Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is looking forward to playing in front of friends on Sunday when they take on the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Ravens want to have a more balanced offense this season. The NFL’s most efficient passing offenses are also the league’s most efficient offenses, and with quarterback Lamar Jackson’s offseason improvements, the Ravens are preparing to move away from last season’s ground-and-pound approach.
But only so far away. Jackson said recently that his ideal run-pass ratio this season would include “probably 30 passes a game,” which would have ranked among the NFL’s least pass-dependent quarterbacks in 2018. Jackson won’t be running 20-plus times a game this season, but he also won’t be asked to be Drew Brees.
About the only thing critics and proponents alike can agree on ahead of Jackson’s first full season as a starter is that he’ll remain a dangerous running threat. And with a 16-game slate starting Sunday, there’s a chance it’s a record-breaking campaign. Here are eight quarterback records Jackson could threaten this season and one team mark the Ravens might test.
Jackson set the mark for quarterbacks last season despite starting just seven games. To eclipse 147 carries this year, he would need to average over 9.2 per game. Considering kneel-downs count as carries, and the fact that Jackson didn’t have fewer than 11 carries as a starter last season, that is extremely doable. Even coach John Harbaugh agrees. The Ravens plan to pass more this season, but their running game is most dangerous when Jackson’s an ever-present threat.
Consecutive games with a fumble
Record: 10 (Matt Cassell, 2011-2012)
This is not the kind of record you’ll find on team-issued press releases, but the Ravens have acknowledged that Jackson’s ball-handling last season was troublesome. If only regular-season games count toward the mark, he’s up to eight in a row with a fumble. (That’s an NFL single-season record, but the Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff, it should be noted, tied the overall mark in the playoffs this January.) If postseason games are included, it’s nine straight for Jackson. According to Pro Football Reference, only Sam Bradford and Cassel have fumbled in at least nine straight regular-season games.
Only three NFL quarterbacks have ever found the end zone thrice in one game: Jack Kemp (1963), Jake Plummer (1998) and Daunte Culpepper (2007). Jackson wasn’t a touchdown-a-game force last year; he had more games without a rushing score (four) than games with one (three). But he ended the season with two rushing touchdowns against the Cleveland Browns and could’ve had two more: He fumbled before breaking the plane on a goal-line dive and had a 33-yard touchdown run nullified by a penalty. So watch out.
Single-season rushing yards (individual)
Records: 1,039 in a season (Michael Vick, 2006); 69.1 per game (Bobby Douglass, 1972)
Likelihood: Low to medium
In the seven games he got a carry while Joe Flacco was starting, Jackson averaged 17.4 yards as a wild-card running threat. After he took over in mid-November, he averaged 79.4 per game over seven starts (554 yards total). Depending on Jackson’s health and how the Ravens’ offensive line and defense hold up, both NFL records could be within reach. He finished with fewer than 67 yards just once last season as a starter, and even if Jackson’s passing more, he’s always a threat to scramble.
Single-season rushing yards (team)
Record: 3,165 (New England Patriots, 1978)
Likelihood: Low to medium
The Ravens didn’t even finish atop the NFL last season in rushing yardage, but with a full season of an unleashed Jackson, they certainly would’ve passed the first-place Seattle Seahawks and probably smashed the NFL record. In their final seven games, they rolled up 1,607 rushing yards, or 229.6 per game — 30-plus yards per game more than the Patriots’ record-setting average (197.8). Even if opposing defenses are better prepared this season and the Ravens run less often, the addition of complementary pieces like running back Mark Ingram II and rookie wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown could keep the offense near 200 rushing yards per game.
It’s not that Jackson can’t break off a long touchdown run. (Just watch his Louisville highlights if you’re not convinced.) But for all his game-breaking speed, his longest run as a rookie was 39 yards. Jackson would need a perfect storm to not only get a carry so close to the Ravens’ goal line but also streak through an entire defense.
Single-season rushing average
Record: 8.5 yards per carry (Michael Vick, 2006)
Jackson averaged just 4.7 yards per carry last season, partly because of his fumbling habit and double-digit kneel-downs. His called-back touchdown against the Green Bay Packers this preseason proved again that even with his added weight, he can still dazzle in the open field. Still, with the speed and intelligence of modern NFL defenses, it’s hard to see Jackson, much less any quarterback, averaging over 8 yards per carry.
With four rushing touchdowns in seven games as a starter, Jackson was on pace for just nine in a 16-game season. Given the red-zone weapons the Ravens should have this year — an established veteran running back like Ingram, an emerging tight end like Mark Andrews and a potential jump-ball threat like receiver Jaleel Scott — the Ravens shouldn’t have to ask Jackson to muscle his way into the end zone as often as Newton did.
Jackson finished with over 173 rushing yards a remarkable seven times in college, and the competition was mostly cupcake-free: Samford, Boston College (twice), Florida State, Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas A&M. But he also had 15 or more carries in each of those games, and at least 21 in all but three. Last season, there were just five NFL games in which a player had more than 173 rushing yards, all by running backs. And the Ravens don’t want to treat Jackson like he’s Derrick Henry.