading the league in blitz percentage, the Giants have given up just two deep (30-plus yard) completions. They are also looking for their first interception.
After early career struggles against the blitz, Jackson is completing 66.1 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and one interception against extra pressure.
“In my eyes, he’s the best quarterback in the league,” safety Julian Love said. “[Wink] has a lot of insight into him. We’re going to try to use that to our advantage, but at the end of the day you can’t fully be like, ‘This is how he was last year,’ because his game keeps taking big steps.”
It’s definitely not fun to be the head coach against him.
“You have to be cautious with everything with this guy,” Daboll said. “The play is never over.”