Bears could steal Dolphins’ plan to stop Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, but it’s risky

The Dolphins opted for a heavy dose of cover-0 and cover-1 defense against Jackson in their 22-10 victory last week against Baltimore. But Ravens coach John Harbaugh is basically daring the Bears to try that approach.

SHARE Bears could steal Dolphins’ plan to stop Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, but it’s risky

Jackson had 238 yards passing and just 39 rushing in the Ravens’ 22-10 loss to the Dolphins.


With the season in tatters at 3-6 and their defense having gone about a month since the last time it played a good game, the Bears are in no position to turn down advice — regardless of the source.

So as they get ready to tangle with the Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson, they would be wise to take a suggestion from one of the NFL’s worst defenses. The Dolphins were among the bottom 10 in points and yards allowed but made Jackson miserable and pulled off a 22-10 upset in Week 10.

They did it by relying heavily on cover-0 and cover-1, which are highly risky because that number indicates how many defenders are deep in the secondary. With safeties playing up and locking into man-to-man coverage, the Dolphins limited Jackson’s opportunity to run for big gains. It left them vulnerable to Jackson beating them over the top, but he managed that only once.

Jackson completed 26 of 43 passes for 238 yards with a touchdown and an interception for a 73.6 passer rating — his 12th-worst mark — and ran nine times for 39 yards. The Dolphins hit him seven times, including four sacks, and held the Ravens to their lowest scoring output since he took over as their starter.

Before that loss, Jackson had a 96.2 rating and averaged 75 yards rushing per game and his team was averaging 23.8 points.

‘‘They just got hot each and every time,’’ he said. ‘‘I was dropping back [but] just couldn’t do anything about that.’’

While the Dolphins’ plan worked for a night, there is no definitive formula to mitigate Jackson, whom Bears coach Matt Nagy called ‘‘a stressor’’ for any defense. The NFL is far from having a handle on how to defend a player who has 10 100-yard rushing games and 82 touchdown passes in the equivalent of three seasons as a starter.

But given that the Bears allowed 100 points in their last three games and are two weeks removed from being shredded by the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo, the Dolphins’ blueprint is worth considering.

‘‘When things work against certain teams, you try to implement it and see if it works for you,’’ safety Tashaun Gipson said Wednesday. ‘‘You’ve got to be tight in coverage. A lot of people try to send a blitz to him and limit his mobility, but he’s progressed as a quarterback.

‘‘You can’t just say, ‘I’m gonna send the house, man, and make him beat us with his arm,’ because he’s at that phase in his career where he’s making those throws.’’

Not only would playing cover-0 go against defensive coordinator Sean Desai’s perceived tendencies, however, but it’s also likely the Ravens would react sharply to it after steaming about their loss to the Dolphins.

Jackson didn’t seem fazed by the setback, and coach John Harbaugh sounded Monday as though he practically was begging Desai to try cover-0 against the Ravens.

‘‘We have great ideas against it,’’ Harbaugh said. ‘‘There is nobody who has better ideas against anything than we do. We have some great answers for it that are going to give people a lot of problems. We just have to welcome the next time they run it.

‘‘Live by the sword, die by the sword. The blitzes are going to be hit-or-miss, so you have to make them pay with big plays.’’

That’s where this gets tricky. The Bears need a dominant pass rush, but they’ve struggled to establish one without outside linebacker Khalil Mack at full strength. They also need relentless pass coverage, but they have only one proven cornerback in Jaylon Johnson.

On the plus side, however, they have one essential player who will help, regardless of how they approach Jackson: linebacker Roquan Smith. His versatility and speed make him exactly the type of player who can counter Jackson, and that’s a good starting point as Desai starts to scheme.

The Latest
The second-year forward knows there’s a youth movement underway. Now that he’s healthy, he’s looking to see what part he’ll play in it.
The Illinois Republican has a lot going on at the convention because he wears a lot of hats. He’s a vice chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee — a House GOP political organization — and a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and the Intelligence Committee.
If the Cubs were good enough to go to Baltimore and sweep a three-game series against the playoff-bound Orioles, it’s too soon to dismiss them.
The Sun-Times’ annual season-opening test of fans’ optimism/pessimism is a little skewed this year. With Caleb Williams, DJ Moore, Keenan Allen & Co. and a defense on the rise, Bears fans have every right to feel good about this team. What can go wrong?