Eisenberg: Letting Lamar Be Lamar

QB Lamar Jackson

Get ready to hear this if you haven't already: The Ravens are back on track because they're letting Lamar be Lamar.

I guess that's right, although I do have some minor quibbles.

It's certainly true quarterback Lamar Jackson is running more, improvising more, throwing less and looking more like his MVP self since he returned from dealing with COVID-19.

It's also true he has led the Ravens to two wins that have revitalized their playoff hopes, which took a major hit during a three-game losing streak.

But is Lamar back to being Lamar because the Ravens are "letting" him, which implies they were somehow constraining him before?

I don't see it that way. I would say the Ravens are happy to see Lamar being Lamar.

As I see it, he is the one in charge, guiding this change in his game.

It's true the Ravens emphasized his continued development as a passer coming into 2020 – so did he – and perhaps that caused him to run less in his first 11 games. He also experienced less success on the ground against defenses playing him differently than a year ago, which frustrated him and seemingly threw him a bit out of sync.

Even though the Ravens routed the Bengals on October 11, he rushed just twice for three yards – a clear sign the offense was developing an identity crisis of sorts. Lamar isn't running? What's up with that?

Other factors also played a part in the offense sputtering a bit. Turnovers and penalties were constant issues. Key injuries devastated the lineup. The non-Lamar ground game wasn't always as effective as a year ago.

Now, though, in the wake of the injuries and virus outbreak, the Ravens seemingly have a clear-eyed understanding of exactly what they are offensively – or what they need to be – in 2020.

It's a simplified blueprint. The passing game still has its moments but isn't a consistently major factor. The power ground game is what works week after week. And the X factor, which no opponent can match, is a dynamic quarterback who is close to unstoppable when running and improvising out of the pistol formation.

I don't know that Jackson has been told to go do what he is doing. The game plan against the Cleveland Browns Monday night wasn't just for him to run around and make plays with his legs. The Ravens tried to get their passing game going. But what choice did they have after Jackson was sacked on three of his first five dropbacks?

OK, just go be Lamar, Lamar.

He is the most dangerous of weapons, as the Browns know after Jackson rushed for 124 yards, passed for 163 yards and prevailed in a shootout being hailed as the game of the year in the NFL.

"He is an unbelievable player, an unbelievable guy," Cleveland's Baker Mayfield said. "You are just going to have to try to contain him. You are never going to be able to stop guys like that."

It's as if Jackson hit a reset button after dealing with COVID-19 and decided just to have fun playing the brand of football he enjoys most, which is also the brand that maximizes his talents.

The joy it brings him is evident in his demeanor on the field and in press conferences in recent days. He is smiling, energized, laughing more. And the rest of the team is responding.

"Lamar has a unique way of being able to lead guys without having to say much," cornerback Marlon Humphrey said after the win in Cleveland. "This week he was a little more vocal and I felt he was going to bring his best game tonight."

At this point, I'm not expecting any major changes in the offense. The power ground game is rolling behind J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. The passing game was a non-entity until late in Monday night's game, but ignore it at your peril. A season is a journey. You can start out with plans, but you have to be ready to adjust to whatever circumstances arise.

This year's circumstance was a flood of adversity no could have foreseen, and in its wake, it's clear the Ravens' best offense is, quite simply, Jackson being who he fundamentally is, i.e., the best running quarterback the NFL has ever seen.

The results speak for themselves.

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