If you’ve ever bore witness to a rodeo, you likely recall vivid instances of a wide-eyed fledgling calf hurriedly scurrying away from some predator - one that would love nothing more than to hogtie it up and eradicate any of its escape-tactic abilities. The predator, which in this case is usually a traditional cowboy on horseback, chases down the fidgety creature with of all his might in valiant efforts to wrestle it to the ground in the fastest manner possible.
The predator in Tuesday’s rodeo rendezvous will be the Dallas Cowboys, and they are going to have massive fits as they semi-extemporaneously try to prepare for the two-headed monster calf that is Lamar Jackson. The Baltimore Ravens are expected to regain the 2019 MVP’s services after Jackson was sidelined on the NFL’s precautionary COVID list for their rivalry standoff with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jackson returns to the gridiron after what will be just over a two-week hiatus from game action, and aside from the normal rust-shedding that must complement a winning performance from Baltimore’s QB1, Jackson will have a tremendous hill to climb as he tries to recapture some of that lightning-in-a-bottle energy that gaslighted his path towards the NFL’s second-ever unanimous MVP tabbing.
He’s been a ghost of his former self all-season. Call it a sophomore slump, or perhaps some signage of a skillset that’s been figured out strategically by opposing defenses, he just hasn’t been the same.
But he’s still Lamar Jackson.
His accuracy may have significantly dwindled to a near uncontrollable shakiness (which is completely emblematic of a quarterback rating that’s plummeted nearly 20 points from 113.3 to 93.), and his decision-making is reluctantly dubious. Deep shots down the field. which at one point stratified him as one of the singular best in the NFL (he he completed 27 of 68 deep passes for 829 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2019 according to Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar), have digressed in terms of efficiency as well. His 2020 premium in the category is subpar at best, a 30.3 completion clip, which places him squarely at the bottom floor in comparison to his starting quarterback brethren at 29th in the league.
But he’s still Lamar Jackson.
Any given play can reignite the fiery big-play ability we so appallingly marveled at during his one-of-a-kind sophomore campaign. And while his arm dexterity may have shown a year-to-year decay, the deadly potency of his running ability remains firmly intact.
Jackson has eclipsed the 50-yard rushing mark in all but two of his outings this season. He’s found the end zone on the ground transportation route just twice, but that takes no strength away from the threat he poses for Dallas’ less-than apt defense.
Simply put: he’s a problem to game plan for.
He’s probably faster than anyone the Cowboys can pit against him in a footrace (a 4.34 40-time during his Louisville days is all the evidence you need of that), and don’t get me started on his NFL Street-esque ankle-breaking ability. John Harbaugh redesigned Baltimore’s entire playbook around the fortitude of his legs, and what was once a balanced run-pass attack under Joe Flacco’s helm quickly became an all-out brazen Ravens’ running brigade.
The team has usurped 100 rushing yards in every contest they’ve taken the field for thus far in ‘20, and that’s a nightmare waiting to unfold for Dallas’ basement-tier run defense. And if Jackson is healthy and right for the Tuesday matchup, he’ll be the grim reaper waiting at their doorstop looking to snatch Cowboy souls.
Much has been made of Jackson’s struggles this year, and they have indubitably come by the plenty, but if Dallas is not careful and underestimates his dexterity, they’re in for one incredulously long day.