Lamar Jackson is a different animal as a quarterback. He is a threat to run on a near Michael Vick level, and when the run game is working he can tear you up throwing the ball too. The Steelers have done extremely well against Jackson, holding him to his worst passer rating of any team he’s faced, and in 4 games have intercepted Jackson 5 times. The Steelers rank third in yards per rush allowed by Jackson among any team that has faced him more than once. Jackson also has 5 fumbles against the Steelers, 2 of them turnovers.
The Steelers average more than one interception and more than one fumble forced per game they have faced Lamar Jackson. The Steelers have forced 7 turnovers directly from Lamar Jackson, and he has 3 passing touchdowns and 0 rushing touchdowns against the Steelers.
To say the Steelers have had Jackson’s number so far in his career is an understatement. The Steelers have dominated Lamar Jackson.
Other teams have followed the Steelers blueprint, including the Cleveland Browns.
2021 Week 12, Browns vs. Ravens
Jadeveon Clowney is a freakish athlete, even more so than T.J. Watt. The Ravens “Veer” option is based of Lamar Jackson reading the play side defensive end instead of the team blocking that player. Basically, on this play, wherever Clowney goes, the ball goes somewhere else. Jackson is good enough to get rid of the ball right before Clowney gets to him, but Clowney shows the value of quickness in that edge defender role. The running back is then shut down by the speed of #28, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and run support from the play side corner.
That is also the Steelers secret to their success against Jackson.
2020 Week 8, Steelers vs. Ravens
T.J. Watt makes a fantastic play here. Normally an edge has to choose one of the two threats to cover. On this play that would be choosing between the running back going outside or Lamar Jackson going up the middle.
T.J. Watt is athletic and quick enough to choose both. Jackson makes the right read in keeping the ball, Watt is heading right for the running back. But that doesn’t matter because Watt is able to turn and tackle Jackson after he keeps it.
Look at Bud Dupree coming from the other side, he’s right there as well. The Ravens didn’t run their Veer to Dupree’s side, and they don’t run it to Myles Garrett’s side when they face the Browns. Having T.J. Watt as the more favorable player to run this play at is an incredible advantage for the Steelers, just like the Ravens having to choose to run it at either Myles Garrett or Jadeveon Clowney was a huge part of the Browns attempt to pull ahead of the Ravens this season.
But like that first clip showed, it goes beyond just the edge defenders being ridiculous athletes and great run defenders.
2019 Week 5, Steelers vs. Ravens
Devin Bush hasn’t faced the Ravens outside of his rookie season, and his only game against Lamar Jackson came in his 5th game in the NFL. Devin Bush led the team in tackles and intercepted his first pass in that game, a game which saw a Devlin Hodges comeback win over Lamar Jackson thwarted by a fumble in overtime.
Bush, like Browns rookie Koramoah, had the speed to cover inside runs and still run down plays going outside. With help from always stout run defender Joe Haden, this play lost yards.
I’m not underselling the importance the defensive line played in these games, but the Steelers big advantage facing Lamar Jackson was Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt and Devin Bush. The Steelers had three of the most athletic linebackers in the NFL to defend Lamar Jackson’s athleticism, and it worked.
The problem this week is Devin Bush doesn’t have that athleticism right now, and the Steelers are thin on the defensive line. Joe Haden won’t be out there either. The last minute return of T.J. Watt gives the Steelers hope, but that hope won’t amount to anything if the interior line can’t hold up. With Cameron Heyward hoping to make it back from illness in time for the game, the Steelers are going to need their defensive line to step up, T.J. Watt to return strong and play great, and someone to get to the outside when the Ravens attack wide.
It’s a tall task for a depleted Steelers defense, and that could mean this week is the week Lamar Jackson finally breaks through and has a big game against the Steelers.