Eisenberg: There Is No Debate in Ravens' Quarterback Situation


Listen, I like a good debate as much as anyone. Nothing stirs up excitement and interest more than a lively difference of opinion.

I also understand you can make a good case for either Lamar Jackson or Joe Flacco being the right guy to start at quarterback for the Ravens Sunday in Kansas City.

One is a dynamic rookie with a hot hand, the other a Super Bowl-winning veteran who has seen it all. Choosing between them is a nice problem to have, honestly.

But when I hear it suggested the debate could rage all week, right up to kickoff, I wonder if I'm missing something. To me, there's no debate. Jackson is the easy choice.

The Ravens had lost three straight games before he became their starter, and now they've won three straight, with Jackson central to the success, not just along for the ride.

They're going to tamper with what's working by switching back to what wasn't working, at least in terms of wins and losses? I don't think so.

They weren't exactly floundering on offense before, but they lacked an identity and their playoff prospects were dimming. But since Jackson took over, prompting a change in offensive philosophy, they've found clarity, that most elusive and desired of football qualities. They're running the ball effectively, controlling the clock. Their defense is fresher, looking sharp.

The effects have been quite profound. Their playoff chances have ramped up. Their locker room is energized, more optimistic.

They're going to risk disrupting that momentum? No way.

Yes, Jackson is young, just 21, and the most recent of his three wins wasn't his best. He fumbled three times Sunday in Atlanta, a habit that can cost you games. His throwing accuracy came in and out, as has been the case. His propensity for running the ball led to his backup taking the field, a scenario no team wants to experience regularly.

But the Ravens have seldom possessed an offensive playmaker so electric. The running game is hot because Jackson has the ball in his hands. Plus, defenses can't afford to take their eyes off him, opening running lanes for Gus Edwards, et al.

And it isn't just what Jackson does, but what his presence creates. The Ravens' winning formula runs contrary to the NFL's pass-happy, offensive-oriented mainstream. Few teams are playing quality defense and/or running the ball instead of throwing it. But the Ravens' formula can work and IS working. Control the line of scrimmage. Control the clock. Let your defense and all-world kicker do their things.

Sure, you could build a case for Flacco, with his 38,245 career passing yards, giving the Ravens a better chance of matching touchdowns with the NFL's top offense Sunday. It's certainly the more conventional approach, as opposed to trying to do it running the ball.

Flacco, who won a playoff game at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium in 2010, wouldn't be daunted by the circumstances.

Nonetheless, when you start tampering with the move that put the Ravens' winning formula in motion – the switch to Jackson – you threaten to upset the whole enterprise.

The running game isn't nearly as productive with Flacco because defenses know he can't hurt them as much running, so they focus on the back. The play-calling also becomes more pass-heavy with Flacco, which led to problems during the losing streak.

So much for controlling the clock, keeping the other offense off the field, etc.

It isn't clear whether Flacco will be available Sunday. His injured hip has recovered enough for him to return to practice on a limited basis, but Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said he wasn't cleared to play in Atlanta, and there's no telling when that might come.

If he's healthy, I could see him entering the game in relief if Jackson really struggles and the Ravens fall behind. But that's a worst-case scenario. Their best shot is to go with what's working and see where it takes them.

Too much is going right for them to tamper with their winning formula before a ball is snapped. Sticking with the quarterback who is 3-0 is, I think, an easy call.

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