Preston: Cheap shots in NFL are inevitable, but Ravens need to protect Lamar Jackson before it’s too late

Ravens' Lamar Jackson talks about his memories of winning the Heisman trophy three years ago and who's getting his vote this year.

The Ravens might have been delivering pre-emptive strikes to the New York Jets this week with all this talk about opposing players taking cheap shots at the knees of second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Cheap shots, though, are inevitable as long as Jackson is having success. It’s an unwritten rule in some quarters of the NFL that if you can’t stop a player, you hurt him. No one wants to say it, but it’s true.


In the 2000 season, remember Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa’s flop on Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon in the AFC championship game? Or how about Haloti Ngata’s wipeout of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2012? Regardless if it is legal or not, it’s probably worth the 15-yard penalty.

In March 2012, Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely by the NFL after he admitted being involved in the New Orleans Saints scandal in which bounties were paid for causing injuries to opposing players.


Williams, who was then the Saints defensive coordinator, returned to the NFL a year later, and he still has the reputation of piecing together aggressive, blitz-happy defenses. And he’ll be on the Jets’ sideline Thursday night as their defensive coordinator.

It’s interesting to note that while Jackson and Ravens safety Earl Thomas III have talked about recent low shots taken at Jackson, Williams suggested this week that Jackson might learn to be more of a passer and less of a runner after he takes more hits in his career.

Was he sending Jackson a message?

I’m not sure, but Williams is telling the truth. When a player serves as both a quarterback and a running back, it significantly increases his chances of injury. It comes down to mere math and percentages.


And those chances grow when the perks of the postseason are worked into the equation.

The Ravens knew this time was coming, but they have decided to tempt fate. Maybe it will work out and he leads the Ravens to the Super Bowl. But eventually he’ll learn to become a better passer, just like former Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. A body can only stand so much physical abuse.

The Jets defense will be aggressive Thursday night, and Williams is familiar with Jackson, having played against him in Week 17 last season as interim coach of the Cleveland Browns.

“They have two really big tackles, linebackers. It’s a Gregg Williams defense,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “They really run to the ball. They give you a lot of different scheme things. They get the secondary involved in the run defense, both the corners and the safeties. They run different kinds of exotic blitzes, not just for the pass but for the run as well. They usually have a Mike ’backer flowing over the top.”

The Jets like having a familiarity with Jackson.

“It doesn’t hurt us. I know it doesn’t hurt us,” Jets coach Adam Gase said. “I think Gregg being able to see him and play against him last year is good for our guys to know that he knows kind of what we’re dealing with. But I do think it’s a different team. There’s a lot of different guys, it seems like. The explosive plays are off the charts right now. They’re playing as well as you’d want an offense to play. You can tell they’re loving the way that [Greg] Roman is doing things. They love their system. They’re playing fast. They’re playing aggressive. They’re full throttle, pedal to the metal the whole game.”

Will cold affect Jackson?

It appears Jackson could be throwing in some cold conditions Thursday night. Temperatures are expected to be below freezing with light variable winds. Jackson has played in poor conditions during the past two games against the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills, and hasn’t performed up to his usual level.

Former Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco played well in poor weather because the velocity of his passes cut through the wind. Jackson’s passes flutter more than Flacco’s, and weather conditions become important factors.

“We just have to do a better job playing in those conditions, because we can’t control Mother Nature,” Jackson said. “Going to the game, when you have the wind blowing, you have to throw with the wind sometimes. We just have to do a better job at balancing it out.”

Thomas on Darnold

Thomas usually gives you good perspective without overstating the case.

If you asked some other Ravens about Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, they’d probably have glowing remarks, even though the Jets have the 30th-ranked offense and are 30th in passing. Darnold, in his second season, has completed 216 of 347 passes for 2,423 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also has thrown 11 interceptions.

But Thomas was right on point.

“Sam, I think he can extend some plays. I think he’s solid. I think he’s a solid quarterback. I don’t have any other thing to say about him, but he’s solid,” Thomas said.

Gase gave his quarterback a little more love.

“I think his decision-making,” said Gase, when asked about Darnold’s major area of improvement. “He’s done a really good job of kind of knowing when to throw it away, knowing when to pull it down and run [and] move on in his progression. I think that’s really kind of going to be the biggest thing here in the last three games for us; it’s just to keep getting better at that. There were some opportunities in this last game where I think he had a chance to either throw it away or move down to the halfback, and we didn’t quite get there. Each week we’re getting a little better at it.”

Jackson’s Heisman pick

Here’s one decision that few can argue with Jackson about: He is picking LSU quarterback Joe Burrow as his Heisman Trophy winner.

Burrow has completed 342 of 439 passes for 4,715 yard and 48 touchdowns with only six interceptions.

“The guy who’s playing lights out right now, the one who took down Alabama: Joe [Burrow]. Joe is doing his thing. I can’t lie,” Jackson said. “He’s doing a tremendous job right now. I feel like they’re winning the national championship, to me.”


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