A day after saying he hoped to get Lamar Jackson more involved in the offense, Ravens coach John Harbaugh on Monday reaffirmed the team’s commitment to starter Joe Flacco and willingness to consider a redefined role for its rookie quarterback.
Through nine weeks, Jackson has mostly been used as a wild-card dual-threat option in the offense. After playing a combined 29 snaps from Week 2 to Week 7, the former Heisman Trophy winner has appeared in 27 over the past two weeks. He led a late touchdown drive in a 36-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers and featured prominently early in the Ravens' 23-16 loss Sunday to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Could Jackson get a series to himself after the Ravens’ bye week? Even when Jackson has entered competitive games, Flacco has played under center or lined up wide as a receiver.
“I would say that’s an option, yeah,” Harbaugh said at his weekly news conference. “We’ve talked about that option, too. Every option that you’ve thought of, we’ve talked about. So yes, that’s a possibility.”
Harbaugh, who after the team’s third straight loss Sunday faced questions about his job security, said Flacco has played well this season. His vote of confidence in the longtime starter was not explicit, but it was enough to cut off talk of a percolating quarterback controversy: “We’re rolling right now with what we’ve got.”
Still, Harbaugh’s recent remarks represent somewhat of an about-face on the team’s short-term plans for Jackson. After the Ravens’ loss to the Panthers, in which the team trailed by as many as 20 points in the third quarter, Harbaugh was asked whether the deficit had diminished Jackson’s role in the offense.
“No, not really,” he said. “We used him about how we planned on using him.”
On Monday, though, Harbaugh claimed the “numbers don’t lie” — that even with the “10-man football that people say we’re playing” with Flacco split wide, the Ravens (4-5) are “twice as effective running the ball” with Jackson involved. Jackson leads the Ravens’ regular ball carriers with 5.0 yards per carry on 28 attempts — starter Alex Collins is next best, with 3.7 yards per carry — but has also been instrumental in read-option plays that have enlivened the team's languid rushing attack.
An enlarged role for Jackson would likely come at Flacco’s expense. On Sunday, Flacco reiterated that while he had little to no input in Jackson’s deployment, he would support the Ravens’ play calls. “I’m happy when they work, and when they don’t work, I move on to the next play,” he said. That won’t come until Nov. 18, when the Ravens face the Cincinnati Bengals, needing some change for the better.
“You want to keep your offense in a rhythm, you want to keep your quarterback on the field in a rhythm,” Harbaugh said. “But you have a playmaker ... you don't want to just have him run the ball all the time. He's not a running back; he's a quarterback. So how many throws can you get him? How many throws can you get him with Joe being not really a legitimate receiver out there, unless they just abandon him? …
“All that being said, I do want him on the field. And when I say I want him on the field more, it's because he's such a good player and you want to put your good players on the field. That's where we're at with that.”