Has Lamar Jackson Shown Enough to Start Week 1 of 2019?
Baltimore's quarterback situation has gotten a lot of attention this week. Who is going to start this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons: the veteran Joe Flacco or rookie Lamar Jackson?
Though the team has not announced who it will be, it's starting to look like Sunday could be Jackson’s first road start of his career, with NFL Network’s Mike Garofolo reporting that Flacco has not been cleared to play (hip). Flacco also did not practice yesterday.
Though this Sunday is obviously a more pressing issue, ESPN decided to look at Jackson's role on the team a little further into the future, and pose this question: "Has [Jackson] shown enough to be a lock as [Baltimore's] Week 1 starter in 2019?"
Five different analysts gave their opinions, and the responses were varied.
Mike Clay and former Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth firmly put themselves in the "yes" camp.
"Jackson has benefited from facing a pair of struggling defenses while at home in his first two NFL starts, but he has shown well…," Clay wrote. "Baltimore couldn't have expected a much better start from the 21-year-old rookie. He's right on schedule to take over as the full-time starter in 2019."
To Foxworth, Jackson could have played better in his first two starts, but he has still done enough to claim the job.
"When the Ravens drafted Jackson and signed Robert Griffin as a backup, they decided that the future of this team was with Jackson," Foxworth wrote. "He has been OK in his two starts, showing flashes of greatness, and that will be enough to convince the staff of his potential. Even if he doesn't develop into a Pro Bowl-level quarterback, he can be at least as effective as Flacco – for a lot less of a cap hit."
The cap hit is a decent point. Flacco is a $26.5 million cap hit in 2019, and if the Ravens to move on from him at the end of the year, they could save $10.5 million. The savings total could also rise if the team moved on from Flacco after June 1. That's a good chunk of change that the front office could invest in another area of need for the team.
Still, two home starts against two of the most porous defenses in the NFL seems a little premature to designate Jackson the starter for next season. As mentioned earlier, he hasn't even started a game away from M&T Bank Stadium yet. Shouldn't the Ravens see Jackson in more difficult situations before handing him the reigns to their offense?
"The rest of the season will provide information that could influence the decision," Mike Sando wrote. "If Jackson plays terribly from this point forward, or if Flacco returns and leads a deep playoff run, the Ravens' thinking could change."
As for the other two analysts, both Kevin Seifert and Field Yates believe that Jackson has not shown enough yet to be penciled in as Baltimore's 2019 starter. Seifert pointed to Jackson's QBR from his first two games (39.1) as not being high enough to earn a starting gig.
Still, both predict that Jackson will be the team's starter by the start of next season, with Yates thinking it makes more sense financially.
"This is how the NFL works, especially at quarterback," Seifert wrote. "A first-rounder gets some playing time in his rookie year and, barring a complete collapse, is the starter by Year Two."
While that may be the usual trajectory for an NFL quarterback, a lot of times the incumbent starter isn't a former Super Bowl MVP. In Flacco, the Ravens have a very capable quarterback that has succeeded in the NFL should Jackson continue to start but not play well.
It should also be noted that Jackson himself doesn't believe he's done enough to be the offense's leader. When asked about that this past Sunday, Jackson replied "I don't feel like I've done enough. There's always room for improvement. We're in a good spot right now. We just have to keep winning."
If the Ravens do keep winning with Jackson at the helm, possibly including this Sunday in Atlanta, then the answer to ESPN's question might become a bit clearer.
Get Ready for the Running Backs to Catch Some Passes
A lot has been made about how Baltimore's rushing attack has gone from struggling to being one of the more dynamic units in the NFL over the past two weeks. While the Ravens will certainly want to keep that going against the Falcons, Russell Street Report’s Carey Stevenson thinks the team would be smart to give the running backs extra work in the passing game this week.
"The Falcons schematically ignore backs coming out of the backfield," Stevenson wrote. "For evidence, look no further than this: NFL teams target their RBs more versus Atlanta than any other team in the league. The Ravens should absolutely follow suit."
Ignoring is a strong word, but Stevenson has a point. Atlanta's 88 receptions allowed to running backs ranks first in the NFL, as well as the 104 targets. The Falcons have also allowed the second-most receiving yards to running back (695). For those of you who don't feel like pulling out your calculator, that's a whopping 7.89 yards per catch.
The past two weeks, undrafted rookie Gus Edwards has thrived in the lead running back role with 233 rushing yards. He didn't catch a pass over those two games though, so this would be an excellent opportunity to make him an even bigger threat.
"There's no doubt that Edwards' one-dimensional play won't last in today's pass-happy NFL if he aspires to be the Ravens' every-down back moving forward…," Pro Football Focus’ Austin Gayle wrote. "Edwards' strengths are shining bright as of late, which will surely give him the opportunity to improve on his faults as he continues to run over doubters and defenders alike."
As for which running back he would like to get some catches, Stevenson pointed to Alex Collins if he's healthy (foot).
"His power and shiftiness for a guy his size can create problems in the open field," Stevenson wrote. "Just send him on simple flat routes, giving him a chance to make something happen after the catch makes sense."
This would also be a fantastic opportunity to integrate Javorius Allen back into the offense. Allen was on the field for one snap last week, but his 35 catches are more than all other Ravens running backs combined (21).
Lastly, Stevenson also thinks Ty Montgomery could make an impact, like he did against Oakland when he caught three passes for 13 yards.
"Montgomery is far more comfortable and versatile in the passing game and his role grew substantially last week," Stevenson wrote. "He could settle into being more of a staple for the rest of the year."
Yes, I did just name the four running backs on the active roster as potential answers, but the Ravens have a lot of options. It's a good problem to have.
John Brown Wants to Shake the November Blues
If there's one Raven who is ready to say goodbye to November, it has to be wide receiver John Brown. Brown had a dynamite start to the season but stalled in November, finishing with five catches for 63 yards and no touchdowns.
Despite the falloff, Brown still leads the team in receiving yards (649) and receiving touchdowns (four 4), which is a real statement about how dynamic he was in September and October. Brown is hoping to add December to that list.
"It's just due to the fact of teams with their schemes and not getting many opportunities," Brown said to The Baltimore Sun’s Edward Lee. "But I think we've got something in the plan."
As for why Brown's production has dipped, Lee theorized that it "could be linked to a shift in the team's offensive strategy." The team simply hasn't been throwing the ball as much with Jackson (18 attempts per game) under center than with Flacco (42.1 attempts per game). Though less passes in general might be contributing to it, Brown isn't buying into that idea.
"With Lamar being in, teams have been giving me the one-on-ones," he said. "We just haven't been taking advantage of the opportunities."
It should be noted that against Oakland the two did link up on a gorgeous pass 45-yard pass that was called back for a holding penalty.
Jackson expressed his frustration that the connection was negated yesterday, and followed it up by saying "There was a lot of passes I felt I should've got to him, put it on him [so] he can get more receptions, [more] involved, instead of just targets. So, we're going to work hard in practice, and we'll try to execute in-game."
Kenny Young Talks Russell Westbrook Comparisons and Wanting to Sack Tom Brady
So, do you think inside linebacker Kenny Young looks like the Oklahoma City Thunder's All-Star guard Russell Westbrook? Young delved into the topic during a recent interview on Fox Sports One's "Fair Game with Kristine Leahy," and revealed that it's a comparison he has heard for years from family members.
In fact, Young had the chance to ask Westbrook his thoughts on the subject. Both attended UCLA, and the two bumped into each other after one of Young's football practices as Westbrook was getting into his car. Young didn't waste the opportunity and asked the 2017 NBA MVP if he thought they looked alike.
"I said 'Hey man, they said you look like me.' He responded 'Nah, you look like me,' and drove off," Young said with a laugh.
Pretty clever response from Westbrook. But you be the judge: do you think Young and Westbrook look alike?
Young's interview with Leahy covered a variety of topics, including what it was like to become a Raven after idolizing Ray Lewis as a kid, getting advice from Ed Reed, and being on the receiving end of a prank he suspects was devised by outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Young also spoke about how exciting his first NFL sack was, and how he hopes to take down New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady before the 41-year-old retires.
"You gotta get the GOAT, man," Young said. "I'm going to take a big fat picture [of the sack] and put it up in my room."
- The Ravens recently hosted Frankie Collurafici, who is battling brain cancer, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Frankie signed a one-day contract, participated in practice, met a plethora of Ravens and was even introduced through the tunnel at this past Sunday's game. The Ravens put together an awesome behind-the-scenes video of Frankie's experience, and it became an instant hit online. The whole Ravens Flock is supporting Frankie!
- PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz believes wide receiver Chris Moore will be a key player this Sunday, and could be in line to make an impact similarly to punt returner Cyrus Jones last week. "Moore's been close to breaking off a few big kickoff returns in recent games," Kasinitz wrote. "Maybe he'll make a momentum-shifting special teams play Sunday. And on offense, Moore gives the Ravens another playmaker they can use in the short passing game or on reverses, which is especially helpful with Jackson at quarterback."
- When asked who the biggest fantasy football flop in the NFL would be this week, Clay responded with Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. "The Falcons' offense has totaled five touchdowns the past three games," Clay wrote. "Ryan faces a Baltimore defense this week that hasn't allowed a quarterback to eclipse two passing touchdowns in a game since Week 2."