Stopping Lamar Jackson is top goal for Rams against the Ravens

Rams coach Sean McVay and his players really did not want to talk about it.

But the subject was unavoidable.

The Rams have played against Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson only once.

And that 2019 game was memorable for the Rams for all the wrong reasons.

Jackson passed for five touchdowns and rushed for 95 yards in a 45-6 blowout victory at the Coliseum.

“Not a fond memory,” McVay said.

Defensive lineman Aaron Donald can relate.

“You’re going to bring that up?” Donald said.

Jackson’s performance that day kept him on track for the NFL most valuable player award, and proved a setback for a Rams team that finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

“That was kind of the epitome of who he is,” Rams linebacker Troy Reeder said of Jackson, “and what he can do on any given night.”

On Sunday, the surging Rams (6-6) face their greatest challenge to date when they play the Ravens (9-3) and Jackson in Baltimore.

While the offense has come alive during the Rams’ three-game winning streak, it is a Donald-led defense that has held opponents to 19 points or fewer and helped put the Rams in playoff contention.

“Everybody’s having fun,” Donald said, “and when you do that good things happen.”

Donald, 32, clearly enjoyed himself last Sunday. The three-time NFL defensive player of the year combined with rookie Kobie Turner to sack Cleveland quarterback Joe Flacco, putting the finishing touch on a 36-19 victory.

In the past, Donald has flexed after making big plays. He’s stomped. And he’s whoopped and he’s hollered, famously exclaiming “ring me!” after making the final decisive play in Super Bowl LVI.

But after the safety against the Browns, Donald did something heretofore not seen: Donald, arm around Turner’s shoulder, skipped out of the end zone.

“That kind of caught me off guard,” Turner said. “I was like, ‘He’s skipping?’ We’re skipping all the way to the sideline.”

Catching the elusive Jackson, 26, will be much more difficult than corralling the immobile 38-year-old Flacco.

In 2022, when the Rams traveled to Baltimore for their second-to-last regular season game, Jackson was sidelined because of an ankle injury. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford tossed a game-winning touchdown pass to receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for a 20-19 victory that gave the Rams a five-game winning streak.

Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (3) celebrates after catching a touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens in January of the 2021-22 season.

(Nick Wass / Associated Press)

Two years later, Beckham is among Jackson’s main targets.

Jackson, who missed practice Thursday because of illness, has passed for 13 touchdowns, with five interceptions, and has rushed for five touchdowns.

“He can make you pay with his legs. He can make you pay with his arms. He can make you pay with his mind,” McVay said. “And so you’re seeing all of that stuff show up, and that’s what makes him one of the best and one of the most difficult to defend.”

Jackson has evolved into a proficient passer “that just happens to be lightning in the bottle” if he decides to run, defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said.

Donald has seen no drop-off in Jackson’s ability to make explosive plays.

“He’s that same guy,” Donald said.

Rams safety John Johnson was sidelined because of a shoulder injury when the Rams played the Ravens in 2019 but played against Jackson in 2021 and 2022 as a member of the Browns.

“He still runs a lot but … he’s not forcing it,” Johnson said. “I feel like he’s going down and protecting himself and being smart as a runner. … He’s learning not to take hits like that.

“But now he has weapons.”

Though All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews is sidelined because of an ankle injury, Jackson still can turn to Beckham, rookie receiver Zay Flowers, and running backs Keaton Mitchell, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill.

“It’s a whole different animal,” Johnson said of the Ravens’ offense.

But Jackson, who in May signed a five-year, $260-million contract, remains the key.

So Donald and a front that includes Turner, nose tackle Bobby Brown III, rookie edge rusher Byron Young and others will try to contain him.

Last season, Donald suffered a season-ending ankle injury that forced him to sit out the final six games. Now he is enjoying being the veteran in a position-group room that is mostly young players.

“You want to have a group of guys that you enjoy being around, you have fun being around,” Donald said, “…that want to be good, that want to be great, that want to put the body of work in.

“I think we have a bunch of guys in our room that are like that.”

The Rams will need every one of them against Jackson.

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