Matchups in the NFL have a funny way of sometimes being marketed as player vs. player, even when those two players won’t ever be on the field at the same time.
But for the rest of Lamar Jackson’s career, with the NFL’s landscape shifting to younger, more mobile quarterbacks, each matchup will be hailed as Jackson against whoever another team’s young star may be.
This week is Deshaun Watson. There will be more of the same the following week when Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs come to town.
Jackson tried his best to downplay the matchup this week.
“It’s exciting against any team,” Jackson said when asked if he enjoys these matchups. “I don’t really pick my opponents out, but that’s a great quarterback we’re going against. I say no, because of how dynamic he is and our defense has to prepare for him. But, you could say that. You could say that, yes.”
A year ago, the Ravens thrashed the Texans 41-7 as Jackson ran for 79 yards on 10 carries and threw for 222 on 17-of-24 passing with four touchdowns.
Watson, on the other hand, was under siege all day. He threw for just 169 yards and ran for 12. He was sacked six times and threw an interception, as no one on the Texans’ offense got rolling.
Even with another year of preparation for Jackson, the Texans still have their hands full.
“It didn’t go so well for us last year,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s a great player. He’s got great speed and quickness. He just has a really excellent handle on their offense. They do an unbelievable job with their offensive scheme. He’s got a lot of good players around him, so we need to have a great week of practice here and play a much more disciplined football game on Sunday than we did last year.”
The Ravens, however, haven’t gotten complacent despite last year’s win.
“Oh, we’re not overconfident — trust me,” defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said. “He (Watson) gets better every year. He’s a Pro Bowl quarterback for a reason; it was just one of those days last year. He, to me, is like a LeBron James-type player in the NFL instead of the NBA. He’s a general, he’s a point guard out there and we all respect his game.”
Jackson and Watson have faced off before when they were in college.
Watson and the Clemson Tigers escaped — barely — against Jackson’s Louisville Cardinals. The game came down to a yard near the Tigers’ goal line, with the Cardinals going in for the winning score.
Not much has changed since that night in Oct. 2016, though.
“He (Watson) is one of the best in the league, and that’s what he does,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He actually holds the ball longer than anybody in the league. I think their offensive line does a good job; the scheme is part of that, but it’s really mainly him. And he does it to create opportunities for the pass game. He’ll throw it; he’ll throw it to anybody. He’ll throw it deep. He’ll throw it short. He’ll throw it to every different receiver — you saw that last week — and he’ll run.”
In a way, it seems silly to boil down a matchup to quarterback vs. quarterback.
But when considering the talents of Jackson and Watson and their importance to not only their respective teams but the league as a whole, it doesn’t seem so outlandish at all.