If masterful comedian and writer Larry David had gotten his way prior to the 2018 NFL draft, the Tennessee Titans might be facing the New York Jets at 8:15 Saturday night in the AFC divisional playoff round instead of the Baltimore Ravens.
As the creator of "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" told ESPN's Michael Kay earlier this week, he called then-Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan before the 2018 draft and told him he needed to use the franchise's third overall pick on Lamar Jackson, the former Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner.
"I have a witness," David said. "(Maccagnan) laughed at me. But who can blame him?"
Maccagnan certainly wouldn't have been the only GM to have laughed at David that spring. Baltimore didn't select Jackson until the 32nd and final pick of the opening round. That's not to say the Jets ownership didn't blame the GM for that mistake and others, however. Maccagnan was fired in May of 2019.
But it's the Ravens who have been laughing ever since over their good fortune and good sense to take the supremely swift and athletic Jackson, then wisely tailor their offense to his considerable strengths.
In an observation he's made more than once this week, second-year Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said of Jackson and Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman's offense: "Offensively, they have the best player in the league who's impossible to tackle. A great scheme. On any other day it'd be fun to watch, but not when you're trying to prepare for them and stop them."
"(Jackson's) so dynamic, the most dynamic player in the NFL," safety Kevin Byard said of the Ravens QB, who has thrown for 36 touchdowns (and just six interceptions) this season while running for more than 1,200 yards and seven other scores.
"It's a dynamic offense," defensive back Kenny Vaccaro said. "You can't expect one guy to make the tackle. It's tough. Everybody knows it."
Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey observed, "If we get out of our gaps, they'll hit us for 100-yard runs. It's unbelievable what (Jackson) has done. Never seen one person like him (in the NFL)."
Added Vrabel of Jackson: "He eats up stripes (yardage) when he goes from north to south."
Jackson isn't the only Heisman Trophy winner on the Ravens eating up stripes with his feet. Former Alabama running back Mark Ingram — who won the little bronze statue in 2009 — ran for 1,018 yards this season as Baltimore averaged 206 yards on the ground within an NFL where the average for a team this season was 113.
"It's triple-option football," said Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. "You'd never think it would play out like that in the NFL, but they've got the personnel to do it. I'm just glad I'm not on defense."
Dean Pees coordinates the Titans defense. While meeting with the media Wednesday, he said of Jackson, "He's kind of in a class by himself running-wise. He's a phenomenal runner. He's a different type of runner than (Houston quarterback Deshaun) Watson and all those guys. He could be a tailback for somebody."
He soon added, "He's hard enough to tackle even if we know where he is and where he's going to be. I've seen guys have him defended absolutely perfect and he makes them miss."
Neither Pees nor the Titans have yet to face Jackson as a starting quarterback, though they were shut out 21-0 by the Ravens last season. However, Pees did go up against Roman seven years ago in Super Bowl XLVII. Ironically, Pees was the Ravens' defensive coordinator back then and Roman was the OC for the San Francisco 49ers, who had the elusive Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.
The Ravens won 34-31, but Kaepernick bedeviled Pees' defense, throwing for 302 yards and running for 62.
Pees admitted Wednesday during his media turn that the Ravens are running a "similar system" to that San Fran attack, but he also said, "I remember watching Kaepernick — he was under center quite a bit. How many times have you seen this guy (Jackson) underneath center? That isn't the same offense. This isn't the same defense. Overall, what happened (then) has no relevance to this one."
Perhaps not, but the Titans have been trying to get all they can out of former starting quarterback Marcus Mariota this week by having him attempt to mimic Jackson in practice.
If it works, the Titans might do what 12 straight opponents have failed to do against the Ravens, which is beat them. Not since a Sept. 29 loss to Cleveland has Baltimore come up on the short end of the scoreboard.
"Dean has some things up his sleeve," Casey noted.
Countered Pees, perhaps attempting to curb any enthusiasm Casey's statement might create: "If you go small to play the pass, they're going to run the ball. If you try to go big to stop the run, they'll throw the ball."
And given that, as the comedian David might observe, should the 9.5-point underdog Titans somehow go into Baltimore Saturday night and win, it might be time to see them as prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay good.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.