What Would a Lamar Jackson-Led Offense Look Like?
Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson potentially getting his first NFL start this Sunday has been a major storyline in the media this week. Jackson commented on the possibility of starting, saying "It’d be awesome" if he got the opportunity. His teammates also expressed that they have the utmost faith that Jackson would do well if given the opportunity.
It should be made clear that Jackson has not been named this week's starter. Quarterback Joe Flacco could start, and Robert Griffin III remains an option as well. Head Coach John Harbaugh even said earlier this week "If Joe can play, he'll play."
Still, a lot has been said and written about Jackson's chances of starting, but what it would mean for the offense isn't a topic that has been delved into much. NFL Network's Nate Burleson, during "Good Morning Football," said "the offense that they can build around him, that's what gives me excitement."
As far as what that offense would look like, Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit weighed in on the subject during an appearance on Glenn Clark Radio, and he stressed the importance of limiting the number of throwing options for Jackson.
When dealing with a rookie quarterback, Benoit feels it's best to simplify an offense so as to not overwhelm him with where to put the football.
"The question becomes, can we run a simplified passing game out of different formations because you have to create the illusion of complexity," Benoit said. "I would imagine that Jackson is not ready to just line up and be an every-down, drop-back quarterback, so you have to ease him along. … You would limit the number of reads in his progression. If options one and two aren't there, then he'd be taught to run."
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer took a crack at it too, and one of his major takeaways is that the Ravens are going to run the ball more with Jackson than they have with Flacco.
Baltimore has passed on 63.9 percent of its plays this season, which is eighth-most in the NFL. As Shaffer notes, the Ravens have run the ball a whopping 71.4 percent of the time that Jackson has been under center when excluding run-pass options (RPOs). That percentage will probably go down, but the team's ratio will certainly be closer to even.
Another way Shaffer theorized that the offense may change with Jackson quarterbacking is by having less two tight end sets, and instead bringing in a third wide receiver. With Jackson being so mobile, Shaffer thinks more wide receivers and fewer tight ends would create mismatches for the offense.
"If the defense decides to stay in its base package, fearing the threat of Jackson's read-option runs, the Ravens can find a linebacker matched up with a wideout in coverage," Shaffer wrote. "If the defense is so concerned with its coverage ability or speed that it brings in extra defensive backs, the Ravens can take their chances on the ground against an outnumbered defensive front."
RPOs would also probably be featured more than in the previous offense, but Shaffer doesn't think they'll be used as much as some folks may think. The offense Jackson ran at Louisville in college utilized RPOs, but they weren't the focus of it. Jackson has run a few of them thus far this season and Shaffer has been impressed, writing "Jackson has done enough to make the threat of regular RPOs terrifying for defenses."
One final aspect of a Jackson-led offense that Shaffer believes will be prevalent is mistakes. Though Jackson is a very talented player with a lot of potential, he's still just a rookie.
A quarterback that Jackson is frequently compared to is Michael Vick. As Shaffer pointed out, Vick started just two games as a rookie. He completed under 45 percent of his passes, and threw three interceptions to two touchdowns.
Whenever Jackson makes his first start, there will definitely be growing pains. The hope is that he will learn from them and continue to progress towards becoming the quarterback the Ravens believe he can be.
Joe Flacco's Future Adds Intrigue to Sunday's Game
Sunday's game isn't just important for the Ravens' playoffs prospects. It could also have a major impact on Flacco's future in Baltimore – at least according to media.
If the Ravens lose Sunday, they will be 4-6, and essentially three games behind Cincinnati because of tiebreakers. Should that happen, ESPN believes the Ravens would be smart to name Jackson the starter and see where he is in his development.
However, if the Ravens win Sunday, the team remains very much in the playoff hunt.
"From Flacco's standpoint, Sunday's game might represent his last chance at holding on to his starting job," ESPN wrote.
Adding to the drama is Flacco's hip injury. He did not practice on Wednesday, but Harbaugh did say earlier this week that because of Flacco's experience, he doesn't need to practice to be an option on Sunday. Make no mistake, if Flacco can play with his injury on Sunday, he will. Throughout his career, his toughness has always been one of his strengths.
If Flacco does play this Sunday and the Ravens win, ESPN believes he'd have a "prime opportunity to get his season back on track and perhaps remain Baltimore's starter in 2019."
"Over the final seven games, the Ravens will face pass defenses all ranked in the bottom half of the NFL, including five of the six worst in the league (Cleveland, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Cincinnati)," ESPN wrote. "The Bengals are the only defense that's giving up over 300 yards passing per game. It could prove difficult for the Ravens to move on from Flacco if he finishes strong and leads Baltimore to the playoffs."
If he cannot play this Sunday and Jackson starts, The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec doesn’t see an outcome where Flacco gets his starting job back for this season.
"If Jackson plays well in a victory Sunday, you can't possibly think about sending him to the bench the following week if/when Flacco is considered healthy enough to return, can you?" Zrebiec asked. "If the Ravens lose Sunday, Jackson will get an opportunity to start sooner rather than later."
That being said, Zrebiec does believe Flacco could return in 2019. As he points out, one scenario is "Jackson looking overmatched and not ready for primetime, and the Ravens suddenly have to think about keeping Flacco for another year."
There's a wide range of outcomes that could arise as a result of Sunday's game. Flacco could put himself on track to be the team's starter for the rest of this season, and possibly 2019 as well. He could also lose his starting job entirely.
"This has become the biggest swing game in Flacco's 11-year career," ESPN wrote.
Marvin Lewis Hopeful to Have A.J. Green This Sunday
Harbaugh didn't provide any insight for the Bengals yesterday regarding who may be playing at quarterback for Baltimore on Sunday.
"I really don't feel like we owe anybody any answers, so we're just getting ready for the game," Harbaugh said.
The response is unsurprising because the Ravens won't get any additional points added to their final total on Sunday by revealing who is starting this early. The Ravens have an air of mystery around them at the moment and playing into it might just give them a competitive advantage.
That being said, it doesn't mean the Bengals can't respond with some gamesmanship of their own. During his conference call with Baltimore reporters yesterday, Cincinnati Head Coach Marvin Lewis was asked about Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, who missed last game with a toe injury and was expected by many to be out until December. His response was unexpectedly optimistic about Green's chances of playing this week.
"We lose another guy that makes plays for us, but hopefully we get him out there on Sunday," Lewis said.
Who knows if Green actually has a chance of playing this week? He didn't practice yesterday, but by not ruling Green out, the Ravens presumably have to spend some time preparing for him.
Green not playing would be a big blow for the Bengals. He scored three touchdowns in the teams' Week 2 encounter and has regularly done damage to the Ravens before that game. In his first game without Green this season, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw for just 153 yards against the New Orleans Saints.
Interior Offensive Linemen Need to Slow Geno Atkins
One of the keys to Cincinnati's Week 2 victory over the Ravens was the play in the trenches. The Cincinnati defensive line definitely won the matchup that day, and were able to slow Baltimore's offense as a result.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins was the catalyst for that display, finishing with five tackles and two sacks. It wasn't just the end product for the six-time Pro Bowler though, as he was able to regularly push whichever Raven was blocking him back into Flacco's pocket.
That can't happen if Baltimore wants to avoid a defeat, and as a result, many pundits are naming interior offensive linemen among their most important Ravens for this Sunday's contest. PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz pointed to left guard Alex Lewis, writing "The Ravens will count on him to play a large role in keeping the Bengals' best defender from mucking up their game plan."
Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler thinks the task of slowing Atkins will also fall to center Matt Skura. In fact, Schisler wrote, "Skura having a good game is really the biggest key of the week."
In actuality, Lewis, Skura and right guard Marshal Yanda will probably all spend time dealing with Atkins on Sunday. Regardless of which one lines up against him on a given play, Atkins can't have a similar performance as he did earlier this season.
"The Ravens can't win this game if the Bengals defensive front has the same impact they had in Week 2," Schisler wrote.
- The cover story of PressBox's November print edition was a profile of Yanda by David Ginsburg. The story covers a variety of topics, including how growing up on a farm has impacted Yanda years later. "I always tell people, growing up on a farm showed me the value of a good work ethic and most definitely shaped my life to this day," Yanda said. "You're always working hard toward things you want to accomplish, and there's always a job to do every single day."
- Cornerback Brandon Carr was profiled in PressBox’s print edition by Bo Smolka. "He's just a consummate pro," secondary coach Chris Hewitt said. "He's going to do all the right things and all the little things to prepare himself to go out there and go play on Sunday. And the way he prepares throughout the week, it trickles down to everybody else on our secondary. Having guys like him, it's huge."
- Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith was included in Pro Football Focus' "32 NFL Observations, Week 10." "Smith has produced 16 quarterback pressures on third down, which is tied for third-most among all edge defenders," Nathan Jahnke wrote.