Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson made quite a first impression in his debut as a starter against the Cincinnati Bengals and — if the oddsmakers are correct — he’ll lead them to victory again against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. But it’s a little early to pack up Joe Flacco’s locker.
Jackson carried the ball so much against the Bengals that you had to go back to 1950 to find a game that featured that many runs (27) by a quarterback. He said after the game he’ll do it again if that’s what it takes to win.
That’s the attitude you want to see in a young player, but everyone knows that he’ll have to become a more complete quarterback to stay upright in the NFL for more than a few games.
The Bengals were out to get him. They hit him hard several times and tried to verbally intimidate him, but he kept getting up and never gave a hint that anybody found a soft spot.
He said he felt fine Wednesday.
“We’ve got great trainers in there,’’ he said.
That’s true, but he doesn’t want to be saying that every week.
Jackson has confidence he can withstand that kind of punishment. So did Robert Griffin III until one freak collision with Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata all but KO’d his career.
So, the narrative for this week is that Jackson has to throw the ball a lot more and get his receivers more involved in the game, which will make perfect sense right up until he goes three-and-out a couple of times and the Raiders look like they might stick around for a while.
It will be hard to resist all those run-pass-options. It will be hard to resist exploiting the way his ability to run the ball created opportunities for Gus “The Bus” Edwards to average nearly seven yards per carry on the way to a 115-yard performance last weekend.
That’s why no one should fall into the trap of thinking he can do that every week. The Ravens need to remember Jackson still is a quarterback in development and Flacco is the guy to take them the rest of the way this season once he’s healthy enough to practice again.
Of course, who knows when that will be and who can say Jackson won’t adapt quickly, throw well enough to stay healthy and lead the Ravens to the postseason. He certainly looks like the real deal and he might have arrived just in time to be part of a new wave of speedy quarterbacks who can throw the ball through the eye of a needle.
He just needs to prove he can make all the reads and put the ball where he wants it consistently enough that opposing teams aren’t able to overcompensate for his breakaway ability.
The Ravens are confident he’ll be that kind of quarterback. That’s why they traded up in this year’s draft to get him with the 32nd pick of the first round. What they didn’t anticipate was needing him at a juncture in the season when their playoff hopes seem to hang in the balance every week.
If he plays impressively again and wins Sunday, the Ravens could have themselves a quarterback controversy, depending on whether Flacco is cleared to return for the ensuing game against the Atlanta Falcons.
In a perfect world, that would be a conversation for 2019.
No matter what happens, Jackson will continue to have a greater presence in the offensive game plan over the final weeks of the season, but the Ravens should be wary of overexposing him.
He’s got a chance to be a crowd favorite in Baltimore for a long time, but only if he’s given enough time to develop into a complete quarterback.