Brian Baldinger: Jackson Might Lead the League in Passing
Head Coach John Harbaugh said yesterday that Lamar Jackson got an "A-plus" for the way he operated the offense in Week 2 against the Dolphins' blitzing defense.
"All the things that he was asked to do, which was a lot at the line of scrimmage, he did very well with it, and it was impressive," Harbaugh said.
NFL Network's Brian Baldinger concurred and was so impressed he made a bold prediction. Baldinger dissected Jackson's terrific performance against the Dolphins this past Sunday and said that "he might lead the league in passing before it's all over."
Jackson went 21-for-29 (72.4 percent) with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 142.6 quarterback rating against Miami. He added 119 yards rushing on nine carries, including a 79-yard touchdown run.
"As good as Tua [Tagovailoa] and the Dolphins were on Sunday, Lamar Jackson might have been better," Baldinger said. "From the pocket, it's just an absolute clinic."
Here's what Baldinger said about some specific throws Jackson made:
- 75-yard TD pass to Rashod Bateman: "They cleared Devin Duvernay out here to get Rashod Bateman one-on-one against Xavien Howard, and the ball is perfectly thrown and Bateman is off to the races."
- 12-yard TD pass to Demarcus Robinson: "This is what I would call just a feathery touch. The throw is perfect right over the outstretched arms all the way in perfect location to Robinson."
- 25-yard completion to Mark Andrews: "This circle route to Mark Andrews can't be thrown any better. Just the way that he leads him, the anticipation, the location is ridiculous."
- 26-yard completion to Duvernay: "He's just a commander-in-chief. He's got everybody under control. He changes the play. And the throw, again, step up in the pocket, set your feet, everything you're supposed to do, he's doing just so easily and the throw is perfect."
Jackson sits at 12th in the league in passing yards (531) this season. In 2019, when he threw for a career-high 3,127 yards and was the unanimous MVP, Jackson finished 22nd in passing yards in the league.
The Ravens' high-volume rushing attack certainly plays a role in that, but Baltimore has become more balanced offensively in recent seasons. With Jackson throwing the ball better than ever, the Ravens may continue to lean more on his arm – especially if opponents continue to sell out on stopping the run. That could give Jackson a better chance to challenge the top quarterbacks in passing yards.
"Hopefully, we'll just have a balanced offense and not just a heavy run and sometimes throw or heavy throwing and sometimes run – just keep it balanced," Jackson said Wednesday. "And I feel like the sky is the limit for us."
Meanwhile, Jackson moved up two spots to No. 4 in NFL.com’s Mark Sessler’s weekly quarterback rankings.
"I see a quarterback making the finest throws of his career," Sessler wrote. "For the second week running, Jackson created art with Rashod Bateman, hitting the wideout in stride on a 75-yard race to the end zone. His bullet to Demarcus Robinson and rip to Mark Andrews gush precision and arm strength. Vintage Lamar then erupted on his 79-yard downhill-freight-train act through a scrambled Dolphins defense."
Bill Belichick: 'Without a Doubt' Jackson Has 'More Than Answered' Questions About Him As Pocket Passer
Bill Belichick is known for giving succinct responses at press conferences, and the New England Patriots head coach made it crystal clear how he feels about Jackson's ability as a passer.
When Belichick was asked yesterday if Jackson has answered questions about whether he could succeed in the pocket, he said: "Without a doubt. It's the type of the player, the MVP type of candidate. I think he's more than answered them. But, we'll see what his contract is, that will answer them."
Sunday's game in Foxborough, Mass., will mark the third time Jackson has faced New England. The first two meetings had contrasting results for the Ravens quarterback.
In 2019, Jackson accounted for three touchdowns (one passing, two rushing) to lead the Ravens to a 37-20 win over a Patriots squad that entered that Sunday night contest at M&T Bank Stadium with an 8-0 record and allowing just 7.6 points per game.
When the teams squared off in a Sunday night game in 2020, the 3-5 Patriots knocked off the 6-2 Ravens, 23-17, in a downpour in Foxborough.
"I'll say the weather played a big part last time we played," Jackson said yesterday. "Every time we got up and lined up on offense, it was heavy rains; you can't even throw the ball through this rain, you can't run the ball, you probably can't even see your opponent if you're trying to make him miss. But hopefully, it's perfect weather."
Belichick said those games will have little bearing on what happens Sunday.
"I think that game is going to be quite a bit different this time around, for a number of reasons," Belichick said. "We'll look at all our games against them. The 19 game down there, the 20 game, but they've had a lot of changes, we've had a lot of changes. I think the guys that will be out there on the field for us are quite different than what we had out there in 20. You're looking at the same thing with the Ravens. They drafted 10 players this year in the first four rounds, so certainly a youth movement there. We'll look at it. I don't think it'll have much bearing on the game."
Three Ways the Running Game Can Improve
As good as the Ravens' passing game has been thus far, the running game has been, well, not so good.
Baltimore's usually potent rushing attack is ranked 18th in the league and would be much lower if not for Jackson, who has accounted for 136 of the team's 218 rushing yards. Ravens running backs Kenyan Drake, Mike Davis and Justice Hill have combined for 74 yards on 29 carries (2.6 yards per carry).
The Ravens' inability to convert on running plays in short-yardage situations played a significant role in Sunday's loss.
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer analyzed the Ravens' sputtering ground game and three ways it can improve. Here are some excerpts:
Running back production
"With both [J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards] still on the mend — Dobbins has yet to make his season debut, and Edwards hasn't been cleared to practice — the Ravens have looked for answers elsewhere at the position. But production hasn't come easily. The challenge has been turning nothing into something, or turning something small into something significant. According to Pro Football Reference, no running back has broken a tackle yet this season. Hill leads the group in average yards after contact, at just 1 yard per carry."
Offensive line execution
"Ravens running backs need more holes to hit, too. According to Pro Football Focus, [Kevin] Zeitler ranks as the NFL's No. 20 run-blocking guard through two weeks, while Ben Powers ranks among the worst. At tackle, [Patrick] Mekari and [Morgan] Moses, whose run-blocking ability was heralded upon his signing this offseason, have graded out as among the NFL's least effective run blockers, according to PFF. At center, [Tyler] Linderbaum has fared well as a run blocker, rated 11th overall by PFF, though he's struggled somewhat in pass protection."
"If Jackson's passing continues to trouble defenses, he could open up more space for the Ravens' running game. Harbaugh said both the Jets and Dolphins committed numbers to stopping the team's rushing offense. Other coordinators might not be as willing to take their chances with Jackson dropping back. If they do, the Ravens' preference for heavier formations could lay the groundwork for more explosive plays. By lining up with multiple tight ends and fullbacks, the Ravens invite defenses to match up with linebackers, rather than defensive backs. And what those defensive fronts might gain in size, they'll likely lose in speed. When Jackson burst through Sunday, there was no one to catch him."