Eisenberg: Why I'd Go With Lamar Jackson as Starter


I'll begin with this disclaimer: I have no idea whether the Ravens are planning to make Lamar Jackson or Joe Flacco their starting quarterback Sunday in Atlanta.

I don't have a scoop. I'm not privy to inside information. Believe it or not, the coaches aren't calling my cell phone and asking for my input.

Like everyone else in town, though, I do have an opinion about who should start against the Falcons.

I'd go with Jackson, who has won his first two pro starts in the past two weeks, enabling the Ravens to move up in the AFC playoff race.

After losing three straight games with Flacco under center, the Ravens have discovered a clear and successful offensive identity with Jackson. They're rolling out a modern version of old-school, smash-mouth football with Jackson and running back Gus Edwards carrying the load.

That's surely not what the organization had in mind for an offense in 2018. But it's working. Jackson is making plays as a runner and passer, and managing the position's complex mechanics like a veteran. Edwards, an undrafted rookie, is plowing through tacklers. The offense is moving the chains, controlling the clock, playing with a ton of energy.

Disrupting this momentum would, I think, be unfortunate.

The offense wasn't really doing anything well in the weeks before Jackson took over. The running game was stalled, ranked near the bottom of the league. The passing attack had cooled off from its hot start to the season.

Quite simply, the Ravens had no identity on that side of the ball.

Now, they do.

I originally thought a healthy Flacco gave the team a better chance to win games down the stretch – an opinion understandably not lacking for support around town because of Flacco's experience, arm and track record as a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

But these past two games have altered my opinion. Even if Flacco is fully recovered from the hip injury he suffered on Nov. 4 – no word on that yet – too many good things are happening for Jackson not to be on the field.

Yes, it's true he has only started a pair of home games against low-ranked defenses. It's also true a ground-oriented attack lies outside the pass-happy mainstream taking over the NFL, prompting questions about whether a team can win for long playing that style.

But none of that means the style can't work.

Playing on the road is a challenge, no doubt, but it's not as if Jackson is about to run into a gauntlet of stout defenses destined to overwhelm him. The Falcons are ranked in the bottom third of the league on defense, as are most of the Ravens' other remaining opponents.

In a league where offenses truly have the upper hand now, partly due to rules severely limiting what defensive players can do, even the best defenses can't shut down an effective offense. And that's what the Ravens have right now with Jackson impacting the running game so positively and adding a caliber of dynamic play-making the Ravens have seldom possessed.

They did get away from what's working early in Sunday's win, going too pass-heavy against an Oakland defense that couldn't stop the run. But they corrected themselves later, providing a template for how they should play going forward.

As for whether the style can work in the long run, opponents surely will "stack the box" to try to slow down Jackson and Edwards, daring Jackson to throw. We'll see how that goes, but I'd focus less on what defenses could do to him and more on what he can do to them with the ball in his hands on a zone-read play.

"It puts so much pressure on the defense," Ravens guard Marshal Yanda said Sunday.

Think about that comment when you're deliberating over what the Ravens should do at quarterback.

It isn't a bells-and-whistles passing attack, but the style is well-suited to facing other teams with top offenses, as the Ravens are going to do. If you can't keep the other offense off the scoreboard, you CAN keep it off the field by controlling the clock.

Sure sounds like a plan to me.

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