PITTSBURGH — Anytime a team faces Lamar Jackson, they know they are in for a fight. He can turn nothing into something special in a hurry. For the defensive line, specifically, it requires a far different mode of play to work. The Steelers, somehow, have cracked that mode when facing Jackson. Most importantly, the Steelers kept Jackson extremely frustrated all night. Thye sacked the star, elusive quarterback seven times.
For T.J. Watt and company, the challenge Jackson brings is one that they embrace. They know if they do not do their jobs and keep rush lane integrity, there is a good chance Jackson can burn the secondary either with his arm or by himself.
“Whenever you’re going after him and there’s no one in-between you and him, you’re going to have to be very careful with how you approach him,” Watt said. “Going backward, you can get him, but he can make you miss real quick, so you have to be careful.”
This is a sentiment that was echoed by Mike Tomlin. It is not only the defensive rush lanes that get compromised, but more so, the coverages a defense can run completely change thanks to the dynamic ability to Jackson to create something. It is that conundrum that Tomlin highlighted.
“It’s always scary when you play him because you have to play zone,” Tomlin said. “If you play man, when he breaks out, it’s too many chunks of real estate. But when he extends, zones get challenged. The seams in zones get challenged. That’s what I mean when I say it’s pick your poison. You play man, he escapes the initial rush. He can run forever. You play zone, and he extends it. Then the zones get stressed later in the down. It’s just challenging. It always is. It’s challenging for everybody that plays against 8 [Lamar Jackson].”
Even veteran superstars like Cam Heyward are cognizant of the magnetism that Jackson brings to the table. However, with the defensive line playing at such a high level, Heyward knew that the team could rise to the occasion and that they did just that to contain Jackson’s high-flying style.
“Lamar’s a great talent,” Heyward said. “He’s going to stretch you out. When you are the guy that gets the double, you have to be more cognizant of the rush. The one-on-ones you’ve got to win. Then you’ve got to get your play up.”
Watt noted that Steelers went with a gameplan to flat out bull rush the Ravens all game. Using the power and explosiveness, they felt they could collapse the pocket around Jackson. Perhaps, it was that overall that led to Pitt racking up seven total sacks on the evening. Regardless, the Steelers defense held a high-powered Ravens offense to a mere 19 points, and the defensive line was a huge part of that. Chris Wormley felt the Steelers executed the gameplan perfectly.
“Our rush lanes were the biggest thing, keeping the edge with T.J. and Alex and Cam and I and the other guys pushing the pocket,” Wormley said. “For the most part, we did that. Obviously, Lamar is Lamar and he’s going to do what he does. I think for the most part, we contained him. Especially when we know that their rushing attack is their biggest weapon.”
The Steelers’ defense had trouble against Justin Herbert two weeks ago, but not on Sunday evening. It is that turn around that partially propelled the Steelers to victory.