OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — When Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens faced Miami in November, it was as discombobulated as they looked all season.
The culprit was the Dolphins’ blitz-heavy defensive scheme — and that game is again on Baltimore’s mind as the Ravens prepare to host Miami this weekend.
The Dolphins have a new coach, so they may not defend Jackson exactly the same way, but there’s no denying the effectiveness of their approach last season. Miami won 22-10, becoming the first team in 52 games to hold Baltimore under 14 points. It ended up being the Ravens’ lowest point total of the season.
“They just caught us off guard really,” Jackson said. “We haven’t really went over defenses doing all-up Zero against us, like just all-up, flat-out Zero. I feel we have an answer for it this year. We watch film, watched a lot of film on those guys, because we don’t want it to happen again.”
It wasn’t just that Miami blitzed a lot — on 30 of Jackson’s 50 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. The aggressiveness of the Dolphins’ Cover Zero scheme seemed to rattle the Ravens, who weren’t able to make Miami pay with big plays.
“Other teams did Zero, but it was just the way they did it that kind of affected us,” Jackson said.
Short completions did little to deter the Dolphins from sending extra pass rushers. Jackson, normally such a threat to run because of his elusiveness, was sacked four times and ran for only 39 yards on nine carries. At some point, even he can’t escape if he’s under too much pressure from too many people at once.
Watching Jackson and the Ravens adjust to the blitz could have been a fascinating subplot to the second half of last season, but he didn’t have many chances. Because of injury and illness, he only played two full games out of Baltimore’s final eight.
The Ravens did have time during the offseason to work on countering Cover Zero.
“We’d have been negligent if we hadn’t worked on it,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s something we need to get a lot better at, and we studied it the whole offseason. We’ll have a plan for it. Hope it works, because these guys are probably the best in the league at doing it.”
Jackson was sharp in Baltimore’s opener last weekend, throwing three touchdown passes in a 24-9 win over the New York Jets. Those TD strikes were 25 and 17 yards to Devin Duvernay, and 55 yards to Rashod Bateman.
“Maybe the first one to Devin, the fade route, out of the bunch would have a chance against a Zero blitz,” Harbaugh said. “The one to Bateman would not. You wouldn’t have enough time to get that off.”