Can Lamar Jackson break Bill Belichick's streak?

Dan WetzelColumnist
Yahoo Sports

Five quarterbacks were selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, an expected wave of next generation signal callers for the league.

The guy who has ruled the NFL in recent past (six Super Bowls in 19 seasons), present (his New England Patriots are 8-0) and possibly long into the future (he isn’t ruling out coaching into his 70s) lives under a hoodie in Foxborough and is decidedly old generation.

So far, when Bill Belichick meets the quarterback kids the same few things keep happening. The Patriots win, the young guy puts up bad stats and there is general confusion and dismay as it all plays out.

“I’m seeing ghosts,” New York Jets QB Sam Darnold said of Belichick’s defense during his recent 33-0 loss to New England. He isn’t alone.

Belichick has now faced the top four picks in that 2018 draft — Baker Mayfield (No. 1 pick, Cleveland), Darnold (No. 3, Jets), Josh Allen (No. 7, Buffalo) and Josh Rosen (No. 10 Arizona, but traded to Miami, where he faced the Patriots in relief).

He’s 6-0 against them, by a scoring margin of 181-38.

Now comes No. 5, Lamar Jackson of Baltimore, who went last among the group and last in the first round, but has delivered the greatest impact on the league.

The 5-2 Ravens are hosting the Sunday night clash and pose the biggest threat thus far to the Pats, who have cruised through a soft early schedule. Much of that is because of Jackson, which has not gone unnoticed by Belichick.

“He’s a problem,” Belichick said on Monday. “He’s definitely a problem.”

If the Patriots were playing Foxborough High School this week, Belichick would be declaring the quarterback a “problem,” so there is no need to get carried away with what he says. It is what Jackson does that is undeniable.

The Heisman Trophy winner out of the University of Louisville has electrified the league with his dual-threat ability, throwing for 1,650 yards and running for 576.

Belichick has long been masterful at throwing confusing coverages and unexpected blitzes at quarterbacks, especially young ones. New England has won 21 consecutive games against first- or second-year starters, the longest such streak in NFL history.

Against the Pats, the 2018 draft class has completed just 48.8 percent of its passes (87 of 178) for an average of just 152.3 yards a game. They’ve combined for 11 interceptions and 17 sacks against two touchdowns.

(Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports illustration)

Jackson is a bit different. He arrives with the best team of the group (although Mayfield’s Browns aren’t lacking in offensive weapons). He also doesn’t need to stand in the pocket and try to figure out what Belichick is throwing at him. He can just tuck it and run like few quarterbacks in league history.

“He leads the team in rushing,” Belichick said.

Jackson has thrown for 17 touchdowns in his career (in 14 starts) but also added eight rushing scores.

“He’s very fast and he’s definitely a hard guy to handle,” Belichick said. “He’s fast and that’s a really big problem. A lot of times he just outruns people. I mean, he’s got good moves, too. I’m not saying [he doesn’t], but a lot of times he just outruns people with his speed.”

Jackson struggled throwing in Sunday’s 30-16 victory over Seattle. He more than made up for it by running for 116 yards on 14 carries and a TD. The week before, he ran for 152 yards and a TD on 19 carries while also going 21-of-33 for 236 yards to help defeat Cincinnati.

Like all young quarterbacks, he can see ghosts. In his case, he can also just run away from them.

“Catching him is an issue, especially when he keeps the ball,” Belichick continued. “A lot of times he’s running against a defensive end and the ends just aren’t fast enough.”

Belichick will no doubt design something to try to stop Jackson. Watching him on the sideline when New England is playing young quarterbacks (any quarterback, but especially inexperienced ones) is to sense a shred of joy.

It’s a mental mismatch, experience overruling athleticism.

Jackson, like the rest of them, was born in the late 1990s (1997, to be exact). Belichick has been in the league since 1975 and learned the game earlier than that from his father, Steve, who was a longtime assistant at the United States Naval Academy.

Counting his time as Bill Parcells’ defensive coordinator for the New York Giants and Patriots, Belichick has been involved in 12 of the 53 Super Bowls ever played (22.6 percent). He’s won eight overall, including three of the past five. He has seen it all. He has schemed it all.

Jackson is a massive talent. He’s 11-3 as a starter and pilots a legit Super Bowl contender. He’s at home.

He may be the one to break the Belichick-vs.-young-QBs streak and stand up for the hyped draft class of 2018.

Then again … Jackson is often compared to a young Michael Vick. Well, in 2001, Belichick squared off against a young Vick, then just 21. Vick split snaps that day with Chris Chandler to finish only 2-of-9 for 56 yards passing, three sacks, 50 yards rushing and no scores by ground or by air.

New England won, 24-10.

How about a young Randall Cunningham? Well, Belichick, as the Giants defensive coordinator, faced the then Philadelphia star four times during his first two seasons (1985-86). Cunningham completed 40.8 percent of his passes for an average of 57.8 yards a game with one TD and two interceptions. He was sacked 13 times and had an average of 36 yards rushing per game.

The Giants won all four games.

Who knows, it might be the same Pats gameplan on Sunday.

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