Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Steelers have no one to simulate Ravens QB Lamar Jackson
Where the wildcat formation was the talk of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football, Mike Tomlin is focused on his defense.
The Steelers hit Andy Dalton a dozen times, including eight sacks, in putting on their best defensive performance of the season in the 27-3 victory at Heinz Field.
But the Bengals aren’t Baltimore. And Dalton isn’t Lamar Jackson.
In Jackson, the Baltimore Ravens have as dangerous of a dual-threat playmaker at quarterback that the Steelers will see this season. And they’ve already faced Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
Not only has Jackson completed 65% of his passes for 1,110 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he’s also rushed for 238 yards and another score on 36 carries.
Jackson didn’t start either game against the Steelers last season, playing sparingly but effectively in a change-of-pace role. He rushed for 17 yards on four carries — converting a third-and-3 from the Baltimore 40 and running 8 yards to set up a touchdown — in the Ravens’ 26-14 win on Oct. 1. Jackson completed one pass for 12 yards and rushed five times for 10 yards in the Steelers’ 23-16 victory on Nov. 4.
Jackson took over the starting job the next week.
“We’ve seen some of Lamar Jackson but not the totality of it in the ways that a lot of people have,” Tomlin said. “Looking at the tape, obviously he’s grown and he’s experienced the natural maturation process that you’d expect from guys from year 1 to year 2. He’s doing an awesome job of administering the offense.
“The offense is challenging, quite frankly, because it stresses you in a lot of ways. He’s got the type of speed and agility that really stresses a defense on the perimeter so we’ve got to do a great job of constricting and containing what they are capable of doing on the perimeter. But you can’t be so loose on the interior that downhill runners like Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards don’t gore you.”
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 29, 2019
1. No simulator: As much as Tomlin raved about the Ravens’ dynamic offense, he was emphatic that the first challenge will be in the preparation process.
“Forget stopping their talents on Sunday,” Tomlin said. “It’s difficult to duplicate their talents in preparation because we don’t have a quarterback that looks like Lamar Jackson in terms of how he moves and throws and all of those things.”
The closest thing the Steelers had to simulating Jackson was Joshua Dobbs, who has since been traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Tomlin said he wouldn’t consider moving a speedy skill player to scout-team quarterback, just to mimic Jackson’s elusiveness. So the Steelers will likely use backup Devlin Hodges, given that third-stringer Paxton Lynch is 6-foot-7.
“I think you lose too much in the passing game when you do that,” Tomlin said. “We’ll make do with the guys that we have, and that’s just the reality of it. I’m sure everybody goes through those things. No one has a quarterback that moves and throws like Lamar Jackson, so we’re not alone in that.”
Maybe not, but Dobbs certainly gave them a better look at what to expect from Jackson than any of their current quarterbacks can.
— SteelersBrazil 🇧🇷 (@SteelersBrazil) October 1, 2019
2. Stand up: Tomlin credited the Steelers defense for standing up against early adversity after Diontae Johnson’s first-quarter fumble gave the Bengals the ball at the 15.
That the Steelers held Cincinnati to 5 yards on three plays, forcing them to settle for a 28-yard Randy Bullock field goal was “the catalyst for the night that followed.”
The Bengals didn’t score again.
It was a major turnaround from the previous game, when the San Francisco 49ers turned a pair of turnovers into two touchdowns, including the game-winner.
The most accurate field goal kicker of all time (90.3 percent).
The AFC Special Teams Player of the Month in September and November.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 1, 2018
3. Something special: Tomlin went out of his way to remind himself to note that Baltimore has “the best specialists in the world” with kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch.
Tucker is perfect on 13 extra points and six field goals this season, including a long of 51 yards. He’s made 99.6% of his career PATs and 90.3% of field goals. Koch is averaging 46.9 yards per punt, with a long of 56.
“We can’t play the field-position game,” Tomlin said, “and expect to win it.”
— SteelVideos (@SteelBlitzburgh) September 30, 2019
4. Zingers: Asked what Ben Roethlisberger’s presence added to the Steelers sideline, Tomlin didn’t miss a beat.
“Nothing, in terms of playmaking,” Tomlin said, drawing laughter. “You know I’m into the intangibles.”
Asked what he needed to say to Johnson following his first-quarter fumble: “Don’t fumble anymore.”
When Tomlin throws the challenge flag…. pic.twitter.com/cNr8tJUZ5Z
— Mikey (@fsmikey) October 1, 2019
5. A real challenge: Tomlin lost his 11th consecutive challenge, this one an innocuous offensive pass interference penalty against receiver Johnny Holton.
That left the Steelers coach at a loss for how to proceed.
“I have no idea what it’s going to look like moving forward. If anybody does, I’d appreciate it,” Tomlin said. “I don’t think any of us have a feel for what that looks like, and I’m just being honest. I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do moving forward because it appears to be a moving target.”
Although it has to be especially frustrating for Tomlin as a member of competition committee, he simplified it.
“Hey, it’s just frustrating as a football coach,” Tomlin said. “But there’s a lot of things that’s frustrating. We’re trying to get it right. It’s just difficult to nail down at this juncture. I’m sure it will get better as we go on.”
Reminded that he spent a lot of time going over the rule, Tomlin cracked this: “Tell me about it.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .