As Defenses Evolve, So Has Lamar Jackson
Coming off a record-breaking MVP season, one of the biggest questions surrounding Lamar Jackson was how he would adjust to opposing defenses.
You may look at Jackson's stat line this season and think that hasn't happened. He hasn't produced the eye-popping numbers and viral highlights we grew accustomed to.
But that's not what Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer believed this year was about. As Sunday's 24-10 win against the Indianapolis Colts showed, as defenses have evolved, so has Jackson.
"The it factor that Jackson overflowed with in 2019—the week-to-week feeling of What could he do next?—hasn't run empty, but it's not as full as it was," Breer wrote. "And the work of defensive coordinators has, indeed, dialed back the excitement that's come from the Ravens' innovative, high-wire act of an offense.
"So what's left for Jackson now? Well, to grow and evolve, and keep it moving, a necessity now based on what he's seeing in his second full season as a starting quarterback in the NFL, and what he saw in particular on Sunday against the Colts."
Jackson told Breer that the Colts had a player spying on him for most of the game. After breaking Michael Vick's quarterback rushing record last season, defenses have made it a priority to stop Jackson as a runner.
"The Colts' athletic, versatile defense had a bead on what the Ravens were trying to accomplish early on, were aggressive with Baltimore, and Jackson was stymied as a result," Breer wrote. "The Ravens punted on all five of their first-half possessions, and went into the break with 55 yards from scrimmage on 25 plays, and just four first downs."
Added Jackson: "I feel like their defense just beat us to the punch. … All the stuff they dialed up that we watched film on, those guys were beating us to the punch."
Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus drew up a strong gameplan to contain the Ravens in the first half. But Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and Jackson made adjustments.
After a 1-yard touchdown run by Gus Edwards gave the Ravens a 14-10 lead in the third quarter, Jackson struck. A perfectly called and executed quarterback bootleg to the left gave Jackson nothing but open field for a fourth quarter 9-yard touchdown.
Jackson finished the day 19-of-23 for 170 yards and added 58 yards on the ground. Statistically, it was far from his best game, but the adjustments give defenses another reason to worry.
"So all at once, Jackson grew in the passing game, which allowed him to reengage in the running game and gave him that elusive first come-from-behind win," Breer wrote. "And sure, it was a modest comeback. But more than that, it was that he and the Ravens' offense found answers on an afternoon during which they weren't coming easy, and that marks a nice, significant step forward."
Resilient Win One of Ravens' Best
There was a lot going against the Ravens this week as they found themselves down 10-7 at halftime on Sunday. What looked headed for a disappointing outcome turned out to be one of their most impressive victories of the season.
"[W]hen all was said and done Sunday, the Ravens walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium with a 24-10 victory that was one of their more fulfilling, if not impressive or aesthetically pleasing, performances over the past couple of years," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "... The Ravens showed grit, toughness and resilience. They dealt with all sorts of tumult during the week and that extended through the opening kickoff, when standout defensive end Calais Campbell sustained a calf strain on the third play from scrimmage and didn't return."
By no means was it pretty, but neither were some of the Ravens' best wins last season. They showed resiliency and rallied against one of the AFC's top teams.
"Jackson and the Ravens showed they can overcome adversity," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "Jackson completed all 10 of his passes in the second half, as Baltimore rallied from a halftime deficit for the first time since 2016. This was a difficult week for the Ravens, who lost All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley to a season-ending ankle injury, learned All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey tested positive for COVID-19 and practiced without six defensive players because they were identified as close contacts to Humphrey. But Baltimore rebounded to shut out the Colts in the second half to improve to 6-2."
The loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week left pundits questioning where the Ravens stood among the AFC's best, but the Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker said they can't be dismissed as a contender.
"Forget thoughts of the Super Bowl," Walker wrote. "The Ravens were fighting to stay above water. Then, they emerged from the halftime locker room as a team transformed. In the postgame locker room, the Ravens understood they had mounted a stand that could set up the rest of their season. They could have let another game slip away; instead, they rallied with their most complete half of the season."
The Steelers pulled off a late comeback against the Dallas Cowboys to improve to 8-0 and stay two games up in the AFC North, but the Ravens remain firmly in the playoff mix.
"The win couldn't have come at a better time, as the Ravens are in the midst of their toughest stretch of the season and just lost to the Steelers last week," NBC Sports' Andrew Gillis wrote.
Pundits Praise Harbaugh's Second Half Decisions
Dating back to last season, the Ravens have embraced an aggressive, analytically-driven approach. That proved crucial in two key decisions during the second half of Sunday's game.
"The attitude and fearlessness mattered for the Ravens," Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "But the team's attempts at a comeback might've flamed out had John Harbaugh not veered toward aggression when making two decisions at pivotal moments in the second half."
The first was Harbaugh's decision to challenge the ruling on the Marcus Peters interception. What looked like an incomplete pass was overturned after another look by the officials.
"At first, Harbaugh said he thought Peters had taken at least two steps with the ball in his hands," Press Box's Bo Smolka wrote. "And he noticed that Chuck Clark picked up the loose ball off the ground, so if referees ruled the play an interception, Baltimore would take possession after a clear recovery.
"Then the 13th-year coach saw a replay on the large video board at Lucas Oil Stadium and his mind was made up."
"And as it turned out, the gutsy challenge proved to be the game's turning point as the referees determined Peters had the necessary control for a catch," Gillis added. "The Ravens scored on the ensuing drive, and they were off and running to a win over the Colts on the road."
On the ensuing drive, they faced a fourth-and-3 on the Colts' 43-yard line. A field goal would have still kept it a one-score game, but Harbaugh stuck to his aggressiveness on fourth down.
"Analytics suggested the Ravens would be smart to keep their offense on the field in that moment," Kasinitz wrote. "The numbers were close, though. Baltimore could've punted or tried a field goal.
"Dobbins sprinted toward the right sideline and pushed his way across the first-down marker for a four-yard gain. The Ravens kept their drive alive — and seven plays later, Jackson made that successful bolt into the corner of the end zone for a lead-extending touchdown that helped stomp out the Colts' hopes of a win."
Matthew Judon Exacts Revenge on Philip Rivers
The last time Matthew Judon and Philip Rivers met, there was some trash talk.
Fast forward almost two years later and Judon got the last word. He totaled seven tackles, two quarterback hits, and provided two game-changing plays late to put away Rivers and the Colts offense.
"Judon was a terror off the edge and was consistently in the backfield putting pressure on Rivers," Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw wrote. "Indianapolis struggled to move the ball, and a huge part of that came from Judon's play.
"When the Ravens needed Judon most, he showed up. Judon was responsible for a critical fourth-down stop that essentially marked the end of hope for the Colts. Even though Judon didn't record a sack, he was remarkable on the day and was responsible for arguably the game's biggest play. For that, he gets our third and final game ball."
Mark Andrews Shines as a Blocker
Mark Andrews is one of the NFL's best pass-catching tight ends, but he provided his best play of Sunday's game as a blocker.
"Halfway through the season, he's on pace for 52 catches and 594 yards, totals that would fall well short of his numbers from last year," Walker wrote. "Pro Football Focus graded him 17th at his position coming into the Colts game, down from second in 2019.
"On the other hand, he's become a more authoritative run blocker, as evidenced by the blow he delivered to set up Jackson's touchdown run."
As Jackson took the bootleg, he had no defender in front of him as Andrews almost took Colts safety George Odum off the screen with his block.
Andrews had a quiet day as a receiver (three catches for 22 yards), but his block helped extend the Ravens' lead early in the fourth quarter.
- NBC Sports' Peter King named Chuck Clark one of his Defensive Players of the Week. Clark had two fumble recoveries and took one 65 yards to the end zone.
- "[Justin] Tucker hasn't missed a field goal in the fourth quarter since December 6, 2015, a sign of his consistency and clutch factor," NBC Sports' Ryan Wormeli wrote. "Those five years have included 44 straight makes in the fourth quarter, an incredible streak that doesn't show any sign of slowing down soon."