What Lamar Jackson Can Do While He Learns
Lamar Jackson is set to start his third straight game on Sunday against the Falcons. Joe Flacco’s hip was healthy enough for him to actually practice. Read between the lines and you can see that Baltimore doesn’t really have a reason to sit Flacco at this point. They’re just choosing to do it because they need to see what they have in Jackson.
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Statistically, Jackson has not been as good of a passer as Flacco has this year. The caveat to that is a) it’s an incredibly small sample size and b) both of Jackson’s interceptions were tipped at the line and they have a disproportionate effect on his statistics.
The other half of that is: Jackson is bringing value as a rusher that Flacco will never be able to. Only Cam Newton has more rushing attempts than Jackson this year, and Jackson’s speed is valuable to the Ravens by occupying defenders.
On this 19-yard run against the Raiders, look at how Oakland is playing Jackson at the mesh point:
It’s pretty clear just how much Jackson makes up for Baltimore on the ground.
The Ravens had their best single-game rushing DVOA game score of the season last Sunday against the Raiders. Their game against Cincinnati was one of their four best by rushing DVOA. Jackson isn’t the only reason for that, but his ability to give defenders more to think about is a big reason why Gus Edwards has had the holes that he has had.
In the meantime, Jackson has shown flashes of his ability as a passer, including a deep strike to John Brown that was called back on penalty. His best pass so far is probably this throw to Mark Andrews that got the Film Room treatment on Football Outsiders.
I doubt we will see much from Atlanta this weekend that seriously threatens Jackson’s development. Even with the Falcons getting Deion Jones back, their defense has been so poor and so inept at rushing the passer (27th in defensive Adjusted Sack Rate, 30th in Sports Info Solutions’ pressure rate) that they can’t really threaten Jackson as a passer. Vic Beasley’s promising sophomore year has disappeared into a black hole.
My guess is that the first real test Jackson will face as a passer is against the Chargers in Week 16. The Chiefs have a couple of great pass rushers, but haven’t really gelled as a pass defense yet. The Buccaneers are a sieve. Los Angeles has Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Derwin James, Casey Hayward — a real star-studded group that can both pressure the passer and cover the pass.
I know it’s weird to say this in a season that has included as many clunkers as the Ravens have put up, but the AFC is still wide open. Baltimore’s got a defense that’s just as good as anyone elses. If they can cobble together a dominant rushing offense that plays off that defense, and Jackson can continue to show the early polish that he has so far, the Ravens can absolutely make a deep playoff run. Jackson just has to continue to play well off of play-action and not put the Ravens in any huge game script deficits that render them unable to run the ball.
The upside to this is actually something akin to a team the Ravens beat during their last Super Bowl run: The 2012 49ers that caught lightning in a bottle with Colin Kaepernick. Hey, that team also benched its starting quarterback midseason for a rookie selected after the first 30 picks!
Rivers McCown is a writer and editor who has written for ESPN.com, Bleacher Report, USA Today, and Deadspin, among other places. He’s edited for Football Outsiders, Rookie Scouting Portfolio, and Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue.