When Lamar Jackson lined up in an empty backfield Sunday facing fourth-and-3, with the Ravens trailing the Pittsburgh Steelers by four points and just two minutes remaining, CBS analyst Tony Romo said to look for Jackson to run the ball.
The Steelers seemingly expected the same thing. After taking a shotgun snap, Jackson took off on an apparent quarterback draw. Pittsburgh inside linebacker Vince Williams and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick cut him off well before the first-down marker, and inside linebacker Robert Spillane wasn’t far behind. Jackson was tackled at the 6-yard line and fumbled while stretching the ball out, his fourth turnover of an eventual 28-24 loss.
But Jackson’s decision to run wasn’t predetermined, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday. Roman said there were a “lot of options” on the play, including a pass play.
“Several things could’ve happened,” Roman said in a video conference call. “We just weren’t able to get that thing executed. The timing wasn’t perfect, but it was just one of those things where [it was] close, but not close enough. As a play-caller, you always go back if things don’t work and you just say, basically, ‘All right, it didn’t work. Here’s why it didn’t work. And what other options can we really look into in this situation?’ ”
Had Jackson dropped back to pass, or at least kept his options open as he broke from the pocket, he might’ve thrown for a go-ahead score. Spillane mostly ignored tight end Mark Andrews as he ran around him. And Steelers cornerback Joe Haden, who lined up across from wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown near the sideline, floated into a more central zone, perhaps worried about Andrews. As Jackson crossed the line of scrimmage, there was no one guarding Brown.
“When plays don’t work, I blame myself first, really,” Roman said. “As far as the execution, there could’ve been a few things tighter on that play. But it’s just something we need to learn from.”
High praise for Rivers
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers has been around for so long that Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale probably remembers Rivers' first NFL start — in 2006.
Martindale was a third-year linebackers coach for the Oakland Raiders when the San Diego Chargers turned to Rivers as their full-time starter. His first career start was against Oakland, a 27-0 win in which he went 8-for-11 for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Rivers, who turns 39 in December, might not have the arm strength that he used to, but he’s still plenty capable. In seven starts with the Colts, Rivers has completed 69.7% of his passes, thrown 10 touchdowns and six interceptions and is averaging 265.7 passing yards per game. With Rivers' football IQ, Martindale called Sunday’s game a “chess match.”
“I think he’s one of the all-time great football minds there is,” Martindale said. “He’s a master communicator. He not only tells them what routes to run off of a different look, but he directs the protection. I think he and [center Ryan] Kelly do a great job of protection, on which ways to go. I think he’s one of the smartest quarterbacks in the run game as well. He gets them in the right runs off of the looks that you give us.”
- Martindale said he hasn’t heard yet whether cornerback Marlon Humphrey is showing symptoms of COVID-19 after testing positive. But Humphrey has remained engaged in virtual meetings, despite being ruled out of Sunday’s game. “We’re still counting on him to lead, even though he’s not there during the week, and he’s done a good job at that,” Martindale said.
- Roman praised rookie running back J.K. Dobbins, who ran for 113 yards on 15 carries Sunday, both career highs. But he reiterated that Dobbins' role would evolve over the season. Starter Mark Ingram II is still sidelined by an ankle injury, and Gus Edwards rushed 16 times for 87 yards against Pittsburgh. “I thought those guys did a really nice job of complimenting each other last week,” Roman said. “We were able to stay fresh, and those guys ran the ball really effectively against a really good defense.”
- Roman said the Ravens prefer to move right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. over to left tackle, rather than have D.J. Fluker replace injured All-Pro starter Ronnie Stanley, because “I think that’s the best combination for us.” Roman said Fluker “can do an excellent job on the right side. So we feel really comfortable with that.”