Was Lamar Jackson's Performance Against the Browns His Best Game Ever?
After Lamar Jackson led the Ravens to 28 points against the top-ranked Browns defense in Baltimore's convincing win in Cleveland Sunday, he was asked in the post-game press conference if the offense had made a statement.
"No, not really," Jackson said. "There's still room to grow for us. We're still building."
That's a scary proposition for opposing defenses because Jackson is playing some of the best football of his career, and that's saying something for a former unanimous league MVP.
Against the Browns, Jackson was 15-of-19 with two touchdown passes, no interceptions, and a 142.5 rating. He also ran for two touchdowns.
"That looked like the best game Lamar has ever played," Ty Schmit said on "The Pat McAfee Show."
Schmit was especially impressed by Jackson's "unbelievable" 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mark Andrews in the back of the end zone.
"This could be the greatest throw that he's ever had," Schmit said. "He's on the run, he's fading away, it's over three Browns defenders into a bucket in the back corner of the end zone for a touchdown. If he's playing like this the entire year, they're going to be very, very hard to beat."
The Ringer’s Ben Solak said Jackson is in peak form and noted that first-year coordinator Todd Monken's offense has made the Ravens quarterback even more of a dual threat than he was in former Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's run-heavy offense. Again, that's saying something, as Jackson is arguably the greatest running quarterback of all time.
"Jackson is so effective on his own as an athlete that it's actually a waste to throw all those tight ends on the field, add defenders to the box, and introduce tons of moving parts to a finely tuned running game," Solak wrote. "It is better to just let Jackson's gravity work for itself. The Browns run defense walked into the Ravens game on Sunday with a 78 percent success rate; against Baltimore, the success rate was just 68 percent.
"Why? Because of how easy Jackson makes the job. Jim Schwartz's defense always lines up with four down linemen and wide defensive ends — but because Jackson is a threat to keep the ball on any running down, the Ravens could leave one of those ends unblocked and get big double-teams on the interior. That end has to respect the Jackson threat (as well as the motion), and huge lanes open up for running backs Gus Edwards and Justice Hill."
One of the most dramatic improvements in the Ravens offense is in red-zone scoring percentage. Baltimore has scored touchdowns on 12 of 15 trips in the red zone for a league-best 80% success rate. Last season, the Ravens were 30th (44%).
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley attributed much of the Ravens' success in the red zone this season to Jackson's dual-threat ability keeping defenses guessing.
"Jackson is only the fourth quarterback over the last 10 seasons with at least four rushing and four passing touchdowns in the first four weeks of the regular season," Hensley wrote. "His four touchdown runs in the red zone are already double his total from all of last season."
Brandon Stephens Has Boosted Ravens' Secondary
There were concerns about the Ravens' secondary heading into the season, and that was before three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey underwent foot surgery and starting safety Marcus Williams went down in Week 1 with a pec injury (Both are expected back soon.)
However, the secondary has more than held up its end thus far for the NFL's third-ranked defense.
"Four weeks in, they're No. 1 in net yards-per-passing attempt (3.7), better than the No. 2 Browns (4.2)," The Baltimore Banner's Kyle Goon wrote. "They've allowed just three passing touchdowns, tied for second-best in the league. They've had this success despite a lower-than-average amount of pressure on quarterbacks (16.5% quarterback pressures per dropback)."
Goon credited cornerback Brandon Stephens for stepping up in Humphrey's absence.
"Stephens has arguably been the Ravens' best cover corner with Marlon Humphrey out," Goon wrote. "His Week 4 performance added to his case: Not only did he secure an impressive tip interception that he ran back for a huge return, but he was key in helping hold Amari Cooper to just one catch for 16 yards. Cooper lined up for nearly half his snaps against Stephens, but wasn't targeted once when Stephens was in coverage against him, according to the NFL's Next Gen stats.
"While Stephens was definitely at the forefront thanks to his interception, it's a great sign for a DB to not be mentioned at all otherwise. The Ravens are hoping for some of their injured backs to heal soon, but in the meantime, he's been a great option, and the Ravens have more than held their own."
Head Coach John Harbaugh said yesterday that the versatile Stephens, who has played both cornerback and safety, will remain at cornerback when Humphrey returns to the field.
"It's nice to have the flexibility, but he's doing such a great job there," Harbaugh said.
Steelers QB Kenny Pickett Reportedly Might Play Against Ravens
After Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett suffered a knee injury during Sunday's loss to the Houston Texans, it was initially reported that he was expected to miss this Sunday's game against the Ravens.
However, ESPN's Adam Schefter subsequently reported that Pickett has a chance to play this week.
"Pickett could try to push this week vs. Baltimore but the team also knows it has a bye the next week and could opt to rest him," Schefter wrote.
If Pickett is sidelined against the Ravens, Mitch Trubisky would start. It would be the third consecutive week the Ravens have faced a backup quarterback.
In other Steelers injury news, starting tight end Pat Freiermuth reportedly is expected to miss two to three weeks with a hamstring injury.
ESPN Pundit Says Justin Madubuike Is Going to Get Paid
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler looked at which free agents-to-be have helped themselves in their next contracts, and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike was among them.
"He's an anchor for the Ravens' disruptive 3-4 front," Fowler wrote. "Baltimore's defensive linemen don't always put up gaudy stats, but Madubuike has a respectable 17.5 run stuffs over the last two-plus years along with 7.5 sacks since 2022. Several evaluators say he could earn more money than people think."
Madubuike, who has started 31 games over the past two-plus seasons, has improved every year since the Ravens selected him in the third round in 2020.
- Andrews and cornerback Arthur Maulet made Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week.