As Ravens Offense Evolves, Lamar Jackson Wants Opponents to Focus on Stopping the Run

QB Lamar Jackson

The talk entering this season was about how the rest of the league had caught up to Lamar Jackson – "figured him out," as ESPN's Jeremy Fowler said.

Well, it's been Jackson and the Ravens offense who has pivoted to stay ahead. Now the question is: when will defenses adjust?

Jackson and the Ravens' passing attack have stretched defenses vertically and horizontally this season, challenging them in more ways than in recent years, when Baltimore didn't have the weapons to do so and Jackson's throwing wasn't quite as advanced.

Now a Ravens offense that ranked last in passing yards per game last year sits at No. 13 in the NFL and the offense is No. 4 overall.

Baltimore took "punches" all offseason when pundits and fans talked about an offense that struggled in the playoff loss in Buffalo, and now the Ravens have punched back.

"People have defended us a certain way. I think we've responded well to some of the things they've done," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Thursday.

The Denver Broncos crowded the line of scrimmage Sunday in the Ravens' 23-7 victory. Head Coach Vic Fangio was pretty clear after the game about their intentions, and how it backfired.

"We obviously wanted to limit his opportunities to carry it and scramble," Fangio said. "We did that but they were able to complete the long passes which negated that."

Jackson beat the Broncos with a 49-yard touchdown bomb to Marquise "Hollywood" Brown. Jackson chunked them with multiple other 20-plus passing plays.

Jackson's 12.1 air yards per attempt is the most in the NFL, on pace to break Josh Allen's 2018 record by more than a yard. According to Next Gen Stats, one-third of Jackson's completions and nearly 40 percent of his attempts have been on passes of 10 or more air yards – both the second-highest rate in the league.

With Brown continuing to improve as a receiver and the addition of Sammy Watkins, the Ravens are certainly taking more shots, and connecting, to stretch the field. But it's not just deep passes. Jackson is also stretching the field horizontally.

Opponents often played a two-high safety look and then crowded the middle of the field with their linebackers and extra defensive backs against the Ravens, aiming to take away tight end Mark Andrews.

Over his first three years, Jackson was particularly dangerous throwing over the middle of the field. Where he wasn't as sharp was in driving the ball outside the numbers.

With an offseason of work with Tom House Sports' Adam Dedeaux and the Ravens' coaches, Jackson's mechanics and throwing motion have improved. They have improved so much that, through the first four games this season, Jackson is actually throwing more accurately to the outside than he is over the middle.

Per The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer, Jackson is averaging 10 throws outside the numbers from the pocket per game, and he's completed 80 percent. Last season, Jackson attempted just 6.1 passing attempts outside the numbers from the pocket. Against Denver, Jackson was 10-of-12 for 117 yards on outside-the-numbers targets.

Next Stats Lamar Offense

So, when will defenses adjust from focusing on stopping Jackson's legs to preparing for the pass?

"It will be different next week and the week after. It's always going to be different," Harbaugh said. "You always have to be ready for all the different things you can get, because in any one game, there can be something that can really give you a problem. I really think Greg and those guys do a great job with that. We try to stay on top of that and try to anticipate what we're going to get."

"There's a little bit of a cat and mouse game every week with that. We're ready for anything," Roman said. "For us now, a gameplan is not like it used to be for me. It's 'If they do what we think they're going to do, here's what we're going to do' [or] 'If they copycat this, we're going to do this.' That falls on the players, so they have extra preparation because we never know what we're going to get."

The NFL goes through defensive "trends" and it's a copycat league. Detroit Lions Defensive Coordinator Aaron Glenn said a number of other teams were calling him asking how to defend the Ravens after the Lions held Baltimore to a season-low 387 yards, including a season-low 116 rushing, and 19 points. Only problem was Jackson and the offense would have had a huge day if not for some wide-open drops.

When the Broncos took it to an "extreme" level, as Roman put it, last week, they found out the hard way that selling out versus the run isn't going to work. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how the Colts' similarly aggressive, fast defense opts to approach Jackson on Monday night.

"[The Broncos] wanted to stop the run, so we had to throw the ball," Jackson said. "I hope teams do it a lot. Just let us throw the ball around, let our playmakers make plays."

The Colts' defense ranks last in the league in completion percentage (60.6) on throws downfield, and second-to-last in passing touchdowns (6) and passer rating (131.6) on such passes. They have some Pro Bowl talent up front with middle linebacker Darius Leonard and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, but on paper, it seems they're susceptible in the secondary.

"They're a tough defense – fast [and] aggressive," Jackson said this week. "The guys run to the ball; all 11 at the ball every play. You have to be on your 'Ps' and 'Qs.' You have to be completing passes and keeping the ball moving, because that's a bend but don't break defense."

Roman cautioned fans not to "jump to any conclusions" about the direction of the Ravens offense with it being more pass-heavy the past two weeks.

"We're going to do what we have to do to win each game," Roman said. "We want to be a balanced outfit."

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