Separating Fact From Fiction About Lamar Jackson in Big Games
There are hot takes a plenty about Lamar Jackson after his four-turnover performance in the Ravens' 28-24 loss to the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, but let's take a moment to separate fact from fiction.
It's a fact that thus far Jackson has not played at the elite level he did for much of last season, when he set a single-season rushing record for a quarterback, led the NFL in touchdown passes and was named the second unanimous MVP in league history.
His statistics are down across the board, some dramatically so, such as completion percentage (66.1% last season, 60.5 percent this season) and QBR (league high 82.3 last season, 61.6 this season).
The other narrative coming out of the Steelers game is that Jackson can't win big games.
"I want you to consider this: Lamar Jackson is 24-1 against everyone else … 0-6 in his biggest games," ESPN's First Take's Max Kellerman said. "Two losses in the playoffs, three losses to Kansas City, and now a loss to Pittsburgh when they've had Roethlisberger. … So far in his NFL career, he has not been the same player when the lights shine brightest."
Sports Illustrated's Robin Lundberg expressed a similar sentiment.
"Lamar Jackson is a terrific player, but it's hard to truly consider him an elite quarterback until he starts performing better in big games," Lundberg wrote. "It'd be one thing if this was an isolated event, but Jackson struggling in marquee showdowns is starting to become a trend. He's 0-2 in the playoffs with five turnovers and Baltimore hasn't topped 20 points in those contests. Jackson is also 0-3 against the Kansas City Chiefs while failing to throw for 100 yards in the loss against them earlier this season. Playing poorly against division rival Pittsburgh only brings those facts into focus."
This take falls under the "fiction" category because Jackson has played in more big games than the six that were mentioned. There were more than a handful of big games among Jackson's 24 career wins, and he performed well in all of them. It's simply not fair to focus on the six losses and discount the victories.
Here's a look at what Jackson did in seven other "big games," all of which were Ravens victories:
Dec. 22, 2018: Ravens 22, Los Angeles Chargers 10: Baltimore needed a win on the road against the 9-3 Chargers in prime time to boost their chances of winning the AFC North. With the Ravens trailing by four points early in the third quarter, Jackson threw a beautiful pass to Mark Andrews for a momentum-shifting, 68-yard touchdown, and they led the rest of the way. Jackson did not commit a turnover and had the highest quarterback rating (100.9) of his seven starts that season.
Oct. 20, 2019: Ravens 30, Seahawks 16: Jackson outplayed fellow MVP candidate Russell Wilson in Seattle, as he rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown and did not commit a turnover in a game that was tied at halftime.
Nov. 3, 2019: Ravens 37, Patriots 20: New England came to town for Sunday Night Football with an 8-0 record and a defense that was allowing just 7.6 points per game. Jackson ran for two touchdowns, threw for another and did not commit a turnover.
Nov. 17, 2019: Ravens 41, Texans 7: In another matchup of marquee quarterbacks and first-place teams, Jackson outplayed Deshaun Watson, as Baltimore routed Houston. Jackson threw four touchdown passes, ran for 79 yards on 10 carries and did not commit a turnover.
Nov. 25, 2019: Ravens 45, Rams 6: On the road against the defending NFC champions on Monday Night Football, Jackson threw five touchdown passes, had 95 yards rushing on eight carries and did not commit a turnover.
Dec. 1, 2019: Ravens 20, 49ers 17: Facing 10-1 San Francisco, which would go on to the Super Bowl, Jackson led the Ravens to the game-winning field goal in a drive that ate up the final 6:28 of the game. Jackson ran for 101 yards and a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass in the rain, against one of the NFL's top defenses.
Dec. 8, 2019: Ravens 24, Bills 17: For the fourth time in six weeks, the Ravens played and defeated a team that would go on to make the playoffs. Jackson outplayed fellow 2018 first-round pick Josh Allen, throwing three touchdowns to win on the road against 9-3 Buffalo.
Should Ravens Be Run-Oriented or Expand Passing Game?
What approach should the Ravens take to combat how defenses are playing them? It depends on who you ask.
One school of thought is that the Ravens need to fully commit to the running game. Even though teams are stacking the box, the Ravens have the No. 1 rushing offense and just ran for 265 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry against the Steelers' vaunted run defense.
"Teams will continue to stack the box to make Jackson make plays through the air," Sports Illustrated's Todd Karpovich wrote. "However, if the Ravens can run against Pittsburgh, then they can have success against most teams."
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote: "I liked how [Offensive Coordinator Greg] Roman stuck to the run, even in a two-minute situation late in the second quarter. I also liked that after the Steelers started bottling up the Ravens' running game between the tackles in the third quarter, the Ravens adjusted and started doing some option stuff outside and that gained nice yardage."
On "Football Night in America" following the Ravens-Steelers game, NBC Sports' Rodney Harrison and Tony Dungy both said the Ravens need to be a run-oriented offense.
"It seems like [the Ravens] are trying to force Lamar to become this passer that passes for 350 yards, 400 yards instead of just settling for who he is, and running the football and playing good defense," Harrison said. "It almost feels like they feel so confident in the run and they say, 'You know what, we can run the football, but what we're going to do in the midst of this game, we're gonna try to really open up our passing game.'"
Said Dungy: "We've seen it against Kansas City and we've seen it against Pittsburgh," Dungy said. "I think they think, 'We've gotta do a little bit more, we've gotta score more, we're going to have to do something special,' instead of just doing what they do. They pounded the ball for 265 [yards], and had they run it a little more, they might have won the ballgame."
Conversely, some analysts believe the Ravens have to expand their passing game, which ranks 31st in the league. Specifically, Jackson needs to be more consistent throwing outside the hash marks.
Hall of Famer Steve Young, a mobile quarterback who developed into a strong passer, said Jackson is capable of doing the same.
"Look, I needed someone to tie my legs up, metaphorically and physically in some ways to go learn the sophisticated passing game," Young said. "And so in many ways he needs to do the same thing. He is capable of doing it, but it takes both sides to commit to it so that there's a space to go do it. If you're just waiting for Lamar to do it, how can he? The offense is not built to come back from more than 10 [points]."
Will Ravens Make a Deal Before Trade Deadline?
Before Sunday's game, it was believed the Ravens' biggest needs prior to today's 4 p.m. trading deadline were at wide receiver, tight end and the offensive line.
However, a season-ending injury to All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley as well as an injury to right guard Tyre Phillips exacerbated the offensive line situation, and All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey testing positive for COVID-19 was another blow to the depth in the secondary.
"Now down two starters from an offensive line that was already struggling, does [General Manager Eric] DeCosta make a deal to help that group?" Zrebiec wrote. "Are there any quality offensive linemen even available on the trade market?
"And then there's the team's suddenly thin cornerback group. Iman Marshall, Tavon Young and Anthony Averett are all on IR and Humphrey is now on the reserve/COVID-19 list. That's four of the team's top six projected corners, leaving Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith as the only healthy options."
Zrebiec said pulling off a deal to address those areas won't be easy.
"The Ravens already made one trade, acquiring pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue from the Minnesota Vikings for a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 conditional fifth-rounder," Zrebiec wrote. "The acquisition leaves the Ravens with less than $3 million of cap space and only five remaining 2020 draft picks.
"But DeCosta has shown he'll be aggressive and he's certainly still out on the market looking for a "right player, right price" type of deal. But how the Steelers' game played out, and the subsequent news on Humphrey, certainly complicates matters."