Bill Polian Says He Was Wrong About Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson's dazzling performance in leading the Ravens to a 17-point victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football converted one prominent doubter, but another doubled down on his doubt.
Hall of Fame executive and ESPN analyst Bill Polian admitted he was wrong when said in the past that Jackson was better suited to be a wide receiver in the NFL than a quarterback.
"I was wrong, because I used the old, traditional quarterback standard with him, which is clearly why Ravens Head Coach] John Harbaugh and [former Ravens General Manager] Ozzie Newsome were more prescient than I was,” [Polian told USA Today’s Jarrett Bell. "And [Ravens Offensive Coordinator] Greg [Roman] found a way in how he's developed a system to use those dynamic skills. Bottom line, I was wrong."
Polian went so far as to say that Jackson has redefined the quarterback position.
"The definition has changed, no question," Polian said. "What he's doing is amazing."
As a testament to how perceptions of Jackson have changed from his rookie year to his second season, Pro Football Talk’s Chris Simms ranked him at No. 30 in his preseason quarterback rankings, but has him at No. 5 at the midseason point.
In the preseason, Jackson was ranked behind fellow 2018 first-round picks Baker Mayfield (17), Sam Darnold (22) and Josh Allen (23), as well as veterans such as Joe Flacco (25), Andy Dalton (26) and Marcus Mariota (29).
"The things he's doing are special," Simms said. "It might not look like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or anything like that; it's a different skill set. But it is special and they've built an offense around him, and only a guy like him can really pull it off."
On the other end of the spectrum is former NFL coach Eric Mangini, who said on Fox Sports' "Speak for Yourself" that he was "impressed by Baltimore by some degree" against the Patriots, but reiterated his belief that Jackson's style of play is not sustainable.
"If this is how you want to play football and you want to take your quarterback and turn him into a running back who also happens to pass every now and then, then that's great. You can't sustain it," said Mangini, who had a 33-47 record as a head coach with the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns.
"There's a lot of good young running quarterbacks, there aren't very many good old ones. When you consistently expose a player like that to hit after hit, it's the law of averages in the NFL and it's going to catch up to you."
When Mangini talks about Jackson taking "hit after hit," it makes me question how often he's watched Jackson play. It also makes me wonder if he's seen some of the brutal hits quarterbacks who are pocket passers take.
Jackson addressed the notion that that he's taking too many hits with Mike Tirico of NBC's "Football Night in America" before the Patriots game.
"Gotta watch the game up close. I'm not really taking no hits," Jackson said. "You can get hurt in practice on a dropback. Knock on wood. … So you can get hurt doing anything. It don't matter if you're running."
"I play ball to win. I don't worry about getting injured," Jackson told Tirico. "I'm going to play ball. And I'm going to do what got me here to help me succeed [and] help my team keep winning. That's all I can do. I can't stop you guys from saying nothing."
On a side note, Mangini and the rest of the "Speak for Yourself" crew — Jason Whitlock, Tony Gonzalez and Marcellus Wiley — all agreed that the Patriots were more impressive than the Ravens Sunday night. No, I'm not kidding.
Roman Hailed as One of NFL's 'Greatest Offensive Minds'
As noted by Polian, it's not just the phenomenal skills of Jackson — as well as others — who are responsible for the overwhelming success of the Ravens offense, which ranks No. 2 overall (427 yards per game) and No. 1 in rushing (204.9 yards per game).
A significant amount of credit also goes to Roman for being the architect of the offense and calling the plays. To that point, Roman was ranked No. 3 on Pro Football Focus’ list of the league's top offensive play-callers.
"In terms of creativity and uniqueness, it's difficult to find an offense as varied as Baltimore's, and this allows them to have success despite a relatively high designed run rate," PFF's Eric Eager and George Chahrouri wrote. "Against New England Sunday night, the Ravens ran the ball on 40 of 67 offensive plays but picked up 124 rushing yards before contact against the league's highest-ranked defense."
PFF pointed to the Ravens' heavy usage of their tight ends as one of the keys to the offense's productivity.
"One of the reasons [Jackson has] been so effective is the number of targets he's allocating to tight ends (44 percent, highest in the NFL), which we've shown to be the most-efficient targets in the NFL, and another feather in the cap for Roman as one of the league's greatest offensive minds," Eager and Chahrouri wrote.
2018 Draft Class May Be One of Newsome's Greatest
Newsome had a lot of great drafts during his 23-year run as Ravens General Manager. There may be no topping his first in 1996 with Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, but his final class in 2018 may prove to be one of his greatest, writes Russell Street Report’s Dev Panchwagh.
Obviously, it all starts with MVP candidate Jackson, who the Ravens selected in the first round at No. 32 overall, but there are a number of others from the 2018 class making major contributions.
To illustrate his point, Panchwagh highlighted the performances of several players against the Patriots Sunday night.
Here's a sampling of what he wrote:
First-round pick Hayden Hurst: "Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman ran a heavy combination of three tight-end looks Sunday, and Hurst was largely his major chess piece to flank out wide, move around, and create mismatch opportunities and blocking angles against the New England defensive backs."[quote]
Third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr.: "Brown and his offensive line mates had their way upfront against New England, to the tune of 210 rushing yards. The line set the tone all night and Brown has already shown his mean streak on power runs to his side. He was rooting players off the ball and sliding them laterally on a few of Mark Ingram's key cuts. Zeus Jr. has clearly surpassed his draft status and now looks to be one of the biggest steals of that draft."
Third-round pick Mark Andrews: "The Patriots were determined to take Andrews out of the game. He had a quiet night, but his most critical catch reflects his importance to the pass offense and Jackson in particular – an impressive 18-yard snag on a critical third down where he climbed up above the defensive back to secure the ball. … On the whole, Andrews has all the ability to be every bit as good of a pass catcher as a Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz in this league. He's well on his way to that path, especially with the connection he's formed with Jackson."
Sixth-round pick Bradley Bozeman: "Bozeman and guard Marshal Yanda were mashing the Patriots all night long on inside runs. Overall, Bozeman has really established himself quite nicely at the left guard position."
Undrafted free agent Gus Edwards: "He had seven carries for 27 yards [including a 12-yard touchdown]. But Edwards was a calming influence and reliable ball-carrier for the coaches to lean on. … As an inside runner, Edwards continues to be a battering ram. He continues to be among the best No. 2 backs in the league and without him last season, this team doesn't make the playoffs."
Marlon Humphrey a 'Cornerback With a Linebacker's Mentality'
On the other side of the ball, cornerback Humphrey is proving every week just how much of a difference-maker he is.
In a profile piece on Humphrey, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec referred to the 2017 first-round pick as "a cornerback who plays with a linebacker's mentality."
"He can run with just about any receiver, but he seems to get joy out of coming forward, taking on a block and stoning a running back," Zrebiec wrote. "He relishes matchups with the opponent's top receiver, and in recent games, he's been a magnet to the football.
"He shut down Odell Beckham Jr. and Tyler Boyd, set up the Ravens for the game-winning overtime field goal with a timely strip of JuJu Smith-Schuster, then put the Seattle Seahawks away with a fumble return for a touchdown and shifted the momentum back to his team Sunday with a franchise-record 70-yard touchdown return of a Julian Edelman fumble against the Patriots."
Zrebiec wrote that Humphrey played at a high level last season, when he was named the team's most valuable player, but he's taken his game to an even higher level in his third year. Humphrey is the only defender in the NFL to have at least two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
"This year, he's taken a significant step forward, shadowing the opponent's best receiver just about every week, moving into the nickel corner role on occasion and showing a knack for taking the ball away and going the other way with it," Zrebiec wrote.