How much to use Lamar Jackson is a debate not only for talk shows and barbershops. The Ravens’ coaching staff has similar debates that will continue during the bye week.
Following Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, Head Coach John Harbaugh said he’d like to see more of Jackson on the field. He amplified those thoughts Monday, saying that Joe Flacco remains the starting quarterback, but that Jackson is a weapon the Ravens needed to use. That could mean Jackson playing an entire series at quarterback, something he has not done to this point.
“I would say that’s an option. We’ve talked about that option, too,” Harbaugh said. “Every option that you’ve thought of, we have thoughts about.”
There are potential pros and cons to playing Jackson more. Reducing Flacco’s reps could make it harder for him to maintain his rhythm. Jackson also needs to throw accurately to sustain drives.
Harbaugh understands those concerns. But he also sees Jackson’s upside as a playmaker for a Ravens team that badly needs a spark, having lost three straight.
“People that watch the games have opinions, to we shouldn’t play Lamar at all, to whatever (number) plays they think he should be in there running,” Harbaugh said.
“That’s really a challenge. All those things are legitimate. You want to keep your offense in a rhythm. You want to keep your quarterback on the field in a rhythm. But you have a playmaker. You don’t want to have him just run the ball all the time. He’s not a running back. He’s a quarterback. How many throws can you get him? That’s all the stuff that goes into it. Those are all the things we have to think about when we put that package together.”
The Ravens have struggled to run the ball effectively, but the running game has come to life more with Jackson on the field. He is averaging five yards per carry and has more rushing yards (139) than backup running back Javorius Allen (106). Using Jackson as a decoy also creates running room for others.
“When I say I want him on the field more, it’s because he’s such a good player,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been on the field mostly for runs. He’s completed some passes. Missed one or two throws. The stats say our running game, when he’s out there, we’re over twice as effective running the ball. The numbers don’t lie there either. It’s been effective for us.”
Harbaugh dismissed the notion of replacing Flacco as the starting quarterback for Week 10. However, it was clear Jackson’s role in the offense would be critical as the season progressed. Harbaugh also views Jackson as someone talented enough to become a successful starting NFL quarterback.
“Joe’s played well, so I don’t want to get into all that,” Harbaugh said. “We’re rolling right now with what we’ve got. Of course, at some point in time, this guy’s a quarterback. We’ve said that from the beginning. Anybody that wants to dispute that, come to practice. He’s improving all the time, he’s getting better as an NFL quarterback all the time.”
Harbaugh Expects Injured Players Back After Bye Week Rest
Harbaugh said the Ravens would not practice at all this week, sensing players needed to rest and recover. The five straight off days that players are required to be given during the bye will begin Wednesday.
“I know that we’re better off resting at this point,” Harbaugh said. “I think our guys have been hard at work at it through a long training camp, and it will be good for us to get an opportunity to get off our feet and get our legs back, so I’m looking forward to that.”
The Ravens lost Sunday without starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and starting right tackle James Hurst (back). Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh) has been playing at less than 100 percent, outside linebacker Tim Williams (ankle) missed Sunday’s game, and cornerback Tavon Young injured his ankle late in the fourth quarter.
Harbaugh said he expects all of them to be back and ready to play after the bye, and they could add cornerback Maurice Canady (thigh), who as placed on injured reserve in September.
“I don’t think it’s a serious ankle (for Young), in fact I know it wasn’t,” Harbaugh said. “This week is going to be big for Tavon. I think all of our injuries are along those lines, and maybe we’ll be looking at a few guys coming back.”
After watching the tape of Sunday’s game, Harbaugh believes the bye will help the Ravens return to the energy level that propelled them to a 3-1 start.
“We played fast. We played hard,” Harbaugh said. “Were we as fast as we were earlier in the year? Probably not, a step off because it’s Week 9. This week is going to help us pick that step up. I’m really kind of excited about that.”
Harbaugh Says Cornerback Depth Could Be Key to Late Season Surge
Veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith made several nice pass breakups during Sunday’s second half, playing more like himself after a subpar game against the Carolina Panthers. Marlon Humphrey, who has been the team’s top corner this season, also returned Sunday after a two-game absence with a thigh injury.
Harbaugh envisions the Ravens having their strongest secondary after the bye, with veteran safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson more rested, and a corner rotation led by Smith, Humphrey, Young and Brandon Carr.
“This is the best corner situation that we’ve ever had by far, since I’ve been here,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve got a lot of good players.
“To have Jimmy and Tavon, and Marlon and Brandon the fact that we can roll those guys around and keep them, keep them sharp is a big plus. We want to play aggressive coverage, play a lot of man coverage, lock people down. We were playing pretty darn good receivers yesterday, and I don’t want to take anything away from them, but we feel like we can cover anybody in the league. Cover those slants. Cover those crossing routes. Deal with those picks. Those are the things we expect to do with the kind of corners that we have.”
Bye Will Give Ravens a Chance for Self-Scouting
The Ravens’ coaches will study their tendencies during the bye, hoping to become less predictable both offensively and defensively when they return. That is common practice during the bye week, and the Ravens have faced opponents coming off byes like the Saints and Panthers, who have hurt the Ravens with schematic changes after returning from their week off.
The Ravens will surely have some new wrinkles for the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10.
“[quote]That’s one thing about the bye week you have a chance to do,” Harbaugh said. “I think all of the last teams that we’ve played, you’ve seen schematically things that they were able to look at over the bye, come up with ideas. That’s what the bye is for. We’re going to get a chance now this week to do that, too.”