Late for Work 11/19: Monday Morning Quarterbacks Grade Lamar Jackson's First Start

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Ravens Run Wild Against Bengals

Anyone feeling good about yesterday’s 24-21 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals?

Hopefully, the Ravens Flock is feeling as happy this morning as I am sure Head Coach John Harbaugh is. The Ravens are now 5-5, and after variety of tiebreakers with four other teams that are .500, sit in the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoffs.

Here are a few takeaways from yesterday’s exciting victory:

Lamar Jackson enjoys an impressive debut.

There’s really only one place to start when discussing Baltimore’s victory yesterday. It was the beginning of a new era for the organization[space]… the era of having escalators in M&T Bank Stadium.

Oh yeah, and rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson started his first NFL game, too.

All kidding aside, Jackson did quite well against the Bengals. He finished with 150 yards passing, as well as 117 yards on the ground. USA Today’s Mike Jones described Jackson’s play as “a valiant effort. But his performance was anything but traditional.” CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora wrote, “As debuts go, it was worthy of celebration,” and Russell Street Report’s Todd Karpovich gave him an A for his performance.

Jackson was also highlighted as one of the Offensive Players of the Week by NBC Sports’ Peter King in his weekly “Football Morning in America” article.

Though Jackson’s mobility will get a lot of attention (he became the first quarterback to run for over 100 yards since 2016), The Ringer’s Danny Heifetz was most impressed by his throwing when under duress.

“He also looked poised under pressure and didn’t automatically try to run when chased by defenders,” Heifetz wrote. “Plays like this, in which Jackson scrambled to buy time and then converted a second-and-6 to receiver John Brown to put Baltimore in Justin Tucker range, were the most promising part of his debut.”

Another encouraging aspect of Jackson’s debut was his ability to handle the play-calling abilities. In college, Jackson and his Louisville teammates would look to the sidelines to have the play relayed to them.

PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz spoke with many members of the offensive line to see how Jackson handled communicating with his teammates. Though there were some hiccups that are to be expected with a rookie, Jackson “sounded like a confident player throughout the win.”

“It’s his first start, he’s probably a little nervous, and he’s got a ton to take care of as far as cadence, formation, which way the play is going and then on top of that, making great plays,” center Matt Skura said. “In the end, I thought he did a great job.”

Turns out Lamar Jackson is REALLY fast.

It may seem like a simple statement, but it’s very true: Jackson’s pure speed stood out during his first NFL start. He was easily the fastest player on the field, as many Bengals struggled at times to catch up to him throughout the game.

Not only was Jackson the fastest player on the field Sunday, but he put on a performance that’s speedy by the rest of the NFL’s standards. As Next Gen Stats noted, Jackson ran at least 15 miles per hour on 14 of his rushing attempts. No other player has hit 15 miles per hours in nine rushing attempts in a single game this season.

Lamar Jackson gets hit far too much.

Though it was undoubtedly a good debut for Jackson, some pundits pointed out what he could have done more effectively.

The critiques started during the Ravens’ first drive. While it was an impressive 75-yard drive entirely made up of run plays, The Athletic’s Ross Tucker immediately pointed out how many hits Jackson sustained.

This is not a new conversation. During the preseason, many pundits noted that Jackson needed to learn how to slide so as not to take big hits from defenders who would love nothing more than to get a clean shot at the quarterback.

Jackson himself commented on it, saying “hopefully I don’t have to use [my body] like that, just sit back and throw the ball.” In fact, his 27 carries were the most by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era, according to ESPN.

Though he definitely took more hits than the coaching staff would have wanted, Baltimore Beatdown’s Logan Levy thinks Jackson got better throughout the game.

“The other weakness he exhibited was his unwillingness to get out of bounds or protect himself,” Levy wrote. “As the game progressed, Jackson improved with his awareness. However, the NFL has shown that quarterbacks who continue this style of play do not have long careers in the NFL.”

Ravens run everywhere while Bengals run nowhere.

While the Ravens were having all kinds of success running the ball, the Bengals couldn’t get anything going on the ground. Cincinnati was held to just 48 yards rushing, though 29 of those came on two runs from quarterback Andy Dalton.

Running back Joe Mixon struggled mightily, finishing with 14 yards on 12 carries.

“To be fair, Mixon had nowhere to run all game, as the offensive line was driven back on nearly every snap where Andy Dalton handed the ball off to his running backs…,” CincyJungle’s John Sheeran wrote. “A lot of the offense’s troubles should be put on [Bengals] Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor, including his inability to get Mixon going.”

As a result of the Bengals offensive line struggling, the Ravens defensive line got plenty of kudos.

“Much of the credit goes to a group we often take for granted — the interior defensive line of Michael Pierce, Brandon Williams, Brent Urban and Chris Wormley,” The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. “None of them did a lot to mark the stat sheet. But look at the scouting grades from Pro Football Focus every week, and all four of them rate as solid (Wormley) to outstanding (Pierce) run defenders.”

Linebackers C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, and Terrell Suggs also got high marks for defending against the run from Pro Football Focus.

“The Ravens quickly shut down the Bengals running game with their ability to control the line of scrimmage,” PFF wrote. “The line’s ability to stack linemen at the point of attack forced backs to cut back into the waiting arms of their unblocked linebackers.”

Always appreciate Justin Tucker.

Sunday’s game was yet another example of why the Ravens Flock should never take kicker Justin Tucker for granted.

Tucker, who last week was voted the best kicker in the NFL by the Associated Press, made all of his extra points and was a perfect 3-for-3 on his field-[add]goal attempts, which included a remarkable 56-yard conversion just before halftime.

Bengals kicker Randy Bullock made all of his extra points as well, but missed his lone field goal attempt, a 51-yarder that would have tied the game at 24 with 3:59 left in the fourth quarter.

Though it was far from an easy kick, Bullock’s miss was a massive one, and put the Ravens in the driver’s seat to close out the victory. Tucker was able to convert his from five yards further, and those three points proved crucial.

New Look Offense Isn’t Popular with Everyone

The Ravens ran the ball more effectively and frequently than they have this season. Baltimore ran 54 rushing plays for 265 yards, while passing it just 19 times.

It was a startling change from the Ravens’ previous approach on offense, as the group entered this week with the NFL’s most passing attempts. And while the strategy proved effective against Cincinnati, some pundits don’t think it’s a strategy that can work in the modern NFL over an extended run of games.

“That ratio will not work against some of the high-octane offenses in the AFC,” Levy noted, while Russell Street Report’s John Darcey wrote “Yes, they moved the ball, but I felt like I was watching a college offense. NFL defensive coordinators will figure out how to stop that sooner rather than later.” Davis referred to Baltimore’s offense as having “the look and feel of a high school attack more than that of a professional offense.”

The number of running plays also irked some of the players. Harbaugh said wide receivers Willie Snead IV and Michael Crabtree both “got in my face” about not being as involved in the offense. As PressBox’s Bo Smolka put it, “The look of this offense did create some friction.”

Snead being overly-passionate isn’t surprising considering how hard he played throughout the game. He led the team with five catches for 51 yards including clinching a first down after battling to not be tackled by Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

As for how the offense performs moving forward, NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks thinks it’ll be interesting to see what Mornhinweg comes up with next.

Defense Improves Against the Short Pass

Baltimore’s defense certainly exorcised some demons in its performance against the Bengals, but some pundits still feel there’s reason for concern surrounding the unit. Citing the group giving up at least 20 points for the fourth straight week, and not forcing a turnover, RavensWire’s Wola Odeniran wrote Baltimore “still has work to do on defense.”

“Baltimore’s defense right now is inconsistent,” Odeniran wrote. “For one half, they could shut down an opposing offense, but allow three or four touchdowns in the following half.”

Odeniran’s point is valid; the Ravens would love to be creating more turnovers and shutting out opponents throughout an entire contest. The counter argument to it though is how difficult it is to be that dominant. Offenses are so dynamic and rules cater to that side of the ball as well, that it’s really difficult to keep teams to under 20 points, especially with some of the talented group the Ravens have gone up against recently.

Many other pundits found optimism from the defense’s effort, with Walker being encouraged by how the unit did better against the short passes from Dalton. It’s something the Ravens have struggled with this year, but they limited Dalton to completing just 19 of his 36 passing attempts for 211 yards.

As Walker put it, “The Ravens reasserted themselves on defense by focusing on the short pass.”

“The Ravens knew exactly how Dalton would come at them. He beat them with quick, underneath throws in Week 2, and other offenses did the same during their recent three-game losing streak,” Walker wrote. “[Cornerbacks Marlon] Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr said they would have to counter with tight, aggressive coverage off the line of scrimmage. By and large, they succeeded.”

Like Odeniran, Walker noted that this wasn’t as dominant a showing as the defense had earlier in the season against the likes of Buffalo or Tennessee. But it was an effective one, and one the Ravens sorely needed.

“They played the right game to complement Jackson’s ball-control offense,” Walker wrote.

PFF Offensive and Defensive Ratings

  • Running back Gus Edwards was given the best grade (4.4) for the Ravens on offense by PFF. Right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was given a 1.6, while Snead rounded out the top three with a 1.4.
  • Left guard Alex Lewis scored a -2.6, while Jackson was given a -2.2. Running back Javorius Allen scored a -1.7.
  • Mosley scored top marks on the defense with a 3.8. Pierce finished with a 3.2, while cornerback Brandon Carr was given a 2.7.
  • Cornerback Tavon Young scored a -0.7, while inside linebacker Chris Board as given a -0.5. Williams and inside linebacker Kenny Young both scored a -0.2. 

Quick Hits

  • PFF named Edwards, who finished with 115 yards rushing, as one of its “Week 11 Sunday Standouts: Offense.” “Edwards was a very hard man to bring down, coming away with the highest elusive rating of any running back in the NFL this week,” PFF’s Ben Linsey wrote. “He forced seven missed tackles on rushes to go along with a healthy 5.35 yards after contact per attempt.”

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