The Lamar Jackson wrinkle in the Ravens offense hasn’t yet produced any of the YouTube highlights the former Heisman Trophy winner became known for in college.
But after just two games, it’s clear that Jackson and the Ravens are staying patient with their new offensive weapon.
Jackson ran twice for six yards against the Cincinnati Bengals. Another trick play when Jackson was supposed to get a reverse pitch from Javorius Allen got blown up for a 7-yard loss before Allen could get rid of the ball.
Against the Buffalo Bills the week before, Jackson threw an incomplete pass and ran for no gain on his two touches before taking over for Joe Flacco in the third quarter with a big lead.
Asked Thursday whether it’s still been seen as a net positive, Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said yes.
“We sure would like to be really productive as well,” he added. “But there’s a lot of different reasons why Lamar goes into a game at a particular time. It may not look like it, but it is well thought out.”
The Ravens spent a lot of time this summer tinkering with different ways to use the dynamic runner and playmaker. They’ve rolled run-pass options (RPOs) into their offense, keeping up with the latest NFL offensive fad.
While none of the “trickery” has worked yet, Jackson has still had an influence. Just look at these examples from Thursday night’s game.
With the Ravens facing a 2nd-and-21 following a sack, the Ravens brought Jackson in and put him in shotgun formation with Flacco split wide. The Ravens used an RPO that froze Bengals defensive end Jordan Wilkins at the line of scrimmage as he waited to see whether Jackson would run or hand off to Alex Collins. Jackson handed off, but by that time, pulling left guard Alex Lewis was in good position to block Wilkins, and Collins had his longest run of the night, and season, so far (14 yards).
Jackson didn’t do anything special, but his presence, and thus threat, helped open a running lane for Collins.
In the second quarter, Jackson again entered the game with the Ravens at the 13-yard line, threatening to score. Again in shotgun formation, this time he immediately took off running and weaved through traffic for a 5-yard gain. It wasn’t a touchdown, but a 5-yard run in the red zone is a success. Allen scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge three plays later.
The Ravens put Jackson behind center for the third and final time in the fourth quarter, once again while in the red zone. They ran an RPO play similar to the one that broke Collins for the 14-yard gain, except this time Jackson kept the ball and Wilkins didn’t freeze. Jackson was hit in the backfield and dove forward for a 1-yard gain.
Baltimore still has a lot of tricks up its sleeves. It’s not a matter of whether to keep using them, but how often to break them out.
“It’s week to week, gameplan to gameplan, game to game during the game,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “There are more plays than five in the gameplan for him. We’ll just try to do what we can do with all the weapons we have to try to put as many points up as we can.”
“Every game will be different with Lamar – he’ll play a little bit more in some, a little bit less in others depending on who we’re going against, what style we’re going against and all those things,” Mornhinweg added.
Jackson averaged 6.3 yards per carry in college and rushed for more yards in his three seasons (4,132) than New York Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley.
The talent is there, but even Jackson admitted during the preseason that the NFL is much faster than college. He hasn’t yet found the same creases, but it’s clear that he’s putting pressure on opposing defenses.
“I’m always ready to break one; I’ve just got to take my time right now,” Jackson said. “It’s not hard to be patient. It’s going to come.”