Eisenberg: The Jackson Project Is Working. Now How About More of It?


I'm sure I wasn't the only person who watched how the New Orleans Saints used Taysom Hill last Sunday and contemplated the possibilities if the Ravens went down a similar road with Lamar Jackson.

Hill, who backs up Drew Brees, was on the field for 26 snaps in a variety of situations and roles. He lined up in the shotgun and under center as a quarterback and also as an H-back, slot receiver and wide receiver. He never caught or threw a pass but rushed for 35 yards on six carries, one of which came on a fake punt.

He was a constant factor as a wild-card threat who was hard to locate and a challenge to corral, especially in the red zone.

The Ravens also used Jackson effectively last Sunday. On the field for five snaps, he rushed for nine yards on three carries, scored his first NFL touchdown and completed his only pass attempt for a five-yard gain.

The ballyhooed "Jackson Project" has been an interesting subplot so far in 2018. Through seven games, Jackson ranks second on the Ravens in rushing yards (103) and first by a wide margin in average yards per carry (5.2). Despite his limited snaps, only 11 quarterbacks around the league have rushed for more yards.

Jackson also has been used as a decoy, targeted as a receiver and completed a pair of passes. Most impressively, 40 percent of his carries have produced first downs, a reflection of his playmaking ability and also an indication that he is being used judiciously.

From the outset, I was on record as being fully in favor of finding ways to include such an explosive X-factor in an offense limited at times by a playmaking deficiency in recent years. Jackson wasn't going to supplant Joe Flacco, who is playing winning football in 2018, but that didn't mean he couldn't contribute. Honestly, I can't believe anyone ever thought it was a bad idea.

I'm also on record supporting how the coaches have deployed him; by carefully picking out various spots and roles, they've enabled him to become more comfortable and productive as he adjusts to the speedier NFL.

Flacco, thought by some as a potential doubter, sees the project developing.

"I definitely think that we're starting to grow, in terms of how successful we are at those kinds of things," Flacco said this week. "In terms of how we're progressing as an offense with him involved, I think we're definitely starting to do some good things and make a real impact on games, for sure."

With that in mind, does expanding Jackson's role make sense? It's hard not to consider the idea after watching the Saints use Hill.

Baltimore's offense doesn't need a jump-start, mind you. It is No. 9 in average yards per game and No. 12 in points, rankings that reflect a healthy unit.

But the passing game has done the bulk of the work. The running game is No. 24 in yards per game and No. 31 in yards per carry, rankings that reflect an element in need of a boost.

The players and coaches say the framework for a successful running game is in place and they expect their hard work to pay off eventually, perhaps as soon as Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

But giving Jackson more touches could be another way to bolster the ground game while also making the offense more unpredictable and dangerous in general – good things, all. Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg certainly doesn't sound opposed.

"There's an endless amount of possibilities that you can do with two quarterbacks on the field, so that's where we're at, and we'll try to take advantage of that," the Ravens' OC said this week.

How, and how often, will they do that? The answers to those questions will continue to change from week to week, I'm guessing. Hey, the Saints had never used Hill so extensively before last Sunday. Who know if they will again?

Regardless, after watching Brees, a future Hall of Famer, split wide as a receiver on key plays, it's clear that strategies once deemed "outside the box" are becoming more conventional. The Ravens, if anything, are positioned to take advantage of that.

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