The same questions that were asked about rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson eight weeks ago are being asked again.
Can the Ravens improve his accuracy? Can he perform at a high level in an NFL passing offense? Can he win games and lead comebacks from the pocket?
Actually, there is another one: Is he another Kyle Boller?
Boller never had a run of success like Jackson, who won six of seven games before the Ravens lost, 23-17, to the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC wild-card-round game Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Boller was also more of a pocket passer, and Jackson is a runner first and thrower second. Both were first-round draft picks. Boller was taken 19th overall in 2003 out of California, and Jackson was the No. 32 overall pick last April from Louisville.
And, as Boller did, Jackson wears No. 8.
But the biggest similarity is that the Ravens mortgaged their future with Boller and it didn’t work out. They’ve also done that with Jackson, whom coach John Harbaugh called the team’s quarterback of the future Sunday.
They both made favorable impressions during their rookie seasons, and Boller got confirmation of being the team’s franchise quarterback from former coach Brian Billick. Jackson has gotten it formally from Harbaugh and informally from team owner Steve Bisciotti.
Now, it’s just wait and see.
“I mean Lamar played really well” in the final two minutes, Harbaugh said of Jackson’s failed fourth-quarter comeback attempt. “I mean Lamar is our quarterback of the future, no question about that.”
When a team drafts a quarterback or any other player in the first round, it is inevitable that one day he will be the starter. Just ask Boller.
He started in Baltimore for five seasons and the Ravens were 29-34 during that experiment. The Ravens are 6-2 with Jackson as a starter in one season.
Jackson has proved he is the player most of us thought he would be, but faster. When he turns a corner and his shoulder pads are square, there are few in the NFL who can run with him. He can scramble and is elusive. He can make something out of nothing with his ability to improvise and at times has thrown some passes into tight windows in the middle of the field.
But on Sunday, the Chargers had the perfect game plan. They were conservative on offense with quarterback Philip Rivers steadily handing the ball off and not throwing much downfield.
On defense the Chargers stacked seven or eight players near the line of scrimmage and brought down safety Jahleel Addae as an inside linebacker to help squash some of the Ravens’ gut running. They dared Jackson to beat them.
But he couldn’t.
There were overthrows and underthrows. There were fumbles and a lack of pocket awareness when pressured. He looked lost at times, and the same questions that haunted him in the preseason were back on a lot of fans’ minds.
Until proved otherwise, the theory about being unable to coach accuracy is still prevailing: Either you have it or you don’t. Boller didn’t have accuracy, and so far neither does Jackson.
“I feel like I played poorly,” Jackson said. “I feel like there were a lot of things we could have done, I could have done. I didn’t play my game … only towards the end. There are a lot of things I need to work on.”
Jackson’s performance drew some boos from fans Sunday and chants for him to be replaced by veteran Joe Flacco. Fans probably were booing the play-calling as much as they were Jackson.
The Ravens didn’t run many quick hitches or slant-in patterns to back the Chargers off the line of scrimmage.
You expect a rookie to have problems with his mechanics, but Jackson showed only moderate improvement from the beginning of the season. He still throws flat-footed and doesn’t consistently step into his throws.
His delivery can be from anywhere at anytime. The Ravens should have been prepared to open up the offense with Jackson or at least ready to bring in Flacco, but that was a no-no.
““We made those decisions already weeks ago. So no, not at all,” said Flacco when asked whether he was surprised he didn’t replace Jackson.
I would have played Flacco. Jackson has a fragile ego and the Ravens guarded him against a lot of criticism early in the preseason, but this was the playoffs. There is no tomorrow.
But the Ravens stayed the course. And Jackson and the Ravens came back when the Chargers went soft on defense with the big lead in the fourth quarter, but Harbaugh didn’t give his team the best chance of winning.
Flacco’s absence might have also been a business decision. He is under contract next season and set to make $18.5 million in base salary. If he got hurt, the Ravens couldn’t use him as trade bait or might have had to pay him until he were fully recovered.
Flacco might not have played any better than Jackson, especially with the Ravens allowing seven sacks, but the Ravens had nothing to lose.
Instead, the 2018 season ended. Harbaugh got as much out of this team as possible, especially considering the injury to Flacco midway through the season.
The Ravens revamped the offense to fit Jackson’s abilities, but it isn’t good enough to get them where they need to go. The kid showed some promise, and his teammates played hard and respected him.
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But the questions still exist. The answers might not come for two or three more seasons, and hopefully they are better than the results produced by Boller.