The connection between Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ receivers runs deeper than what shows in the statistics.
John Brown has only caught two passes in the three games that Jackson has started. But when Jackson misses an opportunity to complete a pass, like he did Sunday when he overthrew a wide-open Brown, the mistake doesn’t break their bond.
The Ravens have won three straight games and Brown believes in Jackson’s talent as a quarterback. As a veteran who has played with different quarterbacks during various stages of their career, Brown respects Jackson’s desire to win as a rookie quarterback, and gives him two words of advice when he makes a mistake – move on.
“I let him focus on playing his game instead of putting too much in his head,” Brown said. “I just continue to play. We can win with any of our quarterbacks. But, as for Lamar, he’s great. He wants to make those plays. He’ll come up to me and say, ‘My bad.’ I’ll tell him, ‘Just play football. Don’t get stuck on that one play.’”
That’s not easy for Jackson to do, however. Even when the Ravens got on the plane to head home from their big win in Atlanta, Jackson came to Brown to talk about the missed touchdown.
“Even when we get on the plane ride home, he’s still thinking about it,” Brown said. “But that’s how the great ones are. They think about the bad stuff more than the good. That’s one of the things I love about him.”
With Jackson as the starter, the Ravens’ offense has become run-first, producing more than 200 yards rushing in three consecutive games for the first time in team history. But that change has meant fewer opportunities for the Ravens’ wide receivers to make plays.
Brown has caught two passes for 48 yards the past three games. He was shut out in Atlanta. Willie Snead IV caught five passes in Jackson’s first start, but has snagged just one pass over the last two games. Michael Crabtree has been the most productive receiver the last three games with seven catches for 64 yards and a touchdown.
Jackson has not attempted more than 25 passes in any game, while Joe Flacco attempted at least 37 passes in each of the Ravens’ first nine games. Jackson has yet to reach 200 passing yards in a game, but Brown has no problem with the recent approach.
“Why try to do something different?” Brown said. “That’s what we good at it. We’re winning. They’re doing a great job with the play-calling. If you can’t stop it, why do something different?”
The offensive shift has been an adjustment for receivers. Going long stretches without being targeted can make it more difficult to find a rhythm, and both Crabtree and Snead dropped a pass against the Falcons. Snead said the Ravens’ receivers can’t use lack of targets as an excuse. If the Ravens are going to throw the ball less, it becomes even more important for receivers not to waste opportunities.
“With those drops, we do have to get better,” Snead said. “I know I do. You never know when the ball’s coming but you have to be ready. It’s an adjustment. It’s something you have to prepare yourself for.”
With the Ravens (7-5) fighting for a playoff spot, how the offense performs will play a large role in determining whether the team makes the postseason or not. The running game is functioning at a high level, but some big plays from the passing game would make the offense even more lethal.
When Jackson missed the throw to Brown, Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg liked how the team rallied around Jackson.
“I was sort of waiting for the first time that happened, and others beat me to the punch – players, coaches,” Mornhinweg said. “That’s kind of the mojo we have right now.”
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh has not named a starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, but if Jackson starts, he will face one of the NFL’s most challenging road environments in Kansas City. Arrowhead Stadium is deafening when the crowd gets into the game, but Snead believes if the wide receivers get open, Jackson will deliver.
“You’ve got to believe that,” Snead said. “He’s a young quarterback. That was his first road start, that’s how brand new he is to it. We just have to keep working in practice to complete those shots. In the game, those will come. He’ll be able to step up into it and put it on the money.”