In his third season, Lamar Jackson continues to evolve as an NFL quarterback. But the Ravens need to build around his current skill set, because he might not get much better.
If he does, the Ravens are in great shape. If not, a lot has to fall in line for the Ravens and Jackson to win a Super Bowl title.
The bottom line is that Jackson is a great athlete first and quarterback second. He is never going to be the gunslinger type that makes powerful throws all over the field. He is at his best as a run-pass option quarterback who wants to play at a fast pace. The increased tempo doesn’t allow opposing defenses to substitute as freely and keeps Jackson from getting overwhelmed or making too many mistakes.
Translation: Just let him react quickly.
Everyone has been waiting for the Most Valuable Player of last season to resurface, and that happened in the second half of Sunday’s win over the Indianapolis Colts. Part of the success can be traced to the up-tempo approach the Ravens have used very little of this season. The strategy allowed the Ravens to pound the Colts with their running game as Jackson became the top offensive player on the field.
“That was just something that we talk about a lot and something we talked about at halftime,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “To me, that’s something that we have in in our — it’s always in our game plan, and I’m glad we did it. I thought it was a good move, and our guys executed those plays really well. We practice them often, so that made a big difference in the game.”
The Ravens might need to use it more often. After two and a half seasons, it appears that almost everything has to fall in place for Jackson to win a Super Bowl. The Ravens need to establish a running game, get an early lead and avoid falling behind by more than 10 points because they don’t have an explosive passing game to catch up with.
Because of Jackson’s limited arm strength, most of his passes have to be in the short-to-intermediate range in the middle of the field to be successful. When things are clicking, Jackson is a different person on the sideline, often laughing and goofing around with his teammates.
When he feels the pressure, he isolates himself on the bench like former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
So, the Ravens have to put Jackson in his comfort zone and not try to force him into doing anything different. It’s Lamar’s World, and he is the key to winning a Super Bowl.
“Nothing new in terms of Lamar from what we already knew,” Harbaugh said Monday about Jackson. “He’s very determined. He wants to learn. He listens. He works hard. I think he knows he doesn’t know everything. That’s probably the most important thing about learning, is just understanding that you don’t know what you don’t know, and he’s like that.
"So, he’s young. It’s a process, certainly. [It’s] a growth process for all of us, but especially for him. He’s got a big curve that he’s on in terms of growth, and he’s doing a good job with it.”
Watching cornerback Marcus Peters on the field is almost as entertaining as following the games.
He pouts, whines and gets into arguments with opposing receivers and teammates, but he’ll come up with a forced fumble or interception that can change the game, which he did Sunday in Indianapolis. That kind of strange and unpredictable behavior is one of the reasons Harbaugh purged the roster of alpha-males after the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012.
Jackson is evolving as a quarterback, and Harbaugh has had to evolve as a coach. If a player’s behavior is more excessive than his production, it’s time to move on. That’s what the Ravens did in training camp by cutting safety Earl Thomas III.
When it isn’t, you just tolerate it and try to keep everything under control.
Much is being made of tight end Mark Andrews' block on the perimeter of Jackson’s touchdown run in the second half against Indianapolis, but Andrews made significant progress in that area during the offseason of his rookie year.
Not only was he competing with fellow rookie Hayden Hurst for playing time in the passing game, but he had to battle Nick Boyle as the blocker in the running game.
By the time Andrews came back for his second season, he was bigger, faster and so much stronger. In this day and age of specialists, the number of tight ends who can block and catch have dwindled.
“Mark is known as a tight end for pass-catching, but you’re respected for your blocking and Mark takes it very seriously,” Harbaugh said. “He always told us, when we were talking to him in the draft, he said he was a blocker and he could do it and they just didn’t do it as much at Oklahoma with the tight ends. We believed him, but that block he had for Lamar on the touchdown run was something that — it was a good as you’re ever going to see.”
Judon just works
Early season criticism of outside linebacker Matthew Judon was unfair because some fans thought his production was going to match the one-year, $16.8 million contract he signed as the franchise-tagged player in July.
Judon has developed into a solid player, but I never thought he was elite. I just thought he was a product of the system and was rewarded handsomely based on the market’s value.
On Sunday, Judon delivered a performance that you come to expect from him, minus any unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. He had seven tackles, held the edge well and put some pressure on immobile Colts quarterback Philip Rivers.
Overall, the Ravens appear to be content with Judon’s numbers this season. He ranks eighth on the team in tackles with 25 and has two sacks playing both defensive end and outside linebacker. He hustles all over the field for four quarters.
The Ravens play the New England Patriots on Sunday night in a nationally televised game. The Patriots will have the misfortune of playing on a short week because they faced the New York Jets on “Monday Night Football."
But it’s the Jets.
More intriguing is how New England coach Bill Belichick plans to slow Jackson and what new gadget plays he will devise to help offset the Ravens' superior overall talent.
Speaking of the Jets, here’s a good one making the rounds: Rumor has it that the next Jets coach is going to be Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, the brother of John Harbaugh. The Wolverines are 1-2 after losing to Michigan State and Indiana this season.
Because of the spike in COVID-19 cases nationwide, I wouldn’t be surprised if the NFL took a one- or two-week break to get things under control if necessary.
Since the season started, the magic number has always been for teams to play at least 12 games before the playoffs begin. Unlike the current administration in Washington, league officials have heeded the advice of doctors and scientists about the possible outbreak this fall and winter.
Pittsburgh remains the only undefeated team in the NFL, having won five games by seven points or less, including their past three. The Steelers have been fortunate with several come-from-behind victories, but to be undefeated at this point is impressive.
The Steelers are somewhat like the Ravens. They have superior talent but don’t always bring their “A” game. Regardless, I still think the Kansas City Chiefs are the best team in the NFL, and the Ravens are second, despite losing to Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
I like watching Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady play because at age 43 he still does remarkable things. I also like when he gets his butt kicked, which the New Orleans Saints did Sunday night in trouncing the Buccaneers, 38-3.
Brady completed 22 of 38 passes for 209 yards and had three interceptions.
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