Ravens Lamar Jackson became the only player in league history to throw for at least 270 yards and rush for at least 120 yards in a game.
During the offseason, the Ravens emphasized that they wanted to help quarterback Lamar Jackson improve just enough as a passer so that he could complement the running game.
Now, two games into the 2019 season, he is the major reason they are winning.
Jackson isn’t at the level of future Hall of Famers Tom Brady or Peyton Manning yet, but if he doesn’t play well, the Ravens aren’t going to win. In recent seasons, the Ravens could count on their defense to bail them out, but that probably won’t be the case this year.
Jackson has been stellar in his first two games, completing 41 of 57 passes for 596 yards and seven touchdowns. On Sunday, he became the first player in league history to throw for at least 250 yards and rush for at least 120 in a game.
Forget the passing. If Jackson doesn’t run well against the Cardinals, the Ravens lose.
“Of course, Lamar played a great game and running the ball, and running the ball effectively,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It was probably the difference-maker in the game and very smartly, in terms of getting out of bounds and getting down [to avoid tackles] and all of that kind of stuff.”
As the season progresses, there might some other things that the Ravens can depend on, but right now it’s all about Jackson. The Ravens have some other weapons on offense, like tight end Mark Andrews and receiver Marquise Brown, but Brown’s health status seems to be pending week to week. Andrews might have a breakout season, but Jackson’s accuracy is still questionable.
The Ravens have a strong running game led by Mark Ingram II, but the offensive line, especially in the middle, is suspect and can be overpowered.
The front seven is strong against the run, but the Ravens had problems in the secondary Sunday for the second straight week. It wasn’t glaring against Miami because the Dolphins couldn’t capitalize, but the Cardinals did.
Arizona rookie quarterback Kyler Murray completed 25 of 40 passes for 349 yards and had completions of 54, 34, 31 and 21 yards. If the Cardinals had more speed at receiver, they might have won the game.
“It’s a spread-open offense, and sometimes you get into some zone-coverage situations, and you have to get lined up fast, and you have to communicate fast,” Harbaugh said of Arizona’s up-tempo offense under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury. “The route matches are not simple. They’re not simple for any team. And when you have a bunch of receivers on the field, that’s what that offense is built to do. Now, can you rely on that all the time to get that done?
“It caused two or three times in a different zone, calls, and we didn’t play them out right. One time, a backer didn’t do this. One time, a safety didn’t do that. One time, we didn’t talk through something. That’s where those [big] plays came from. So, as I said last week, we have to keep getting better, keep improving. Those are some things that we’ll have to work on. And credit to them with the routes as well.”
But that’s scary. There were some who thought the Ravens had the best secondary in the NFL, especially because of the money invested and the addition of Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas III during the offseason. The Ravens were without two starters Sunday in cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young, but they had similar problems a week ago in Miami.
"We've got to get the the first down, and there's man coverage on him, no safety help over top, and he ran a great route," said Ravens QB Lamar Jackson.
There were times against Arizona when the Ravens were beaten physically as well as mentally. That’s not a good combination, not in this league.
“It was schemed up, concept plays, and they took advantage of it,” Thomas said of the Cardinals offense. “A couple of them, we just didn’t have zone eyes and it was just little areas or simple mistakes that if we were on our stuff, you never would have seen that. So, stuff that we’ve got to clean up but other than that they had some great concepts.”
Early in a season, coaches look for consistency. They look for strengths and what to build on and around. With two victories in the first two games, the story of this team has been Jackson. He has enough weapons around him that opposing teams have to respect them, and it opens up the field for him. Last year, he was the center of attention.
If Jackson can’t beat you with his arm, he’ll beat you with his legs.
“Obviously, he is growing,” Ingram said. “He’s getting better. He’s getting more confident, and he’s going to continue to improve. Everybody on the offense, our job is to execute our assignments, be where we’re supposed to be, so we help him out and we help him be successful.”
Jackson still has room for improvement. He missed some wide open receivers Sunday. He failed to get his players into the right positions several times and said it was his fault when the Ravens were penalized for a delay of game on a fourth-and-1 at the Arizona 5-yard line late in the third quarter.
It will also be interesting to see how opposing teams play him each week as more game tape is compiled. But right now, the Ravens have a lot of confidence in him. He is the big-play performer. He can throw the long or short pass and beat you with his speed, especially when he turns the corner.