EAGAN, Minn. — Earlier this season, Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson likened Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray's playmaking ability to "a video game."
Minnesota is at Baltimore on Sunday, setting up a matchup with another ultra-athletic quarterback, Lamar Jackson, who was on the cover of Madden NFL ed.
Is Jackson similar to Murray in terms of ability to make plays?
No, Patterson said. In fact, the challenge of facing Jackson might be on a different level.
"They're two totally different animals," Patterson said. "In Arizona, it's off of [Murray] dropping back and making plays with his legs. Against Baltimore, they're running this quarterback."
Put another way, Murray's runs come off-script, with him dancing and dazzling outside of the pocket.
Jackson's runs, meanwhile, are certainly part of the script and game plan in Baltimore. The 24-year-old has 76 rushes this season, which is the 24th-most among all NFL players and also leads all quarterbacks.
Jackson, the NFL's MVP in 2019, can certainly pick up chunk yardage when plays are called for him, as his yards-per-carry average of 6.3 leads the league. In fact, Jackson ranks fifth in the NFL with 2,691 rushing yards since the start of the 2019 season. That's more than Packers Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer outlined the (many) challenges of going against Jackson, including the designed runs.
"Well, it's obviously an option-based offense," Zimmer said. "He throws the deep ball really well. Great scrambler. It's like playing against a Wildcat a lot of times. You get extra gaps in the run game.
"Well, it's really assignment football. You have to be really disciplined in where you're going and you've got to make the tackle," Zimmer continued. "Different responsibilities on different defenses and different plays, and they start adding jet motions and things like that so it makes more things involved."
"They'll pull a guard and a tackle both, run options with that and run options off the backside," Zimmer added. "The quarterback will keep the ball a little bit more."
Patterson coached in college from 1988-1996, and again from 2008-2013. The longtime defensive coach said Wednesday that trying to prepare for the Ravens offense is like trying to prepare for a college team that solely relies on option plays but also having to worry about diverse options.
Patterson explained that Baltimore's offense is more complex than the zone-read options that teams with mobile quarterbacks run.
"In college, I had to defend it a lot. But in the NFL, none," Patterson said. "That's what's unique about Baltimore. I'll give you a perfect example. In college football, you know, when people get ready to play Army, or get ready to play Navy, or get ready to play Air Force, that's a tough week of practice for that team. Because you're trying to figure out how you fit up all these different types of options. To get all that done in a week is difficult to do.
"Well, that's what you have with Baltimore, OK? So it's not just the zone read that everybody talks about," Patterson continued. "You've got load, you've got a double load. You've got midline. They've got all different kinds of weight, double-arc option, so they've got all different kinds of option football.
"Just like you're playing Army, Air Force or Navy, so you've got to spend the week making sure your players understand where you fit on each style of option football that they run," Patterson added. "The other thing that makes it difficult is then they come back and run regular pro football run plays at the same time, so you're trying to defend two different styles of runs throughout the course of the game."
And, despite all of this, Jackson is still a quarterback … meaning the Vikings need to worry about defending the pass, too.
The 2018 first-round pick has thrown for 1,943 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions so far in 2021.
"He's got a strong arm. He can throw the deep ball well down the field. He can throw well on the run," Patterson said. "I think he's gotten better over the years with his accuracy as a quarterback. So, he's a tough guy to defend."
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Ravens.
Jackson's full talents were on display in Week 5 on Monday Night Football against the Colts, when he rallied the Ravens from a 22-3 deficit late in the third quarter.
Jackson racked up 499 total yards in that game (442 through the air) for an all-time great performance. That yardage total is tied for the 16th-most by a single player in league history.
And if you look at Jackson's 2021 season in totality, he ranks fourth in total yards with 2,318. The three players above him — Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Matthew Stafford — have played eight games compared to Jackson's seven.
It's safe to say the Vikings will have their hands full Sunday in Baltimore.
"They do a lot of different things … runs and stuff like that," said Vikings defensive end D.J. Wonnum. "They have a dynamic quarterback in Lamar. We're going to go in this week, put a plan in and have a plan for him."
Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr added: "[He] obviously presents a dual threat, which is always a challenge. I'm not sure there's much advice you can get from other teams, other than study the teams that played him well and try to emulate that as much as possible. He's a great player, obviously an MVP in this league, so it'll be a good challenge for us."