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Can Jets slow down Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, an MVP front-runner?

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson celebrates a 61-yard touchdown

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson celebrates a 61-yard touchdown pass with Marshal Yanda during the second half against the Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Sunday. Credit: AP/John Munson

Lamar Jackson faked a handoff and, with four quick steps, juked Bills linebacker Matt Milano into falling down forward last week.

Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to believe he’s seen and prepared for everything in his long football career, but that play got even his attention.

“Oh my gosh,” Williams said after bringing up Jackson’s play to reporters. “That’s a tremendous thing.”  

Williams showed it to his defense in meetings this week to give them more of an idea of what they’ll be facing Thursday night in Baltimore.

The Jets’ goal is to make sure Jackson doesn’t do anything like that to them. They don’t want to become one of the growing list of defenders that Jackson has made look silly and foolish this year.

“Even in a phone booth he makes guys miss,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said.

It’s Williams’ job to try and devise something to slow down Jackson, but almost no one is giving the Jets (5-8) a chance to come close to doing that or even being competitive in Baltimore.

The Jets, winners of four of their last five, are 15-point underdogs against the streaking Ravens. Baltimore (11-2) has won nine in a row, and Jackson is an MVP front-runner leading the NFL’s most potent offense (33.8 points).

“They’re men just like we are,” nose tackle Steve McLendon said. “They wake up just like we do. They put on their pants like we do. We got to go out there and play a game that we love for 60 minutes.”

Jackson makes the option offense go, but he has plenty of help.

The Ravens have a stout offensive line. Running back Mark Ingram has run for 887 yards and nine touchdowns. Second-year tight end Mark Andrews (707 yards, seven touchdowns) and Baltimore’s receivers are good blockers and know how to get free when Jackson is in the pocket or rolling out.

Jackson has thrown an NFL-leading 28 touchdown passes. He’s also rushed for 1,017 yards — 34 more yards than the Jets have as a team — and seven touchdowns.

The Ravens average 200.9 rushing yards per game and are shooting to become the first team in NFL history to average 200 passing and rushing yards for a season.

“The thing with option football is we can be schematically very sound,” Williams said. “But then athletically, can you match up in the space with Lamar? You see him cause people to miss so many times when they’ve got hat-for-hat, they’ve got person-to-person, sometimes two people out there. He still can make you miss. We’ve got to do a good job with our swarm.”

The Jets also need Adam Gase’s offense to have some long and sustained drives to keep the ball out of Jackson’s hands as much as possible. Maybe the return of Le’Veon Bell, who missed Sunday’s game with the flu, can help that.

Gase has been reluctant to feed Bell the ball. He’s had fewer than 18 touches his last two games. But this would seem like a game in which Bell needs to be heavily involved running the football as well as in the short passing game.

The Jets rank last in average yards per drive and points per drive and are 30th in three-and-out percentage. The Ravens, meanwhile, are first, first and second in those three categories, respectively.

Although it’s a short week to prepare for such a multi-faceted offense and dangerous player, Williams is not using that or the Jets only having walk-throughs as an excuse.

He said some of his staff began Ravens prep last week, and some slept at the team’s facility Sunday night as they worked through Baltimore’s offense. Williams also indicated that practices throughout the season also should prepare them.

“We’ve been referring to things when we saw a space play or things in other weeks that this is similar when we get ready for the Ravens,” Williams said. “We refer to those situations at times as, ‘If you think this guy broke your ankles in practice, wait until you see this guy in an actual game.’”

This will be a huge challenge for the Jets, who no longer have the NFL’s best run defense. They dropped to No. 2 after Ryan Fitzpatrick scrambled for 65 of Miami’s 122 rushing yards last week. That was another teaching point for the fiery Williams.

“They have heard that a couple of times this week,” Williams said, “with maybe some colorful adjectives.”

The clip of the Milano juke serves as another reminder of what Jackson could do to defenders.

“If you stay still, you’re screwed,” Jenkins said. “If you don’t stay still, you’re screwed. Why not take a shot and have a chance of getting the play?”

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