Lamar Jackson Deserves to be in the MVP Conversation
As opponents continue to stack the box to defend the Ravens' rushing attack, Lamar Jackson and Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman turned to the air for the second-straight game.
With connections clicking between Jackson and his receivers, and the Ravens overcoming a slew of injuries, should Jackson be getting more buzz regarding early MVP-talk?
After his performance against the Broncos, Jackson is now on pace to smash his single-season passing yards by 1,450 yards, while also rushing for nearly 1,200 yards. The quarterback rushing record, the record he set in 2019, stands at 1,206 yards.
PFF’s Sam Monson saw this game as another outing in which Jackson had to carry the offense.
"Lamar Jackson had to carry the offense once again this week, but it was far more as a passer than on the ground," Monson wrote. "Baltimore needed to run one final play rather than take a knee to keep their streak of 100-yard rushing performances as a team alive, so Jackson attempted 37 passes, completing 22 for 316 yards. The Ravens averaged a massive 0.300 EPA per passing play, and Jackson maintained his incredibly high average depth of target at 12.7 yards in this game."
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker was impressed with Jackson's throwing and how he's adapted to games with his arm.
"Jackson missed on some of his other downfield attempts, but he doesn't have to be perfect when there's so much upside to each throw," Walker said. "He also did a good job adapting to game situations as he took the shorter throws the defense gave him on two second-half scoring drives that, combined, ate up more than 12 minutes. If Jackson can control games in this fashion and the defense can prevent chunk plays to the degree it did in Denver, the Ravens are going to claim their customary spot in the middle of the AFC gold rush."
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec also noted Jackson's passing these past couple weeks.
"For the second consecutive week, Jackson was on point with his accuracy and decision-making," Zrebiec wrote. "He completed 22-of-37 passes and the 316 passing yards were 8 short of tying his career high. In the past two weeks, Jackson has two of the top three passing games in his career, and he would have consecutive 300 yards passing games had the receivers held on to the ball last week."
This production by Jackson has come without many of their top offensive players on the field. The Ravens have the second-most salary cap on injured reserve ($33.7 million), and are tied for the most players on injured reserve (18) with the Dallas Cowboys.
Moreover, the Ravens offensive line is drawing comparisons to being "glued together," by NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread, yet Jackson is elusive as ever.
"Denver flipped star pass rusher Von Miller to the other side of the line to match him up with Villanueva's replacement, veteran backup Andre Smith," Goodbread wrote. "And although Smith looked overmatched at times, the recipe for disaster didn't really manifest, thanks in part to Lamar Jackson's status as the league's most elusive quarterback. The Broncos blitzed on 65% of dropbacks, their most in a single game in the Next Gen Stats era, yet managed to pressure Jackson on just 16% of their blitzes."
Prior to the Broncos game, Jackson was given the ninth-best odds to win the NFL MVP, according to oddsshark.com (+1600). It will be interesting to see if/how much this will improve following his performance in Week 4.
Is Officiating Different for Jackson?
Throughout the Ravens and Broncos matchup, multiple occasions of questionable officiating were on display. Both Jackson and Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater were hit either late or in the helmet and referees chose not to throw a flag.
The lack of calls, specifically for Jackson, have many asking why defenders aren't being penalized when hitting Jackson late, high or low, like they'd expect if he were a different quarterback.
This has been an issue for "running" quarterbacks for some time now, as both Cam Newton and Michael Vick didn't seem to get the same calls as other quarterbacks in the NFL throughout their tenure. Newton even went as far to say he “didn’t feel safe” at times.
After the game, Jackson talked about his touchdown pass to Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and the hit he took.
"I'm thinking it's going to be a flag. I didn't really care about the ball in the air at that time," Jackson said. "I just got hit when I threw the ball so I'm looking for the flag and I'm just hearing cheering. . . then I wasn't mad about the late hit anymore."
The commentary on this game appears to contradict the comments Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady said on officiating two weeks ago on the Let’s Go! Podcast.
"I think they're [now] calling more penalties on defensive players for hitting, you know, for violent contact," Brady said. "There's a lot of plays and hits that are happening on quarterbacks now, that are flags for defensive players, that probably weren't that way 10 or 15 years ago."
So, if the officiating is penalizing defensive players more for hits on quarterbacks now, why is Jackson not getting the benefit of these calls like Brady is saying?
Did the Ravens Turn the Corner on Tackling Issues?
Early in the first quarter, the Ravens' tackling issues reared their ugly head as Broncos running back Javonte Williams shed multiple tacklers before carrying cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Many were quick to note this has been a recurring issue for the Ravens this season. It was also noted in last week's LFW.
But after the porous first quarter, the Ravens appeared to turn the corner with a physical brand of football, including big hits.
While there is still room for improvement, this is a far better result than last week's outing against the Detroit Lions, who attacked the Ravens in the open field with running back De'Andre Swift to gain more yards after the catch.
Broncos' Sideline Upset with Ravens' Final Play to Tie Rushing Record; Media Loved It
After cornerback Anthony Averett intercepted Broncos quarterback Drew Lock's pass, the Ravens were a kneel-down away from ending the game.
But rather than Jackson losing a rushing yard on the play, Jackson received the snap and gained five rushing yards, which surpassed 100 rushing yards for the team and continued the Ravens' streak of games rushing for 100+ rushing yards (43 games).
Head Coach John Harbaugh explained his decision, saying the record means something to the players and coaches involved. The response from the media has been entertaining to say the least.
According to 9News Mike Klis, the Broncos sideline was audibly upset about the play call, with Broncos Defensive Line Coach Bill Kollar yelling obscenities, along with Broncos defensive lineman Shelby Harris.
"Broncos head coach Vic Fangio was upset enough he moved down to the line of scrimmage at the 20 yard line and tried to get his defensive backs, who were in a relaxed state anticipating the kneel down, to move up into the play," Klis wrote. "When Jackson rushed for 5 yards to surpass 100 yards, Fangio threw down his headsets in disgust."
The media reaction was the opposite of disgust, with some "loving" the decision from Harbaugh.