Mailbag: How Can Lamar Jackson Break Out of His Slump?

QB Lamar Jackson

Mink: We've never seen Lamar Jackson go through a stretch like this. Over the past three games, he has six interceptions to three touchdowns, has averaged 219 passing yards per game, has a 62% completion rate, and has taken 13 sacks.

This is a new test for the fourth-year quarterback, an opportunity for him to learn and adapt in his young career. That's what this league is about: adaptability. The opponent is always trying something new to throw you off, and when they hit on something, they'll hammer it until you counter. Opponents have found the heavy blitz and they're going to keep calling it until Jackson beats it (more on that below).

There are a number of technical things that Jackson must improve on, just as every player makes corrections after watching their film. Generally speaking, I think he's got to get out of his own head. Jackson seems gun shy to me. He doesn't look comfortable behind this banded-up offensive line and the interceptions (namely the four against the Browns) seemed to have made him slower to pull the trigger on a number of occasions against the Steelers.

Jackson has delivered quickly in the face of blitzes before. He was among the league's best at it during his 2019 MVP season. He needs to get back to feeling confident in his decision-making as a passer and stop relying on extending plays in hopes of finding somebody more open or a bigger play. With his unreal talent, Jackson can pull a rabbit out of his hat (like his touchdown pass to Mark Andrews against the Browns), but the result won't be so magical most of the time.

Downing: The Ravens are short-handed at cornerback, no doubt about it. There aren't any teams who could lose a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks like Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey and not feel the effects of it. That's just the reality. Now in terms of replacing Humphrey in the starting lineup, the most likely candidates are the veteran Jimmy Smith and the talented second-year player Chris Westry. Smith certainly has the experience and his playing time has been limited this season, so he should have relatively fresh legs for a late-season uptick in snaps. Westry made the team after an impressive training camp and preseason, but he's spent most of the season on the sidelines with a knee injury and most recently a thigh issue. Westry, 6-foot-4 and 197 pounds, is a lengthy cornerback with loads of potential, and he did get one start earlier this season against Chicago. Humphrey gave Westry a vote of confidence earlier this week by tweeting "watch him work." 

Tavon Young is also still in the mx despite recent injuries, and the Ravens could move him to outside corner like they did earlier in his career. However Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale chooses to address the position, it won't be easy to replace Humphrey. He's an All-Pro defender and a leader of the secondary, and the replacement options have their work cut out for them.

Mink: This has really been the perplexing part of Jackson's struggles. The Miami Dolphins brought the heaviest blitz anyone has seen in many years, and it certainly shook Jackson that night, and we're still seeing those effects after two more games.

Part of the problem is the Ravens are facing too many third-and-longs because of an inconsistent and not explosive running game (outside of Jackson) and penalties. That has enabled teams to have their cornerbacks way play off, not allowing the big play, and then blitzers to attack. They hope to get to Jackson and they rally to the ball if he throws short.

Another issue is the protection, which is under siege from these blitzes, but could also hang in better to provide Jackson with a little more time.

Mostly, these Cover-0 blitzes force Jackson to have to find the open receiver (or at least the best one-on-one option) quickly. He has to make that read and trust his protection enough to stick his back foot in the ground and deliver. Even if he has just enough time for a short slant or crosser, Jackson has to trust his receivers to make something happen instead of holding the ball and trying to do it all himself.

When I watch the film, I'm seeing open targets, so I don't think is a coaching/scheme issue. Jackson has options but needs to be better at picking the right one faster.

Downing: According to the statistical-based website Five Thirty Eight, the Ravens have a 10% chance to win out and earn the AFC's No. 1 overall seed. If they beat the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, that number increases to 18%. Those aren't great odds. But if there's something we've learned this season in watching games around the NFL, don't make snap judgements based on the results of one game. The Ravens were a few inches away from converting that two-point conversion to beat the Steelers and maintain control of the AFC's top spot. It's not an easy road to finish the season – especially with matchups looming against the Packers, Rams and Bengals – but the Ravens have the ability to beat any of those teams. So while it's not likely for the Ravens to make it to January with a 13-4 record, I'm not ruling it out.

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