Eisenberg: Quarterback Uncertainty Is Fun This Week, But Not for Long


In one respect, the Ravens clearly have benefitted from the uncertainty they're experiencing at quarterback this week. It has forced the Cincinnati Bengals to prepare for multiple scenarios, and hey, the more you can keep an opponent guessing, the better off you are.

Cincinnati doesn't know whether Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin III will start at quarterback Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, and I'm sure the Ravens would love to keep the mystery going right up to when their offense takes the field for the first time.

In the long run, however, the Ravens aren't going to want their quarterback situation to remain so mysterious, so uncertain from week to week. Any advantages gleaned from that are strictly temporary and offset by the bigger picture. Few NFL scenarios short-circuit the possibility of success more assuredly than instability and uncertainty under center.

Upper-echelon teams come in all shapes and sizes, some favoring offense, some led by their defense. But the one trait they share, almost without exception, is absolute certitude at the game's most important position.

They know who their quarterback is, what he can do, how he can win for them, etc. They entertain no mystery at the position because, quite simply, nothing does a better job of shredding their hopes for glory, regardless if those hopes are real or imagined.

Teams at the other end of the spectrum, the lower echelon, are the ones that tend to entertain long-running controversies about who should play quarterback. It makes for interesting chatter, but as far as helping the team succeed, that's seldom the result.

As a general rule, if you're flipping between starting quarterback options deemed viable, you're probably not going far.

Some teams are so desperate to avoid the situation that they prematurely anoint some guy as their solution/savior and pay him accordingly. Buyer's remorse can ensue.

The Ravens haven't dealt with any semblance of a quarterback controversy in years, of course. They've been as stable as any team at the position since Flacco became their starter as a rookie in 2008. That's more than a decade ago, a long time in any realm and an eternity in the NFL.

Through some very good times and others not as good, the Ravens have awoken on Sundays knowing Flacco was their quarterback.

That calm sea was roiled, though, when Baltimore drafted Lamar Jackson with a first-round pick seven months ago. Suddenly, Flacco's successor was in the house. There was little doubt Jackson eventually would take over; that's what first-round picks do. The question was when.

For a handful of reasons, the franchise's decision-makers didn't expect or want that succession to happen in 2018. Flacco was still their quarterback, they believed. He may still be. But he's nursing a hip injury that renders his status uncertain, and with the team on a losing streak and the offense needing a spark, all possibilities suddenly are on the table.

Hello, uncertainty.

Not surprisingly, it has ramped up the volume of the local football chatter, spawning major questions. If Jackson starts Sunday, does that mean he takes over for good? Is he ready to take over for good? Will Flacco keep the job if he plays and wins Sunday? Is the identity of the 2019 starter tied to what happens in Sunday's game and those that follow?

You probably think you know the answers. You don't. I'm not sure the team knows all the answers just yet. It's a fluid situation.

But while that's fine for now because of what it forces the opposition to do, it can't last long. Soon enough, the Ravens will need to chart a definitive course at quarterback and stick with it.

If that means going with the young guy, so be it. If that means sticking with the veteran because the young guy isn't ready, so be it.

The one thing they can't do is vacillate for long, keep their options open. Although you keep your opponents guessing, there's little worse in football than being out in the quarterback wilderness, wondering who your guy is. The Ravens have been there, remember. It was awhile ago, but as they surely recall, it wasn't any fun.

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