Lamar Jackson Reminds Doubters He Can Sling It
Each offseason, critics debate whether Lamar Jackson is worthy of mention with the upper echelon quarterbacks across the NFL. Then, Jackson plays in Week 1 and reminds everybody he's "not bad for a running back." This time, Jackson did so with a hat-trick of touchdowns, vanquishing the New York Jets in a 24-9 victory.
For ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, this was just another expected Week 1 rout from Jackson.
"Jackson dominated like he usually does in a season opener, throwing three touchdowns and one interception," Hensley wrote. "He played loose, looking off his favorite target, Mark Andrews, over the middle and finding Devin Duvernay 25 yards downfield in the end zone."
Though Jackson ended strong, the offense wasn't abuzz from the first whistle. At the half, Jackson totaled 83 yards on 10-for-16 passing and a touchdown. Many started to worry if it was rust from the lack of preseason, Jackson not playing since Dec. 12, 2021, or fear the Ravens don't have the receiving weapons. But The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec notes how quickly those first-half worries can be quelled.
"That's the thing about Jackson and the Ravens offense. Things are never as bad as they look because the quarterback is always one play away from making a defender miss to pick up a big first down or finding a receiver running free beyond the secondary," Zrebiec wrote. "There's an inevitability to it. Jackson is just too explosive to keep down for too long, particularly by a team like the New York Jets."
That inevitability arrived in the third quarter with Jackson hitting Duvernay for his second touchdown and minutes later burying the dagger to wide receiver Rashod Bateman for his longest-ever completion by air yards.
Jackson's second touchdown caught the attention of the internet as Jackson appeared to throw a no-look pass to Duvernay. After the game, Jackson said that wasn't the case.
"I'm not playing street ball; I'm looking," Jackson said.
Ravens 2020 Draft Class Taking Third-Year Leap?
The Ravens entered the season with many keyed in on the rookies, but it was the 2020 draft class, led by defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, linebacker Patrick Queen and Duvernay that showed out against the Jets.
Madubuike set the tone early with the Ravens' first tackle for loss on the Jets' second drive. It's debatable if he left their backfield afterward.
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker: "We spent so much of summer 2021 hearing how the game had slowed down for Queen, how Madubuike flashed the quickness of a fearsome interior playmaker. All that appetite wetting for sophomore breakout seasons, and then it never quite happened for either player. So we stopped talking about them so much. We followed the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately rules of the hype cycle. One game against the Jets does not wipe away the uneven track records of these 2020 draft picks, but they sure played pretty well, didn't they?"
Russell Street Report’s Darin McCann: "Justin Madubuike and Michael Pierce were tremendous from the start — possibly the two best players on the field for this day… I thought Madubuike was MVP."
Many also couldn't help but notice Queen, who has been planning for a Year 3 breakout, flying across the field making plays.
Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Platko: "Queen made a number of tackles, flew around the ball and was regularly in the backfield…He made open-field tackles to prevent bigger gains after the catch and was not on the wrong end of any lapses in coverage. When Queen can pin his ears back and play free-flowing, that's usually when he's at his best – which was the case today."
Of course, Duvernay had a game to remember, scoring two big-time touchdowns.
Early Questions Regarding Pass Rush Answered Quickly
One of the biggest question marks entering Sunday's game for the Ravens was their pass rush. By the games' end, Madubuike, outside linebacker Justin Houston and the rest of the Ravens front responded with domination over the Jets porous offensive line. Baltimore tallied 11 quarterback hits and three sacks.
Hensley: "After hearing all offseason how pass rush was the biggest question mark (Baltimore ranked 22nd in sacks last season), the Ravens recorded three sacks (another was negated by a penalty) and nine quarterback hits in their reunion with Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco. Justin Houston continually crashed the edge, and Justin Madubuike collapsed the pocket from the middle. The Ravens, though, wreaked havoc against a Jets offensive line dealing with injuries."
Zrebiec: "It was to the credit of Mike Macdonald's defense that despite all of the offensive issues, the Ravens still led 10-3 at halftime. The defensive front dominated the Jets with Justin Madubuike playing one of the best games of his young career, Michael Pierce chasing Flacco around and Campbell making his presence known. Justin Houston got frequent pressure off the edge and inside linebacker Patrick Queen cleaned things up in the middle of the field."
Though the defensive line received their well-earned praise, veteran Houston made his presence felt with one tackle for loss, one sack and two quarterback hits.
PFF.com – "Defensive spotlight: Justin Houston tallied a game-high six pressures and terrorized the Jets' left side, which has been decimated by injuries. The veteran's 25% pass-rush win rate led the Ravens' defensive line."
Ravens Will Need to Work on Rushing Attack
There were few concerns regarding the Ravens' play as they exited MetLife Stadium, but the greatest among them was the struggle to get the run game going. Press Box’s Bo Smolka believes the Ravens are still missing the running back tandem of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.
"The Ravens expect the running game to be the centerpiece of this offense, but just as was the case last season, the absence of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards looked glaring once again, especially early," Smolka wrote.
Strangely, NFL.com’s Eric Edholm believes part of the run-game woes were due to … Jackson?
"Jackson was the Ravens' leading rusher at halftime -- with 4 yards on one carry. The team accumulated only 8 first-half rushing yards, the fewest in the Jackson era," Edholm wrote. "He rarely left the pocket early, limiting Jackson's scrambling possibilities…Baltimore has ranked third, first, first and second in the NFL in rushing yards since drafting Jackson, and he's clearly been a big part of that."