Lamar Jackson's prime-time challenge: Beat a top-10 defense

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Lamar Jackson has run at a record-setting pace for a quarterback, won four of his first five starts and has put the Baltimore Ravens squarely in the playoff race.

Some say Jackson has been the second-most impressive rookie quarterback this year behind Baker Mayfield. Others believe Jackson's stats should come with an asterisk.

Jackson has played a handful of the worst defenses in the NFL, a near-perfect initiation for the No. 32 overall pick. That fortuitous streak ends Saturday night, when Jackson faces the Los Angeles Chargers and his first top-10 defense.

"I feel like that's going to be the fastest team we face all season," Jackson said. "All 11 to the ball at all times. They're flying around, making plays [and] making turnovers. They're a good defense."

Jackson and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg both praised the Los Angeles defense. But neither would go as far as to say this is the best defense Jackson has faced.

The Chargers' defense can cause trouble, with pass-rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa crashing the edges and rookie Derwin James running around to make plays from five different positions. Los Angeles ranks No. 8 in fewest yards allowed and has been especially strong against the run, holding teams to 65 or fewer rushing yards in three of the past four games.

"I look at it like I have to be on my A-game," Jackson said. "Whatever they give us, take advantage of."

In his first five starts, Jackson took advantage of a quirky early span of playing the Cincinnati Bengals (ranked No. 32 in defense), Oakland Raiders (No. 26), Atlanta Falcons (No. 24), Kansas City Chiefs (No. 31) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 28). The odds of playing a bottom-24 defense in a five-game stretch is 11.3 percent, according to ESPN Analytics.

Jackson's 427 yards rushing are 106 more than any other quarterback in his first five starts in the Super Bowl era. As Baltimore's top playmaker, Jackson has produced 41 rushes reaching 15 miles per hour, according to NFL Next Gen Stats since Week 15 (the next-closest quarterback is Josh Allen with 22).

"Lamar can throw it like crazy, too, but he can blink and he's running 70 yards," Chargers safety Adrian Phillips said. "So throughout the week, we'll have drills that focus on keeping the quarterback in the pocket and not letting him get out. But he's a great athlete. He's gonna get out. We just have to make sure that when he does, we get him on the ground quick."

The Chargers have held the top running quarterbacks in check this season. Of the top eight quarterbacks in rushing yards, Los Angeles has faced three of them (Allen, Marcus Mariota and Russell Wilson), limiting each one under 45 yards rushing.

Jackson is averaging nearly double that (85.4) as a starter, but the Chargers benefit from having eight days to break down film of a rushing scheme that no defense has been able to completely shut down.

"That’s why preparation this week is going to be critical, because you’re playing a team that’s really unconventional compared to what we’ve seen all year," Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. "They’re using their quarterback like a running back, and that makes it difficult for your defense. You have to be disciplined and you have to be in your gaps."

Not only will this be the highest-ranked defense that Jackson will face so far, it also marks the first time a national television audience will get a look at Jackson. The Ravens continue to believe nothing has been too big for him so far, and there is no concern about Jackson playing a prime-time game with so many playoff implications on the line.

It has been tough for rookie quarterbacks playing under the lights this season. Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen are 1-2 in prime-time games, throwing three touchdowns and six interceptions.

"I’m not worried about prime time," Jackson said. "Prime time is after the game with a ‘W.’ That’s prime time."