The Ravens used first-round pick Lamar Jackson early and often in his first NFL game, deploying him as a decoy when the result was still in question and as Joe Flacco’s fill-in once their 47-3 rout of the Buffalo Bills was officially on.
Jackson completed one of four passes for 24 yards and ran seven times for 39 yards in his debut. He led his first NFL touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. But most of his production came after he relieved Flacco in the third quarter, with the Ravens already leading 40-0.
The more predictive aspects of Jackson’s debut happened in the first half, when the Ravens paired him with Flacco on four plays and substituted him for their starter on one other. Those plays didn’t produce much yardage but introduced the idea of Jackson as a threat to future opponents planning for the Ravens.
“They never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Yeah, it keeps the defense guessing.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the team’s early use of Jackson was intended for more than just theoretical benefit.
“Well, we wanted to establish him as a threat quickly, not just a possible threat,” Harbaugh said. “The whole idea is to generate offense. … I guess a side benefit of it is that people have to prepare for certain things. Of course that’s part of it. But really the idea is to move the football and create plays, and like we said from the beginning, use all weapons.”
Flacco has expressed skepticism in the past about offenses he regarded as gimmicky. But he hasn’t criticized plays that employ both him and Jackson.
“Like I’ve said all along, if we can use him in whatever way we are going to use him, I think we’re going to look at it in a positive way,” he said. “Who knows exactly what it did today, but I think we have to look at it like it helped us out and helped get them thinking and put them on their heels a little bit.”
Safety Eric Weddle said that if he were an opponent preparing for the Ravens next week, Jackson would certainly present an unwanted problem.
“You can’t not work on when Lamar’s in the game. If not, you’ll gash the defense,” Weddle said. “You have to take time. You have to watch the film. Then coaches have to come up with a plan and you have to go out and practice and rep it. So it’s more reps on something you may see or you may not see. And that benefits us.”
The Ravens wasted no time using their rookie quarterback, putting him on the field twice during their game-opening touchdown drive.
The first time, Flacco faked a handoff to Jackson on an end-around and then handed off to Alex Collins up the middle. The play produced a 14-yard gain but was wiped out by a holding penalty on left guard Alex Lewis.
The next time Jackson entered, he replaced Flacco under center and carried for no gain on his first official NFL play.
On the Ravens’ third drive, Flacco pitched the ball to Jackson, who then reversed field and overshot a pass attempt while rolling to his right. Later on the drive, he lined up wide and went in motion. Flacco faked a handoff to him and threw incomplete near the goal line.
On the Ravens’ fifth drive, Jackson again went in motion and played decoy as Flacco handed off to Collins up the middle.
None of the plays amounted to much, but the Ravens used Jackson enough that opponents will have to account for him in future game plans.