Athletes often talk about the game "slowing down" for them as they gain knowledge and experience. Lamar Jackson is enjoying the process, and the results are extremely impressive.
His superb Week 1 performance led to Jackson being named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the sixth time in his career.
It was Jackson's ninth game with at least three touchdown passes since the start of last season, which is the most of any NFL quarterback during that timeframe.
Working against the Ravens' defense in practice has helped accelerate Jackson's development. The Ravens have a talented secondary that forces Jackson to throw into tight windows. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale also throws a lot of different looks at Jackson during practice that he must decipher quickly to have success.
Jackson has also embraced film study as a method to anticipate how defenses will try to stop him. It's all part of the process that Jackson is using to take his game to another level, even after being named the MVP last season.
"A lot of film study, going against our defense, all the exotic things they do, different blitzes and stuff like that has helped me out a lot," Jackson said. "I tell those guys I need stuff like that during practice, camp. When I go against other opponents, it's a lot easier for me on the field."
After Impressive Debut as Starter, DeShon Elliott Prepares for Deshaun Watson
Sunday was emotional for DeShon Elliott, who made his first career start at safety after two seasons that were cut short by season-ending injuries. Nobody could blame Elliott for being hyped up.
Elliott had five tackles, including one bone-rattling hit on running back Kareem Hunt, and fit seamlessly into the starting lineup, which his teammates expected.
"Everybody saw it from DeShon's rookie camp," outside linebacker Matthew Judon said. "It's just unfortunate – he had season-ending injuries the last two years. With him being healthy, being thrusted into the role that he was thrusted into? You guys have seen it. DeShon was flying out of the post to make some hits on 1 and 2-yard gains. That's who we knew he was. That's who DeShon knows he is. He has a lot of confidence. He's trying to put the last two years behind him and move forward. I think everybody has 100 percent confidence in DeShon."
The next challenge for Baltimore's defense is Sunday's road game in Houston, where they will try to contain quarterback Deshaun Watson. One of Watson's strengths is his ability to extend plays. He often lures defenders out of position because he's a dual threat as a runner and thrower. Elliott will have an opportunity to make plays, but his discipline will be tested. Head Coach John Harbaugh liked what he saw from Elliott in Week 1.
"He played well, he was in good position, had a really good feel," Harbaugh said. "I thought his spacing and his eyes were excellent, (he) flew around and played fast. It's going to be so important. With Watson running around and the things he can do, extend plays, the throws he makes on the run, it's going to be very important."
Willie Snead IV Made Every Target Count in Week 1
Reporting to training camp lighter than last season has added to Willie Snead IV's quickness and that was evident against the Cleveland Browns. Snead was targeted four times by Jackson and made the most of each opportunity, finishing with four receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown.
The highlight was a 19-yard touchdown catch on which Snead ran a precise route and Jackson made a perfect throw.
Jackson appreciates Snead's veteran presence, serving as a mentor to young receivers like Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II.
"Willie can do it all – he's going to block, he's going to get open for you, he's going to catch the pass, make people miss, break a few tackles," Jackson said. "He's a vet, he keeps our young guys in check. He brings all that to the table."
Preseason Didn't Look Necessary, But Matthew Judon Still Wants It
Despite speculation that Week 1 play would be sloppy due to preseason games being cancelled, some teams like the Ravens looked in midseason form. Compared to Week 1 last year in the NFL, there were fewer missed tackles, fewer dropped passes, fewer false starts and fewer personal fouls.
People who want the preseason to go away permanently can use those numbers to support their case. However, Judon wants the preseason back next year. Preseason games are an avenue for younger players to prove their worth, and Judon remembers being one of those players.
"Honestly, I would like to see preseason games," Judon said. "We have some guys in this locker room who didn't get a chance to show the world what they could do. Unfortunately, they don't get to suit up on Sundays. … I'm a fan for at least two preseason games, one home, one away. Me being a fifth-round draft pick, I definitely would've regretted it if I did not have those preseason games."