Lamar Jackson, a quarterback prone to bouts of running wild, was asked after the Ravens’ preseason opener last week why he did not run in his quarter of action.
“Well, the plays weren’t set for me to run,” he explained. “There weren’t any [run-pass options] for me. It was for the backs, so that’s what I did. I did what I was coached, threw when I had to. The pocket was good, so why would I run?”
Jackson seems to realize that he is the team’s most important player, that the coaching staff will not put him in positions to run unless absolutely necessary. When he rolled out on third down early in the Ravens’ 26-13 preseason win Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers, there was a slight crease through which he could possibly slither. Instead, he threw an incompletion to rookie wide receiver Miles Boykin.
But Jackson is an instinctive player, and sometimes his improvisation makes his coaches cringe and the M&T Bank Stadium crowd roar. On third-and-10 from the Packers’ 18-yard line late in the first quarter, Jackson was flushed from the pocket. Any notion of a pass were gone. As Jackson sprinted to the sideline, Packers cornerback Tramon Williams cut him off. Jackson planted his right foot, juked left,and Williams was left grabbing at what he thought was Jackson’s waist.
Jaire Alexander was the next Packer up. Maybe he’d learned from Williams, because the Green Bay safety dived for Jackson’s legs at about the 2-yard line. Jackson saw that coming, too, and leaped over the tackle attempt. He landed a step short of the goal line, then high-stepped his way through the end zone. As a final act of showmanship, he handed the ball off to a kid in the first row of seats.
The play’s only stain was a block that probably did not need to be made, or at least not as flagrantly. Wide receiver Willie Snead IV was flagged for an illegal crack-back block against safety Will Redmond, who probably wasn’t catching Jackson and probably also saw Snead lining him up. It was a play that was hard to forget but ultimately didn’t count.
“It’s always good to score a touchdown, but I just saw a drop coverage on one half,” he said of the play. “The four-man rush gave me a lane, our receivers were covering, and I just did what I do best.”
It was that kind of game for much of the early going Thursday, with Ravens players and coaches just trying stuff. Nick Boyle had an unsuccessful hurdle on a catch-and-run. Jermaine Eluemunor continued to get repetitions as the first-team left guard. Cyrus Jones earned time as the starting slot cornerback, with usual first-stringer Tavon Young sidelined by injury, and was the first kickoff returner trotted out. There were run-pass-option plays and aggressive blitzes and a pass-interference challenge.
But as the game wore on, it started to look like most Ravens preseason games. After an efficient performance by Jackson (6-for-10 for 58 yards in a quarter), Trace McSorley (8-for-13 for 74 yards) entered for another up-and-down performance. He threw a 23-yard touchdown to wide receiver Chris Moore over the middle in the second quarter, then had an ill-advised pass to Boykinlater in the period intercepted.
Defensively, the Ravens were not as airtight as they had been in their 29-0 win the week before over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Chris Board, a projected starting inside linebacker, suffered a concussion that, if it lingers, could force tough roster choices. But they were still pretty good. It helped that Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers (back tightness) sat out the game for precautionary reasons, but a scoreless first quarter by Green Bay extended the Ravens’ shutout streak to five overall.
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“Just being physical and relentless, striking that fear in opponents’ heart like we used to,” outside linebacker Pernell McPhee said. "When they see us on the field, just be like, ‘Forget that we’re one of the fastest defenses in the league, but we’re one of the most physical defenses in the league.’ Just create fear in people.
“That’s how I was raised in this game, so for me, my main thing is, my opportunity, just make sure people know when they come play me, or play my boys, play us, that they better come with everything, because we’re going to strike fear in them.”
With kicker Justin Tucker not missing (4-for-4 on field goals), the Ravens again strolledto a comfortable second-half lead. A week after a two-sack performance in limited snaps, defensive lineman Pat Ricard fell on a botched handoff at the Packers’ 6-yard line early in the third quarter. Then Ricard, also a fullback, helped clear a path for running back Justice Hill (10 carries for 49 yards) as he found his way in from a yard out as the Ravens took a 20-6 lead.
The Ravens played out the string from there, avoiding catastrophic injuries and costly breakdowns as they took their 15th straight preseason victory. Afterward, Jackson lamented penalties like Snead’s that hurt the Ravens’ early offense, and the defense, which held Green Bay to 226 yards, hoped for the best with Board’s injury.