Pundit Compares Lamar Jackson/Todd Monken Pairing to Michael Jordan/Phil Jackson
Four years after Lamar Jackson took the NFL by storm to become just the second unanimous MVP in league history, the Ravens quarterback has taken his game to an even higher level.
First-year Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken deserves his share of credit for helping Jackson evolve. Russell Street Report’s Dev Panchwagh likened Monken's role in Jackson's development to the impact former Chicago Bulls Head Coach Phil Jackson made on NBA superstar Michael Jordan in the '90s.
"Once [Phil] Jackson took over, he made some immediate changes, one of which was the installation of the triangle offense," Panchwagh wrote. "It was an offense that required buy-in from Jordan because it required a team-first approach to succeed. Jordan would be required to both pass and move off the ball more instead of the isolation basketball he was used to. Jackson saw the upside of reducing the load for Jordan so other players could make it easier for the superstar.
"Jordan has since admitted he wasn't sure about the offense at first but it ultimately unlocked his game even more as a complete player. … Jackson also challenged Jordan on an intellectual and spiritual level. You could argue that the approach he took with Jordan on a personal level might have been even more meaningful for his development. In that sense, and speaking of Jacksons, Baltimore Ravens Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken has unlocked all of quarterback Lamar Jackson. The persona, the mentality, the passer, the runner, the decision-maker. The leader. All of it."
Panchwagh noted that like Jordan, Lamar Jackson has benefited from having a coach who can harness more of the facilitator side in him.
"From afar, it looks like Lamar is playing with a zen and a calm," Panchwagh wrote. "He sees the field differently. He's making his game look like he's on auto pilot. Yes, there were certain games and plays where he still pressed and tried to do too much. But overall this season, he's looked way more at ease with trusting his weapons and playing [within himself]."
Panchwagh said that Jackson's development into a more complete quarterback is rooted in the trust that has been built between him and Monken.
"What we see is a generational player in Lamar who is playing completely free and within himself, and that is a direct credit to Monken's influence," Panchwagh wrote. "I could have taken up more words to talk about all the X's and O's adjustments Monken has made that have also propelled Jackson's game – spreading the field out more horizontally and playing off his legs to create more misdirection are prime examples. That's another article for another day.
"What we should most credit Monken for is getting the most out of Jackson as a cerebral quarterback and figuring out how to get him excited again. As Jackson said, he's having fun. If you have the most talented playmaker in the league feeling that way, buying in, and a true partner, you get what the Ravens have achieved to this point, which looks to be an unstoppable team poised for a Super Bowl run."
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer also wrote about the part Monken has played in Jackson's evolution this season.
"Monken has, to be sure, evolved the passing game since arriving in January. He's done it schematically, and he's also done it by empowering Jackson," Breer wrote.
Jackson told Breer: "It's giving me the free will to put us in better situations. He already told me, 'If you don't like it, check out of it. But if you mess it up, it's on you. Everybody is going to know it's on you.' It's him giving me that freedom."
Why the Ravens Defense Is Kryptonite to NFL's Two Scariest Offenses
The Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers have the two most potent offenses in the league, but the Ravens defense slowed them both in back-to-back weeks.
"Baltimore's defense has been exceptional all season, and there are a million reasons to celebrate it," The 33rd Team’s Derrik Klassen wrote. "Still, there is something special — something meaningful — about taking it to the two offenses every other coordinator turns to for inspiration."
Klassen looked at why the Ravens defense is kryptonite to the two explosive units. He delved into the X's and O's but said the main reason is that the Ravens are uniquely equipped.
"Justin Madubuike and Jadeveon Clowney are hellions up front. Madubuike is a car bomb in the middle, and even all these years later, Clowney is still the league's preeminent pocket pusher off the edge. Those players are helpful against any offense, but especially against offenses led by [49ers QB] Brock Purdy and [Dolphins QB] Tua Tagovailoa. You want to suffocate both of those quarterbacks in the pocket. You want to speed up their process and crowd their throwing platform. Don't let them escape; make them feel like they can't breathe.
"Then, there's Roquan Smith at linebacker. Smith is a vacuum of space over the middle, a black hole between the numbers who slams throwing windows shut. Smith's awareness of routes and spacing in his zones is textbook, and he doesn't shy away from breaking structure with calculated risks to pick passes off. Even on plays where Smith doesn't make a play on the ball, he often buys time for the rest of the coverage to fall in place.
"In the secondary, safety Kyle Hamilton gives Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald a unique weapon to move all over the formation and solve all kinds of problems. Hamilton can play a deep half, play man-to-man in the slot, fit the run and fire off as a blitzer all on the same drive if that's what is asked of him. Hamilton is a white whale in a league always looking for defensive backs that serve as schematic skeleton keys.
"Having those star players, namely Smith and Hamilton, unlocks answers for disrupting the [49ers Head Coach Kyle] Shanahan and [Dolphins Head Coach Mike] McDaniel offenses other defenses don't have access to. Macdonald has honed those answers into a clear blueprint — not one that can be copied, but one that works for the Ravens and only the Ravens because of the specific players on this roster."
Four Ravens Named to ESPN's All-Pro First Team
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell selected his All-Pro teams. Four Ravens made the first team, tied for the most with the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. Here are some excerpts on the Ravens players:
"I believe Jackson is a better passer than the guy we saw in 2019. … Jackson looks more confident in the pocket. He's averaging more yards per attempt from there than anyone in the league, besides the three Shanahan-system quarterbacks (Brock Purdy, Tua Tagovailoa and C.J. Stroud). He also has continued to pick teams apart in the midrange (from 11 to 20 yards downfield), taking advantage of defenses that are concerned about his legs and want to get an extra safety into the run fit. He leads the league in QBR in the intermediate range (95.9), and the only quarterback who averaged more yards per attempt on those throws was Purdy. But Purdy also threw six interceptions in that zone, while Jackson didn't turn over the ball once."
"Madubuike's breakout season as an interior pass-rusher has been remarkable. While the 26-year-old flashed at times and looked to be a solid starting tackle over the previous couple of seasons, I'm not sure anybody was expecting him to be the league's most physically imposing interior rusher in 2023. Well, he is. Watch the Ravens every week and you'll see Madubuike living in the backfield, simply overpowering opposing guards and forcing wild scrambles and throwaways from opposing quarterbacks. While Ravens coordinator Mike Macdonald relies on zone pressures to create confusion on the edges of protection schemes, Madubuike simply overwhelms them from the inside out."
"When the Ravens blew a 28-7 lead to the Dolphins last season, it was by virtue of allowing 215 yards after the catch. On Sunday [against Miami], Smith & Co. limited what had been the league's third-best YAC offense to 115. The Ravens have allowed the second-fewest YAC per reception this season. Much of that falls on Smith, who has made the players around him better after joining the organization via a midseason trade in 2022."
"Remember when the Ravens were forced to settle for a guy who ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash after the Eagles moved ahead of them in the 2022 draft for defensive tackle Jordan Davis? Well, Hamilton doesn't play like a guy who runs a 4.59. He has become the ultimate chess piece for coordinator Mike Macdonald, starring as a safety, slot cornerback and off-ball linebacker this season. He has even taken a handful of snaps as an edge rusher, where he has alternately gone after the quarterback and dropped into throwing lanes to take advantage of confused opposing signal-callers."
Why John Harbaugh Deserves Coach of the Year Consideration
John Harbaugh is gaining support for winning Coach of the Year, and deservedly so. Ravens Wire’s Larry Brown Jr. is the latest pundit to make the case for Harbaugh winning the award.
"Harbaugh has had an extraordinary career with a winning record of 171-107, but this season he's been even more special," Brown wrote. "Harbaugh deserves credit for allowing new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken the liberty to run a newer, non-traditional offense. The Ravens rank No. 2 in points per game, No. 1 in points allowed per game, and have arguably the league's MVP in quarterback Lamar Jackson.
"With a roster full of talent, Harbaugh has done a tremendous job establishing a philosophy of togetherness in the Ravens locker room. … The Ravens incurred season-ending injuries to tight-end Mark Andrews and running back Keaton Mitchell, plus overcame early season injuries to defensive back Marlon Humphrey and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Harbaugh's cool-headed approach is contagious and it's evidently why reserves have entered the lineup and performed so well, including safety Geno Stone who leads the team with seven interceptions, and tight-end Isaiah Likely."