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How Lamar Jackson And the Ravens are Feasting on Off-Script Plays

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) scrambles from San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) scrambles from San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023.

When Isaiah Likely threw his hand up as Lamar Jackson escaped the pocket to his left against the 49ers, Likely didn't actually think Jackson would throw the ball to him.

"I just threw my hand up trying to get his attention and he still threw it to get the completion. That's just like an awe play," Likely said Wednesday.

"I don't think any other quarterback in the league would throw that."

Under first-year Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken, the Ravens offense has become significantly more potent and efficient through the air. While much of this is happening just as it's drawn up, Jackson and the Ravens offense has been getting huge chunks from extended plays.

Last week, Monken described Jackson as a "two-play quarterback" and that's something the Ravens are leaning more into down the stretch.

"To me, we're unique. They have to defend the first play, and they have to defend the second play," Monken said. "With a guy like Lamar, there isn't one pass play we're going to call more often than scramble."

Monken said the Ravens must continue to work to be "elite" in terms of their scramble rules. If they do that, not even some of the best defenses such as the San Francisco 49ers or the upcoming Miami Dolphins can keep up with them.

Those teams execute a great scheme, but when things break down, it can become a game of backyard football and the other guys are in chase mode, not knowing where the receiver is going next. Winning in that mode is something the Ravens are working on in practice.

"It's just uncovering yourself," Likely said. "When you get out of your initial route, you'll look back and see the quarterback. If he's not looking to your side or the ball is not in your hands, you have to have a sense of urgency to uncover. You have to get in L's vision and make a play for him.

"It's understanding that the play is never over until the whistle blows. Watching it on TV is not the same as seeing it in person. (Lamar) gets out of any situation he's in. It's always remembering that you're alive because he sees everything."

Jaguars defensive end Dawuane Smoot clearly couldn't believe Jackson heaved a deep ball to Likely despite nearly getting his head taken off last week in Jacksonville.

The 49ers have a ferocious pass rush and one of the best in the game in Nick Bosa, and he too was left impressed by Jackson's ability to escape pressure and make plays.

"I think he adjusted how he played throughout the year on tape," Bosa said. "He was sitting in the pocket and read well in the pocket tonight. I think he was looking for that escape lane quicker, and then finding the guys downfield. The way he could change the way he played was super impressive."

Jackson said he feels comfortable in the pocket this season, even when there's pressure all around him. Though there have been some games with significant pressure off the edges, the interior blockers have often created a bubble for Jackson to operate in (or out).

Jackson had an average time to throw of 3.11 seconds against the 49ers and was sacked just twice. Against the Jaguars, Jackson had an average of 3.80 seconds to throw – the second-longest of his career.

Part of that is because Jackson is the one eluding pressure, but he's not patting himself on the back for his unscripted plays.

"I'm comfortable, but I critique myself more than anybody else would," Jackson said. "I pretty much go back and watch old games [that] we lost, not the games we won, and see mistakes I might have had or things I may not have seen during the game and pretty much just get a feel for the game when I'm in it now. That's just how I go about things."

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