Kyle Shanahan

Kyle Shanahan details challenges of preparing for Lamar Jackson

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Programming note: Watch Greg Papa's full interview with Kyle Shanahan on "49ers Game Plan," airing at 10:30 p.m. PT Saturday on NBC Sports Bay Area

Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers are well aware of the challenge they face corralling former NFL MVP Lamar Jackson when the Baltimore Ravens come to Levi's Stadium on Christmas Day for an epic clash between the No. 1 seeds in each conference.

During this week's episode of NBC Sports Bay Area's "49es Game Plan," Shanahan detailed to Greg Papa precisely what makes it so challenging to prepare for Jackson and the dynamic skill set he brings to the Ravens' high-flying offense.

"They're the No. 1 rushing team in the league, and he's their leading rusher," Shanahan told Papa. "Usually, the running quarterback helps everyone else be the leading rushers, and they get a bunch too, but this guy, he definitely helps everyone, but he is the big threat. He's as good of a runner as there is. The speed to just outrun you, how physical he runs. I don't think I have any clips of him sliding.

"His version of a slide is just not fully running over you or trying to make you miss, it's kind of finding a soft spot. He's a competitive of a guy as I've seen with the football in his hands and is as talented of one. That's just not even getting into how he throws, he's a hell of a player."

Baltimore has deployed empty sets at a high rate under first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken, utilizing the threat of Jackson's legs to keep defenses honest while spreading them thin with their skill-position players. Shanahan revealed why those empty sets wreak havoc on defenses and how the Ravens' superstar quarterback transcends the typical mold of a mobile quarterback.

"It's one of the biggest advantages to that. I mean you go empty and you still have a threat to hand it off to yourself, it changes a lot of run fits and a lot of coverages, and changes the numbers on how you do everything," Shanahan explained. " you kind of learn how to slow it down and everything and you just hope they're not good in the pass game.

"That's not the case with this guy. He's been good in the pass game his entire career, they're doing a little bit more now. Still have the same type of run game, so that's still always the same threat, same as it was with Greg [Roman]. I can tell they like to throw it a little bit more and he's always been good at it. And when he doesn't throw it on pass plays, it becomes much scarier when he scrambles, so you have to be on it every play."

Jackson and 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy are widely considered the leading candidates for the 2023 NFL MVP award. Monday's colossal matchup likely plays a huge role in who ultimately takes home the honor when all is said and done. While addressing the media on Friday, Purdy had high praise for Jackson and revealed he long has admired the former MVP's skillset.

"He's a competitor. At the end of the day, he's a winner," Purdy told reporters. "He's gone into that place and has given them life since he stepped foot there his rookie year. Obviously, his playmaking ability, being able to throw the ball and then just at the end of the day win. You've got to respect him and what he's done. I was a big fan of him the last couple years when I was in high school and college watching him. it's going to be tough for us, but I'm excited for it."

Jackson earned unanimous MVP honors during the 2019 season after throwing for 3,127 yards and 36 passing touchdowns with 1,206 rushing yards, and seven touchdowns on the ground. During the 2023 season, Jackson is completing 66 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,105 yards and 17 touchdowns while rushing for 741 yards with an additional five scores on the ground.

The 49ers lost a 20-17 thriller to the Ravens in Baltimore during Jackson's MVP campaign, succumbing to a last-second field goal by Justin Tucker as time expired in the fourth quarter.

This season, the Ravens' offense ranks fourth in points per game (27.4) and fifth in total yards per game (374.1), providing a significant challenge to the 49ers' defense, which ranks second in the league in points per game allowed (16.7).

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