The Ravens sent videos of questionable hits against quarterback Lamar Jackson to NFL headquarters Monday, and the timing was nearly perfect.
Jackson is going to receive more cheap shots as the season progresses. He appears more comfortable in the pocket than during his previous three seasons, but that’s where quarterbacks are the most vulnerable. Ravens coach John Harbaugh really had no choice other than to make game officials feel more responsible.
“When you’re in the pocket, there’s nothing you can do to protect yourself — the rules are to protect quarterbacks in the pocket,” Harbaugh said.
There is no guarantee the tactic will work, but at least top officials are now aware of it. The more Jackson succeeds, there is an increased risk of him getting hit illegally. The old football wisdom is that if you want to change the course of a game, take out the hot quarterback.
And here’s perhaps the biggest problem: There are double standards when it comes to protecting quarterbacks in the NFL. There is the elite status for former greats like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and current stars like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Seattle’s Russell Wilson. Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady has his own superstar status, but they all have been members of the Golden Arm Club.
And then there are the rest. They are the second-class citizens. And please don’t be a mobile quarterback in the NFL these days. It’s almost like open season on dual-threat quarterbacks such as Jackson, Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson.
Some might say it’s a minority problem because more of these mobile quarterbacks are Black, and maybe there is some truth to that. But to me, it’s a status issue. Former Philadelphia Eagles and current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz has been a virtual punching back throughout his six years in the league and former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco took his share of cheap shots as well. Both are white.
Jackson took several cheap shots Sunday in the Ravens’ 23-7 win against the Denver Broncos, but none more glaring than the one from defensive tackle Mike Purcell after Jackson’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown in the second quarter. It was late, in the back and could have severely hurt Jackson if his cleats had been planted in the ground.
Ravens center Bradley Bozeman showed composure by not going after Purcell, but this was one time where the team needed an enforcer like Orlando Brown Sr. or Ryan Jensen. The former Ravens offensive linemen would have cursed and pounded Purcell into another world.
“I think all the quarterbacks should be treated the same. I don’t think any quarterback should be judged any differently in terms of how they’re protected, that’s for sure,” Harbaugh said.
That’s all great in theory, but in violation of the NFL’s unwritten commandment: “Thou shall be able to kill mobile quarterbacks.”
Defensive players have been teeing off on them for years, especially on option plays. It’s something they are taught in college. Once a quarterback gets in the open field, he should be treated like a running back. Unfortunately, this is happening in the pocket when they are passing.
It’s great that Harbaugh wants to support Jackson, but don’t believe all this talk about player safety. If he were so concerned about Jackson, he wouldn’t have had him carry the ball for 5 yards on the last play of Sunday’s win to tie the NFL record for the longest streak of 100-yard rushing games. If Jackson had gotten injured, the Ravens’ season would be over. Don’t forget, this play came after Jackson missed two practices with a sore back.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio criticized Harbaugh about player safety, but he didn’t exactly get in Purcell’s face after his late hit on Jackson, either.
Jackson is the meal ticket in Baltimore. In his first three seasons, he struggled to throw consistently and accurately outside the numbers, but has been successful throwing downfield this year. He has completed 60.5% of his passes for 1,077 yards and four touchdowns and is averaging 8.7 yards per attempt.
The illegal hits were always expected; few defenders can get a clean shot on Jackson in the open field. Most of the illegal stuff was expected to happen in the bottom of the pile, where opponents could rough him up and no one would notice.
But with Jackson throwing more often from the pocket, his body is exposed. Unfortunately, Jackson doesn’t have an endorsement deal with State Farm like Rodgers and doesn’t do a Subway commercial like Brady. And he isn’t in the Golden Arm Club.
So, the Ravens better protect him. With the Ravens possibly starting their fourth-string offensive tackle Monday night, the least they could do at this point was make the NFL more aware of the late and illegal hits.
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The timing was as perfect as Jackson’s long touchdown pass to Brown on Sunday.