How Will Gus Bradley Gameplan for Lamar Jackson?

Source: Nick Wass/AP

With Monday Night Football coming very soon, the Raiders will be facing one of the best players in the NFL. Of course, that would be Ravens QB Lamar Jackson. The multidimensional threat will once again keep defensive coordinators up at night with his game-breaking ability. However, Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has experience with the former MVP that will be invaluable in their Week 1 contest.

In some ways, Gus Bradley called the best game of his career against the Ravens in the 2019 playoffs. This was Lamar Jackson’s rookie year and of course, he and the Ravens had a dominant rushing attack. Gus Bradley got to experience this first hand that very same season when his Chargers got pummeled 22-10 on national TV. Like all good coaches though, he went back to work and came up with a new plan when they faced off in the playoffs.

Typically when facing a team that intends to run the ball often, defenses will look to the linebacker position. However, with Lamar Jackson, he has such incredible speed to the edges that he simply outruns most linebackers. The Ravens understand this and do a great job of scheming run plays with the goal of getting Lamar Jackson to the edge. Bradley’s plan would change this way of thinking altogether.

This plan would be one of the most unorthodox we have seen in recent NFL history. To combat the deadly Ravens rushing attack, Gus Bradley would routinely run plays with no linebackers on the field. In fact, on 58 of 59 plays the Chargers had seven defensive backs on the field. Truly, this is one of the boldest strategies ever employed by a defensive coordinator. The only thing that’s crazier is that it worked to perfection.

What Does This Mean For The Raiders?

In that game, Baltimore was held to just 90 rushing yards as a team. If the Raiders could pull this off on Monday, they will drastically increase their chances of winning the game. In order to deploy this strategy successfully, Gus Bradley will have to put a lot of trust in the defensive line.

As they will be the four biggest players on the field, they will be charged with filling all potential gaps in the middle. As such, look for DE Clelin Ferrell to be more heavily involved in this game than perhaps any other all season. The same is true for DT Johnathan Hankins.

As for the defensive backs who would be on the field, starting CBs Trayvon Mullen and Casey Hayward as well as safeties Tre’von Moehrig and Johnathan Abram will be present. With Nate Hobbs expected in the slot, expect to see Damon Arnette and Tyree Gillespie man the other two spots. While both have issues in coverage currently, they are willing tacklers in the run game.

Will the Raiders actually execute this defense against the Ravens is the real question. After heavily addressing the linebacker position in recent weeks, they may think they have the linebackers to stop the Ravens. Working in the Raiders’ favor also are the injuries Baltimore has suffered at running back. With both J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill out (and now assumed starter Gus Edwards), the Ravens are severely depleted.

While Lamar Jackson is a more than competent passer, for the Raiders to win on Monday, they will have to force the Ravens into obvious passing downs. Gus Bradley would be wise to return to his old defensive scheme in order to force these passing situations and not allow Jackson and the Ravens to run wild in Allegiant Stadium.

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