Lamar Jackson showed us his worst side, but give him credit for not letting a bad start snowball.
When Ravens coach John Harbaugh discusses Jackson’s best qualities, he often looks past the rookie’s obvious physical gifts to his poise.
Jackson needed every bit of it after an ugly first few drives against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night, in which he demonstrated the subpar accuracy that limits his current potential as an NFL starter. He also exposed himself to several ferocious hits with his urge to gain extra yards as a runner.
With a chance to extend his first drive of the game, Jackson could not get the ball to an open Janarion Grant. He had plenty of time to throw, but the ball wobbled out of his hand, as it does too often on mid-range attempts.
Jackson says he’s working to widen his throwing base and thus improve his consistency. He’s not there yet.
But he rallied the Ravens offense after those initial failed drives, finding Chris Moore with a sharp touchdown pass while rolling to his right to give the Ravens a lead in the third quarter. Jackson often throws better on the move, especially to his right, than he does from the pocket.
No one should be surprised to see him complete difficult plays on the same night he botches routine ones. That’s the way it often goes with gifted young athletes.
But we’ve seen enough of Jackson to know he doesn’t get down on himself. He completed seven of his last 11 attempts against the Colts and led the Ravens to victory (aided by another fine outing from starter Joe Flacco).
He did it despite some iffy pass blocking from the Ravens’ offensive line after left tackle Ronnie Stanley left the game with an apparent knee strain.
“There’s no question in my mind that he has a bright future,” Harbaugh said.
Janarion Grant and Tim White both fumbled, denying us clarity in the returner battle.
White tantalized the Ravens with his sprinter’s speed before a thumb injury ended his rookie season, and he was the presumptive favorite to serve as the team’s primary kick and punt returner this season.
But injuries have limited him again this preseason, affording Grant an opening to impress the Ravens as an undrafted rookie free agent.
White played Monday but hurt his case when he was stripped on a punt return in the first quarter. Turnovers are the kiss of death for any returner, and White was fortunate his fumble did not lead directly to a Colts score.
Grant, meanwhile, answered with a tough 32-yard gallop on his first kick return. He might not be able to beat White in a race, but he was a highly productive kick and punt returner at Rutgers. He’s also made some spectacular catches as a receiver during training camp.
He seemed ready to assert a clear edge when he twisted and churned for 18 yards on a punt return in the third quarter, but then he allowed the ball to be poked free at the end of the run.
Grant played better overall, but Harbaugh likely won’t view either returner as a victor given the lack of ball security. He’s a former special teams coordinator, and such mishaps are perhaps his No. 1 pet peeve.
“We’re not giving up on those guys by any stretch,” he said after the game. “I just want them to calm down and be solid returners first.”
The Ravens’ secondary can survive without Jimmy Smith.
The Athletic reported Monday evening that the Ravens are preparing to play without Smith for multiple weeks because of a possible suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. He did not dress against the Colts, and Harbaugh said he was given the night off to deal with a personal matter.
The Ravens are used to lining up without their best cover corner, who has played 16 games just twice in his seven seasons.
For several years, Smith was their most indispensable defensive player, the difference between a top-notch pass defense and a shoddy one. But it’s not clear that’s the case in 2018. The Ravens have two capable starters in veteran Brandon Carr and rising star Marlon Humphrey.
They also boast greater depth, as we saw Monday when Tavon Young, playing in the slot, swatted away a pass to end an early Colts drive.
Young missed all of last season after tearing his ACL during an offseason workout. But the Ravens viewed him as an extremely promising find after he started 11 games and made two interceptions as a rookie in 2016.
The fact they’re deep enough to use him in the slot, even with Smith unavailable, speaks well for the state of the secondary.
The unit played well overall against Colts starter Andrew Luck, picking him off once and holding him to six completions on 13 attempts.
Rookie Anthony Averett, the likely fourth cornerback if Smith is suspended and Maurice Canady remains hampered by a muscle strain, added several standout plays in the second half.
The Ravens led the NFL in interceptions last season, and their secondary repeatedly bailed them out in the red zone. They’re better with Smith, but they’ve put enough focus on building the unit that they can survive without him.
Rookie receivers Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley have showed us little in three games.
The Ravens took plenty of criticism for not drafting a wide receiver in the first two rounds in April. And that criticism will persist if they continue to get negligible production from Scott and Lasley, whom they drafted in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively.
Lasley has outperformed Scott in training camp, but when Jackson targeted him over the middle in the third quarter, the UCLA product could not separate from his defender. He then dropped a touchdown pass from Robert Griffin III in the fourth quarter, adding to his reputation for unreliable hands.
Scott was billed as a big-play threat out of New Mexico State, and he looks the part physically. But he hasn’t done it in practice or in the games. He also dropped a pass in the fourth quarter against the Colts.
History says the Ravens won’t just ditch a fourth-round pick, but with so much competition for the last few spots on the roster, Scott can’t feel safe.
Though Breshad Perriman didn’t make any standout plays against the Colts, the former No. 1 pick has clearly outperformed the rookies as he fights for one last chance in Baltimore.
Kenneth Dixon quietly played well in his first game since 2016.
Dixon showed real promise in 2016, when he was the team’s most impressive runner at times. But a meniscus tear, on top of two suspensions for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug and substance abuse policies, wiped out his 2017 season. He’s been limited by a hamstring injury this preseason.
Dixon finally returned to game action against the Colts, and though he did not break any big plays, he averaged 5.3 yards on six carries and also caught three passes out of the backfield.
The thick-bodied former fourth-round pick still runs with considerable power. Despite a push from rookie free agent Gus Edwards, he seems like the favorite to join starter Alex Collins and Buck Allen in the Ravens’ backfield.
In this era of multi-headed running attacks, Dixon would provide the best stylistic counterpoint to Collins, who excels at running through contact, and Allen, the most prolific receiver of the three.