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NFL storylines: Can the Titans reel in action Jackson?

Lamar Jackson

(Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

Lamar Jackson hasn’t played in a football game for three weeks. So if there were any bumps on him, any aching muscles or sore feet, he’s had plenty of time to rest.

So that means the Titans are going to get the best from the best Saturday night when they try to douse the red-hot MVP candidate in Baltimore.

“He’s from Mars,” Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey told the team’s website. “He’s definitely an outer space guy. He’s unbelievable. The stuff that he’s doing so far this season, it’s unreal.”

Jackson didn’t play in the team’s season finale and yet he still led the league in offensive touchdowns (43) with eight games with at least three TD passes. He also led in TD passes (36) and all quarterbacks in rushing yards (1,206), breaking Michael Vick’s single-season record.

“I would say he’s Vick 2.0,” Titans safety Kevin Byard told NFL.com. “I was talking to my dad about it last night. I think he is faster than Vick, and he’s so dynamic. I grew up watching Vick and I wanted to wear No. 7 because of Vick. I think kids are growing up now wanting to be just like Lamar Jackson. He is so dynamic and a trailblazer in his own right. And facing him is a big challenge for us. I have been watching him all year making guys look silly out there, so we are going to have to do a good job containing this guy.”

There’s more: Jackson is the only one with 3,000-plus pass yards and 1,000-plus rush yards in a single season in NFL history. He also became the only player in history to record a 100-plus passer rating and 1,000-plus rush yards in a single season in NFL history (minimum 50 pass attempts).

Such will be the challenge for the Titans defense that shut down the defending Super Bowl champion in New England  last week.

Of course, the Ravens defense will have its own test. No one has run harder with the ball over the last half of the season than Titans halfback Derrick Henry. He rushed for 182 yards at New England, the most against the Pats in the playoffs in the Bill Belichick era

“Guys didn’t seem like they were too interested in tackling him,” Ravens safety Earl Thomas said on the team’s website. “So, our mindset is a little different. We’re going to try to swarm and we’ll see how it plays out.”

Henry led the NFL in rush yards (1,540), carries (303) and tied for first in rushing TDs (16). He’s averaged 154.0 rushing yards since Week 10.

According to the NFL, Henry has 1,073 rushing yards in the second half of games this season, the most since 1998, when Jamal Anderson (1,222) of the Falcons and and Terrell Davis (1,074) of the Broncos ran their teams to Super Bowl XXXIII.

NFL

(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Chiefs had a tough choice

Prior to the 2017 draft, aware they needed to find a young franchise QB, the Chiefs honed in on two players, neither of which was the guy – Mitchell Trubisky – the Bears took No. 2 overall.

Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes from Texas Tech were the ones and it was an interesting choice since the players exhibited such different skill sets. Mahomes was the pocket passer with the arm. Watson was the multi-dimensional guy with strong legs and an accurate arm.

The Chiefs did their due diligence. They brought both players in for workouts. And John Dorsey, who was their general manager at the time, decided to take Mahomes. And they moved up 17 spots in the first round to get him with the 10th pick.

“We just thought, with what we do, that Mahomes would fit in well,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said earlier this season. “We had all the guys in. All the quarterbacks came in. We had an opportunity to spend six hours with each guy, and that was a great experience to have a chance to meet all the guys. Both those young men are tremendous young men. We just thought, with what we do, Mahomes would fit in the best.”

The Chiefs obviously have not been disappointed. Mahomes was the NFL’s MVP last season. And the same can be said about the Texans, who took Watson two picks later. On Sunday in Kansas City, the two will square off in the divisional playoffs. Both made the Pro Bowl this season.

“He’s a great player,” Reid said. “What he did at Clemson was what we thought he would do here. We think he’s a tremendous football player. He’s got some good players there around him, and he’s utilizing them. As good of a player as he is, he’s even a better person. He’s a great kid. He was a real pleasure to deal with before the draft. With him, he’s one of those kids when you meet him, he’s got that ‘whatever’ about him that you really like. We just thought, with what we do, that Mahomes would fit in well.”

As excited as the Chiefs were to get Watson, the Texans felt the same exultation drafting Watson.

“We were thrilled to be able to go up and get Deshaun because he was our No. 1 guy that we wanted,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien told ESPN. “We just felt good about him relative to what we wanted to do offensively and organizationally. We felt he was a guy that had done a lot in college, national champion and won a lot of games and delivered in big moments.”

Aaron Rodgers

(Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

Rodgers hopes offense isn’t snowed out

First things first. On Friday, the Packers put out a call, looking for at least 700 fans willing to help them clear Lambeau Field of snow Sunday morning. The Green Bay area is expecting between seven to 10 inches of snow Saturday and the team is not interested in hosting another Ice Bowl.

If you’re interested, the Packers are paying $12 per hour – and providing shovels. Further information can be found on the team’s website.

Let’s put it this way: You might be doing Aaron Rodgers a service. The Packers offense lately looks like its been packed in ice and things are going to need to improve Sunday against the Seahawks if they have any chance to play in the NFC Championship Game.

“I don’t care about that,” Rodgers said. “I’m tired of talking about that. I think the timing’s been off a lot of the year. I don’t know if that’s going to get fixed. It’s not going to get fixed the next two days, it’s just a matter of finding those concepts where the timing has been good because there’s been a number of concepts where we’ve looked good, the ball’s been coming out on time, I’ve been feeling good about the rhythm and guys are getting open on time.”

The Packers finished 18th in total offense and were never higher than 17th following Week 8. And Rodgers overthrew receivers 16 times in the regular-season finale against the Lions, a game the Packers won on a last-second field goal.

“I would rather a ball be [overthrown], especially when you’re being aggressive down the field,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “Sometimes those underthrows can be killer. We just had a couple that, for whatever reason, we didn’t connect on.”

If the weather is bad, you can expect both teams to focus on their ground game, Aaron Jones for the Packers and a little extra dose of Marshawn Lynch for the Seahawks.

“He’s going to play more this week,” Carroll said on Seattle radio. “He’s ready to, and he’s had enough time with us. He feels confident about what he’s doing and the plan. We can get him in and out of there and have those two guys really go at it.”

Lynch scored his second touchdown in two game in the Seahawks win over the Eagles last Sunday. He also had a 20-yard reception.

“We’re really pleased that he’s able to take the additional reps,” Carroll said. “He feels great. He’s doing fine. … We were taking this one day at a time. It’s been nothing but positive. It’s been such a positive experience. … Give credit to Marshawn for the way he’s attacked this thing. He’s really going for it.”

Kirk Cousins

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Cousins showed sign of life

Vikings fans have been waiting for Kirk Cousins to make a few $84 million throws to help their team to an important victory. They got a see a few of them last week during the team’s upset 26-20 overtime win in New Orleans.

“They said he can’t win a playoff game, he can’t do this,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s only been in two, so he’s 50 percent – that’s better than a lot of people.”

The win was the first in the playoff in Cousins’ eight-year career and it helped validate all of the reasons the team was willing to offer him the largest guaranteed deal in the history of the league.

“He showed the quarterback that we knew he was, the quarterback we knew we were bringing in,” Vikings running back Dalvin Cook said last week. “I’ve been around Kirk for two years now. He’s grown since he got here. That’s part of being in the NFL – getting better each year, each week that you’re in this game. And Kirk has been doing that. I’m extremely proud of him. We’ve just got to keep going.”

Cousins was at his best during the nine-play, 75-yard drive in overtime that won the game. He made two great throws to set the Vikings up. His 43-yard hook up with Adam Thielen moved the ball to the Saints 2. And then he won the game with a perfectly placed toss to tight end Kyle Rudolph.

The Vikings are hoping Cousins has another great game when they face the staunch 49ers defense on Saturday at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

“To the people that don’t know him, it says what kind of fighter he is, how he prepares, how he goes about his business, and he doesn’t care about the outside noise, per se,” Thielen said. “That’s what we see every week. We see it week in, week out, we see the same guy whether it was a miraculous victory or a bad loss. We see the same guy, the way he prepares, the way he treats his teammates and ultimately what kind of person he is.”

Cousins will be going against a 49ers defense that’s about as healthy as it’s been in a very long time. Safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) and defensive end Dee Ford (quad/hamstring) are ready to return and linebacker Kwon Alexander (torn pectoral) was activated from injured reserve Friday and should play. Alexander hasn’t played since Oct. 31.

“Having Kwon is exciting,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He brings a lot of juice, a lot of energy. Even in practice, if there’s a lull in practice, he’s the first to speak up to get guys going. From a coach’s view, it’s very beneficial to have a guy who regardless, whether it’s bad or good, his voice is projecting positive energy and trying to get people rolling. To have Kwon, aside from the player, just from the juice and the energy he brings and what he does for everybody around him, is really priceless.”