John Harbaugh has a record of 8-2 when coming off a bye. Going into the bye after losing four out of their last five, the Ravens were looking for some sort of spark. Sure enough, Baltimore saw a vast improvement in their running game, defensive efficiency, and time of possession in the following two weeks.
This is no coincidence.
These improvements are thanks to the utility knife we all know as Lamar Jackson. In his first two career starts, Jackson has amassed 328 passing yards, 190 rushing yards, and two total touchdowns. In this review, I will be putting Jackson under the microscope to point out some things that he has to point out where he has exceeded expectations and where he has come up short in his first two starts in charm city.
Jackson got his first career start due to a possibly fabricated Joe Flacco hip injury. It would make sense for the 4-5 Ravens to fake an injury to their starting quarterback. In his first two career starts, despite the pressure, he did not disappoint. One significant unappreciated aspect of Lamar Jackson’s play has been his role as a catalyst for the defense. When Flacco is on the field, the offense is very one-dimensional. The only way Joe and Co. get a first down is if they run it down the defenses throat or completely air it out. With Jackson on the field, Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has a multitude of plays to gameplan on offense. With Jackson under center, the defense can only guess. Running the ball and picking up first downs keeps the clock moving and the defense on the sideline, something that Flacco just couldn’t do this season. Elite Joe is a quarterback of the past and the Ravens front office needs to come to that realization sooner rather than later.
After watching Joe Flacco ride the bench with injury for the last two games, it has become apparent that the Ravens might have one of the best-kept secrets in the NFL. Many scouts and analysts cautioned fans that Jackson may be a potential bust, but it has become clear that the Ravens have a Joe Flacco problem. After signing his super-max extension in 2013, Flacco has only delivered a handful of vintage performances and one measly playoff appearance. The locker room is sick of his attitude and ready for a young bull to step up. Every single time CBS shows a shot of Lamar on the sideline Robert Griffin III is right by his side helping him mid-game. Flacco, on the contrary, is nowhere to be found. The only player who does not seem motivated by the team’s newfound success is the other quarterback; the square peg; the problem; Joe Flacco.
When Baltimore can keep any defense in the league guessing with Jackson’s athleticism, it is imperative that they do everything necessary to continue to let him run free. The only downside to starting Jackson is the dicey pass game that comes with his productions. Through his first two games, Jackson has thrown three interceptions. Though two of those interceptions against Oakland were tipped, he nonetheless needs to develop more consistency and a sense of pressure in the pocket. Flacco, on the other hand, can pilot the offense without sacrificing receivers’ numbers. One player who would reasonably be frustrated with the quarterback change, Michael Crabtree, surprisingly had great things to say about the rookie. He told Ryan Mink, “ It’s the Lamar show. You just have to sit back and watch, because he’s electrifying. … Just his attitude. He’s got a winning spirit. Everything he does, he does well. I’m just a witness and a receiver at his disposal.” That’s some high praise coming from a seasoned veteran who will likely have to accept a smaller role in a run-heavy offense with Jackson at the helm.
It’s unclear whether or not Lamar Jackson is the answer for Baltimore, but the team rallies with him under center. With Jackson on the field, flanked by his upwardly trending backfield mate, Gus Edwards, and a solid core of wideouts, the Ravens offense poses a significant threat to any defense awaiting the challenge. Jackson has shown a promising ability to use his legs as well as throw the ball, and only time will tell whether he can establish himself as a true franchise QB.