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Steelers HC Mike Tomlin: Lamar Jackson, Ravens backfield 'a tough nut to crack'

In Lamar Jackson’s only appearance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the MVP quarterback experienced his worst game as a professional football player. Jackson had three interceptions and a 54.9 passer rating and was sacked five times in Week 5 last season, all of which were career worsts.

The Ravens still beat Pittsburgh with Mason Rudolph under center in overtime despite Jackson’s bad day.

Even after discombobulating Jackson, who would nonetheless go on to win the 2019 NFL MVP award, Tomlin doesn’t think his defense owns the key to keeping the quarterback in check.

“I wish I had an answer to that,” Tomlin said Tuesday, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I think I wish the National Football League had an answer to that.”

Tomlin also rejected the term “in check” to describe how the Steelers handled Jackson in their only other meeting ahead of Sunday’s Pittsburgh-Baltimore showdown.

“‘In check’ is a strong term, one I choose not to use,” he said. “We’re just going to play to our best abilities, play within our personality. We need to be on our details. We need to play fast and play collectively together and, hopefully, that is enough.”

Half of Jackson’s six INTs in 2019 came in the one game against the Steelers — 35 passing TDs and 3 INTs over his other 14 starts in 2019. Jackson sat out the Week 17 matchup against the Steelers last year.

One big difference this season is the Steelers won’t have Devin Bush (ACL tear) to help spy on Jackson.

Pittsburgh will need to use a combination of pressure and containment to keep Jackson from scampering into the secondary.

According to Next Gen Stats, Jackson has evaded 19.5 percent of pressures this season (3rd-highest in NFL), but has been more susceptible to pressure when he holds the ball in the pocket; he’s been pressured on 24.3 percent of dropbacks in 2020 (15th-lowest in NFL) with 3.00 seconds time to throw this season (5th-longest in NFL).

The Steelers defense has pressured opposing QBs on 41.4 percent of dropbacks this season (highest in NFL, only team above 35 percent) thanks in part to T.J. Watt being a streaking blur off the edge. Watt ranks third in QB pressures with 31 this season and sits first in pressure rate per snap (17.8) and pass-rush get-off (0.64 seconds), per NGS.

Tomlin knows just keying on Jackson, however, isn’t enough.

“They have some designed runs,” Tomlin said. “(Jackson) can also get you by scramble or improv. They have quality backs, man. … They utilize all three. They utilize Lamar. They’re a tough nut to crack.”

It’s on Tomlin’s defense to crack that tough nut Sunday afternoon to keep the Steelers atop the AFC North.

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