Lamar Jackson's Role Has Bengals and Pundits Talking
The Ravens have to love how much attention rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson's role in the offense is getting.
Jackson was only on the field for five plays with the first-team offense Sunday against Buffalo, but plenty of pundits have taken notice. More importantly, the Cincinnati Bengals are paying attention leading up to Thursday night's Week 2 matchup.
During a conference call with Baltimore's media yesterday, Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis was asked about Jackson, and what he saw against the Bills.
"He's a good athlete and he's a good football player," Lewis said. "They're going to utilize him a little bit in the offense, and we have to respond."
Lewis isn't the only Bengal focused on Jackson's role, as defensive end Carlos Dunlap spoke about it with NFL Network's Omar Ruiz.
"Carlos Dunlap told me what stands out about this 2018 version of the Ravens offense is that limited Lamar Jackson role," Ruiz said. "He told me as limited as it might be, this is the NFL. If they don't stop it, the Ravens are going to continue to go to it."
Ruiz also spoke with Bengals linebacker Preston Brown, who added, "That will be a priority – preparation for Lamar Jackson."
After a game in which the starting offense scored 40 points, it must be music to the ears of the Ravens that the Bengals have to, on a short week, prioritize planning for a package that didn't result in any scores or much yardage against the Bills.
This was, of course, one of the bonuses of involving Jackson in the first team offense. While the Ravens definitely want those plays to gain major yards, having Jackson on the field means defenses will have to dedicate time to stifling him, compared to previously when they only had to focus on stopping starting quarterback Joe Flacco.
"What the Ravens are putting on film with Jackson now can set up things later as teams try and get a read on how the team will use the fast and athletic rookie quarterback," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
WNST's Luke Jones was less complimentary of the plays involving Jackson with the first-team offense.
"None had a negative impact, but the Ravens didn't get much of a return on the five offensive snaps Lamar Jackson played before relieving Joe Flacco in the second half," Jones wrote. "It's something for which opponents must prepare, but you sometimes worry about upsetting the overall rhythm of the offense."
As for what Jackson's role will be against the Bengals, opinions vary.
NFL Network's James Palmer thinks the Ravens could give Jackson more touches against Cincinnati if running back Kenneth Dixon is unavailable. Dixon is dealing with a knee injury, and hasn't practiced this week.
The Ravens could bring up running backs Gus Edwards or De'Lance Turner from the practice squad to replace Dixon Thursday night, but they would have to cut a player from the 53-man roster, which they may not want to do. With Jackson in the fold, Palmer thinks it could be possible for the Ravens to just have running backs Alex Collins and Javorius Allen on the active roster to play against Cincinnati.
"Not to say Jackson is going to be a running back on this team by any means, but it's an added element that the Bengals are going to have to prepare for on a short week," Palmer said. "What they wanted to show with him is that it's not just a threat – it is a realistic goal for them to make Jackson a part of this offense, and carry the ball."
PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz thinks it's possible the Ravens will actually give Jackson less touches on Thursday than he got on Sunday because Flacco did so well in the opener, which left "the offense with little need for gadget plays."
"Will the Ravens keep mixing in calls for Jackson or might they move away from that strategy and stick with what worked Sunday?" Kasinitz asked. "Perhaps some clues to their long-term plan will materialize Thursday."
Downfield Throws, Excellent Offensive Line Play Helped Flacco's Success Against Bills
In the wake of Baltimore's 47-3 victory over the Bills on Sunday, Pro Football Focus gave Flacco an 86.8 rating, which was the third-best amongst quarterbacks for Week 1. PFF's Gordon McGuinness took a closer look at why Flacco was able to go 25-for-34 for 236 yards and three touchdowns, which tabulates to a 121.7 quarterback rating.
"The Ravens will see tougher tests in 2018, starting with a trip to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals on Thursday Night Football this week," McGuinness wrote. "But this was the start they were hoping for and more."
McGuinness believes a couple factors led to Flacco's big game, the first of which was his success throwing the ball downfield. He had the lowest yards per passing attempt (5.7) last season in the NFL, as Flacco regularly relied on check-downs, especially early in the season when he was still recovering from a back injury.
On Sunday, Flacco was anything but conservative in the passes he was attempting. He finished 10-for-10 on passes of more than 10 yards, which included going 2-for-2 on passes of more than 20 yards. His numbers are even more impressive when considering the awful rain and wind conditions he had to contend with.
"On those throws of 10-plus yards or longer, he produced a PFF passing grade of 91.2, which ranked fifth among quarterbacks this week," McGuinness wrote.
McGuinness was also quick to credit those around Flacco for his success, particularly the offensive line. Much was made of how effective the unit would be in 2018 after there was plenty of debate as to which personnel would occupy certain positions along the line, but the group dazzled against the Bills, giving Flacco a clean pocket to work in on 29 of his 35 dropbacks.
As Russell Street Report's Tony Lombardi pointed out, when Flacco "did get pressure from the outside, there was room to climb the pocket in large part because [Alex] Lewis, [Matt] Skura and [Marshal] Yanda were solid at the point of attack."
Though Lombardi was particularly complimentary of Yanda, writing it "looks like he hasn't missed a beat," left tackle Ronnie Stanley caught the eye of McGuinness.
"Stanley, a player whose development will be key for the Ravens this year, allowed just one total pressure over the course of the game," McGuinness wrote. "On those plays, Flacco produced an adjusted completion percentage of 88.9 percent and a PFF passing grade of 88.1."
Colin Cowherd Ranks Ravens No. 2 in the NFL
Yesterday, LFW profiled where the Ravens stand in various power rankings being put out by the national media. Among the nine different power rankings considered, the Ravens finished between No. 15 and No. 8.
Fox Sports' The Herd's Colin Cowherd has since listed his Top 10 teams in the NFL, and placed the Ravens much higher than any pundit had previously – at No. 2 in the entire NFL.
"Said it before the season started, but my dark horse to win it all is the Baltimore Ravens," Cowherd said. "They're good on the lines, that was the most points scored in four years in the NFL. Held Buffalo to 153 yards."
As for why he's picking the Ravens, Cowherd was impressed with how the defense handled Buffalo's offense, saying it had a "Mike Tyson quality" about it. But more than anything, Cowherd is buying into the Ravens because he expects a Flacco resurgence.
"There is something about Joe Flacco. Joe Flacco when he feels a little heat is a different quarterback – he just is," Cowherd said. "Remember that Super Bowl run? He was looking for a contract, and he was outstanding. Joe Flacco is 10-5 in the playoffs. Joe Flacco has gone into Foxborough and beaten Tom Brady."
This is quite a statement coming from Cowherd. He has the Ravens one spot ahead of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, and trailing only the Los Angeles Rams.
Kenny Young Impresses in Regular-Season Debut
Though Jackson and rookie tight end Mark Andrews both stood out against the Bills, "no Ravens rookie looked quite as impressive as linebacker and fourth-round pick, Kenny Young," according to Russell Street Report's Kyle Casey.
Young played 44 snaps Sunday, finishing with four tackles, including his first NFL sack. The majority of Young's work came in the fourth quarter after the final result was already decided, but Casey saw enough to think Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale should find ways to get Young on the field.
Casey was particularly encouraged by how Young played in run defense. On one play, Young displayed the ability to quickly diagnose the ball carrier, shed a blocker, then beat the running back to the outside to make the tackle.
"Possessing the instincts, agility and closing speed to shed a block and close off a run lane outside is a trait the Ravens defense desperately needs, and Young brings that to the table," Casey wrote.
Young later made a good play in pass defense, which resulted in his sack. To start, Young did a good job of remaining patient in tight pass coverage, and waiting for the play to develop.
"As quarterback Josh Allen begins to leave the pocket, Young's patience pays off, allowing him to follow the fellow rookie to the outside," Casey wrote. "Young's closing speed yet again impresses, as he beats Allen to the outside and takes him down in the open field for a sack."
Veteran Patrick Onwuasor got the start next to C.J. Mosley as it's a shared role right now, but Young could see more snaps if he continues to do well.
"For his first meaningful NFL snaps, Young looked comfortable, instinctive, quick and confident," Casey wrote.
- Cowherd wasn't the only pundit to recently publish their power rankings. CBS Sports' Pete Prisco and NFL.com's Elliot Harrison put theirs out, with Prisco placing the Ravens at No. 12. Harrison moved Baltimore up seven spots from No. 16 to No. 9. "That was a shellacking Baltimore put on Buffalo on Sunday. We don't see a team get its butt kicked like that in the big leagues too often," Harrison wrote.
- ESPN's Rivers McCown named the best veteran contract on each NFL team. He selected running back Alex Collins for the Ravens, who is reportedly on a one-year $630,000 contract. "Like all running backs, Collins' future is a season-to-season proposition. But this is a proposition just about every NFL team would take today."
- PressBox's Duncan Woodward wrote about a conversation between PressBox's Glenn Clark and former Ravens tight end Todd Heap, which included what Heap has seen from Baltimore's rookie tight end, Hayden Hurst.