Clayton: Seahawks will have hands full with Lamar Jackson, who could be Russell Wilson 2.0
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has emerged as the leading candidate for the NFL’s MVP award through the first six weeks of the season.
From the beginning of the offseason program, you could see he was set to have his best season, and that’s been the case. He’s led the Seahawks to a 5-1 record, had three fourth-quarter comeback victories, owns the league’s best QB rating, and has 14 touchdown passes to no interceptions.
On Sunday, however, the Seahawks face a quarterback who could be labeled Russell Wilson 2.0. Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson isn’t close to Wilson as far as passing accuracy goes, but he’s starting to catch up. He’s also establishing himself as the one of the greatest running quarterbacks in NFL history.
And like Wilson, Jackson is a winner. Last year he replaced Joe Flacco as the Ravens’ starting quarterback, went 6-1 and led Baltimore into the playoffs. This year, he’s 4-2 and has improved his completion percentage from 58.2% to 65.1%.
This is the Seahawks’ final interconference game of the year, and they are 3-0 against AFC teams. This game against the Ravens won’t be easy, though.
Let’s look at the matchup.
• Jackson’s numbers and athletic ability are exceptional. He has 69 carries for 460 yards and has thrown for 1,507 yards. He has a chance to be a quarterback who can run for 1,000 yards and pass for 4,000. That’s historic.
Last week, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield came out throwing quick passes and using his feet as a threat in running plays against Seattle. The Browns put up good yards in the first half and scored touchdowns on their first three possessions.
The Seahawks’ defense needs to limit Jackson’s effectiveness early in the game. That won’t be easy. Despite the Seahawks’ additions of Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah, the pass rush has posted only 10 sacks in six games. Not good enough. Jackson has been sacked 16 times, but he’s so good at making great running decisions when he’s pressured.
Forcing Jackson into making turnovers is one of the keys to the game for the Seahawks.
• One of the interesting subplots of the game is that the Ravens’ offensive coordinator is Greg Roman. Roman was part of the Seahawks-49ers rivalry when Jim Harbaugh was San Francisco’s coach. Roman designed so many creative running plays for Colin Kaepernick, and now he’s doing that for Jackson under John Harbaugh in Baltimore. That means Roman knows the Seahawks’ defensive scheme very well.
• The highlight of the day will be the return of Earl Thomas to Seattle. Thomas was one of the first two players drafted by Pete Carroll and John Schneider along with Russell Okung, and he became one of the most popular Seahawks.
Thomas is still trying to fit into the Ravens’ defense, which is much different than the Cover 1-Cover 3 defenses he played in with the Seahawks. Even though he may have lost a little speed, he still has great range, great instincts and remains a top safety play-maker.
The interesting twist will be how he tries to read Russell Wilson, and how Wilson tries to get him to bite on plays that could put him out of position.
• The return of Jarran Reed after a six-game suspension should improve the Seahawks’ defense. It’s not known how much he will play, but Reed adds a defensive tackle who had 10 1/2 sacks last year.
With Clowney being one of the most double-teamed defenders in football, other players along the line get single blocking and chances to make more plays on the quarterback. Quinton Jefferson has been the best benefactor of Clowney’s double-team blocking. He has 18 1/2 knockdowns and hurries, second-best on the team. By the way, if you are wondering, Clowney has 28 1/2, ninth-best in the league.
There’s a possible setback in that Ansah might not be able to play. He hurt his ankle on a fumble recovery last week.
• Even though it’s a priority to run the football first, the Seahawks might have to game plan similarly to what they did in the Pittsburgh game in Week 2. The Seahawks expected to see the Steelers do plenty of run blitzes to take away the run, so they passed more on early downs to move the ball down the field.
The Ravens’ strength on defense is stopping the run with defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams. They lost two pass-rushers in free agency – Terrell Sugggs and Za’Darius Smith. The Ravens are a big blitzing team, sending extra defenders almost 50 percent of the time.
Wilson is one of the best in football in handling the blitz, but he might not be able to rely on the running game early.
• The Ravens are revamping their secondary, so they could have some communication issues. They acquired cornerback Marcus Peters from the Los Angeles Rams earlier this week and he’s expected to get a chance to play most of the game. Two weeks ago they lost strong safety Tony Jefferson to an ACL injury, so Chuck Clark, a 2017 draft choice, will get the start.
• The Seahawks have their own problems at safety. Lano Hill is out and Bradley McDougald is questionable with a back injury that kept him out of practice all week. Marquise Blair and Tedric Thompson could start. The Ravens are very good getting the ball to their tight ends, something that can be an issue for Seattle’s secondary.
More Seahawks coverage
• Carroll: I’ll always love Earl Thomas because he’s ‘like my son’
• Seahawks’ sack total may not jump, but Jarran Reed will have an impact
• Dissly may have shorter recovery due to ‘minimally invasive’ surgery
• Seahawks’ O-line may be just fine with Jones and Fant filling in
• Rost: 3 concerns about Seahawks despite 5-1 start
• Groz: Why fans will appreciate Earl Thomas in his return
• Heaps: The value of Tyler Lockett when Russell Wilson scrambles
• Wyman looks at a pair of big plays the Seahawks’ defense gave up
• Clayton: If Hawks are going to win division, pass rush must get going
• Moore: Ravens safety Earl Thomas set for Seattle return
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