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Jackson presents difficult challenge for Bears defense


The Bears have faced three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in their last four games, but none possess the unique skillset they'll see Sunday at Soldier Field.

In just his fourth NFL season, Ravens star Lamar Jackson has already emerged as one of the greatest dual-threat quarterbacks in league history, combining tantalizing athleticism with blazing speed and a strong and accurate arm.

"It obviously starts and ends with him," said coach Matt Nagy. "He is special. He's such a competitor. He's different. He's unique in how he plays the game. He's tough. He can throw the football all over the field. 

"What they do offensively is great. They do a great job schematically. It's a credit to them. He's a stressor for sure. We've got to know where he's at on every single play. He can beat you with his legs, he can beat you with his arm and he can beat you with his mentality."

Selected by the Ravens with the final pick in the first round of the 2018 draft out of Louisville, Jackson is the first player in NFL history to produce at least 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a season; 200 yards passing and 150 yards rushing in a regular-season game; and 350 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in any game, a feat he accomplished in a 2019 playoff contest. 

Jackson also holds NFL records for most yards rushing by a quarterback in a season (1,206 in 2019), most 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback in a season (5 in 2019) and most career outings with at least 100 yards passing and 100 yards rushing (10). 

"He's, naturally, probably the best athlete on the field," said safety Tashaun Gipson Sr.. "His athleticism jumps out. That scares a lot of teams. He can make every throw but at the same time can bust a 90-yard run on you, make your whole defense look silly … You're witnessing a premier athlete at the quarterback position that we've never seen before."

While the Bears have never faced Jackson in the regular season, he actually made his NFL debut against them in the 2018 Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, completing 4 of 10 passes for 33 yards and one touchdown and rushing for 25 yards on eight carries. 

At the time, Jackson was considered more of a runner than a passer. But he has since shed that reputation–just like the tacklers he routinely leaves in his wake. 

"He came out [of college] and a lot of people didn't want to look at him at quarterback and he proved everybody wrong and the Ravens proved everybody wrong who didn't believe that," Nagy said. "What a great credit to him to work as hard as he has to be an NFL quarterback.

"What I've seen over the years is somebody that's really grown a lot as a passer … He's without a doubt an unbelievable NFL quarterback that can do great things with his legs."

“He can beat you with his legs, he can beat you with his arm and he can beat you with his mentality.” Bears coach Matt Nagy on Ravens QB Lamar Jackson

Gipson witnessed that up close and personal two years ago Wednesday. The veteran safety started for the Texans Nov. 17, 2019 in Baltimore when Jackson passed for 222 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 79 yards in leading the Ravens to a 41-9 victory. 

To Gipson, Jackson seemed even faster in person than he appears on tape, saying: "The speed is there on film, but when you've seen him live in person, the dude can run." 

Asked if defenders are worried about being embarrassed by Jackson, Gipson said: "If a guy like that makes you miss, it's Lamar Jackson, so it's not like the end of the world. It's not like if Peyton Manning juked you, Tom Brady, that's different. [Jackson] probably could be one of the best running backs in the NFL if you put a '2' in front of his '8.'" 

The Bears have faced a gauntlet of Canton-bound quarterbacks in recent weeks, losing to the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, the Buccaneers' Tom Brady and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger.

Jackson heads into Sunday's game at Soldier Field with a career record of 12-0 against NFC opponents and a 25-2 mark versus teams he plays for the first time in the regular season and playoffs. But that doesn't mean he's invincible. After five straight wins, the Ravens have lost two of three, including a humbling 22-10 defeat last Thursday night in Miami.

The Dolphins blitzed Jackson frequently in that game, often leaving no safeties back deep, which is commonly referred to as "zero coverage." The Ravens were held to season lows in points (10) and total yards (304) while allowing four sacks and committing two turnovers.

Asked what needs to happen when defenses blitz Jackson, Gipson said: "You've got to be tight in coverage. A lot of people can try to send a blitz to him and limit his mobility from the waist down, but he's progressed as a quarterback. He can make those throws. His deep balls are looking better than ever … Obviously, rush and coverage go together. Everybody's got to do their job. We don't need Superman out there. We need everybody playing their role, being who they are on this defense, and I think we'll have success."

The Bears practiced inside the Walter Payton Center on a rainy Wednesday afternoon as the team continues preparations for Sunday's matchup with the Baltimore Ravens at Soldier Field.