Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

November 22, 2018 at 1:34 am.

Raiders try to tackle Ravens’ Action Jackson

As if stopping the run isn’t difficult enough for the Oakland Raiders under normal circumstances, when they visit the Baltimore Ravens Sunday the chore will move up a couple of notches on the challenge chart.

Against the Raiders’ extremely generous run defense – which is 31st out of 32 NFL teams by allowing 142.3 yards per game – the Ravens will unleash rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson in his second pro start.

Ostensibly Jackson is starting again because Joe Flacco is still sidelined with a hip problem. But if Jackson continues to play the way he did in a 24-21 win over Cincinnati last week, Flacco may have more to worry about than his hip.

Known as Action Jackson when he won the Heisman Trophy winner last year at Louisville, Jackson was drafted No. 32 overall. In his debut as a starter against the Bengals he ran the ball 27 times – more than any NFL quarterback since 1960 – and finished with 117 yards rushing. Fellow rookie Gus Edwards added 115 yards as the Ravens rambled for 265 yards on the ground to end a three-game losing streak.

The Raiders might be glad to hear that Jackson hopes to try some different action against them – throw the ball more.

“Do I want to throw more?,” he said, repeating a question Wednesday. “Absolutely. It’s really my job to get the ball out and let others make the plays. I didn’t intend to run 27 times. I didn’t know that it was that much until somebody told me. It just happens.”

Jackson also has a strong arm and just happened to throw 19 times last week, completing 13 for 150 yards.

To help prepare for Jackson’s action, the Raiders are resorting to role playing, with undrafted rookie Rico Gafford playing the role of Jackson. Speed is the issue. Jackson, who was trying to avoid being cast as a potential receiver in the draft, did not run the 40-yard dash at the Indianapolis Combine. But let’s just say he is very fast, as the Bengals found out.

Gafford is faster. A defensive back who would be a receiver if he had better hands, Gafford also didn’t run at the Combine. A two-year starter at Wyoming, he wasn’t invited to the Combine. But at his March Pro Day, Gafford had the fastest 40-yard clocking in the country this year – somewhere between 4.22 and 4.25 seconds, depending on whose timepiece you reference. It was no fluke. Back in high school, Gafford was timed in 10.6 second at 100 meters and 21.4 in 200 meters.

The Titans signed him after the draft and when they cut him the Raiders picked him up.

And now the would-be receiver with iffy hands who is listed as a defensive back will be a quarterback for the Raiders during this week. The scout-team quarterback from the practice squad who can outrun anyone on the field, similar to Jackson. Last time he even pretended to play quarterback was as a sophomore in high school “for a few plays,” he said.

“I love running,” he said Wednesday. “That’s one thing about me. I just love running. I’m a track guy. Anyone who knows me will tell you, I run. I run a lot and I run fast, so like I said I’m just gonna do as best as I can to complement him and be the best Lamar Jackson that I can be.”

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden seems excited about this ploy.

“He’ll get a ball and will run around, and we’ll try to run him down,” Gruden said. “We’re going to be very, very creative in how we emulate and try to simulate the Ravens.”

SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting, Ravens lead series 7-3. Under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 4-2 against the Raiders, 2-1 at home. These teams met last year with the Ravens rocking the Raiders, 30-17, in Oakland. Baltimore whipped the Raiders 16-3 in the 2000 AFC Championship Game.