Head Coach John Harbaugh believes the Ravens will sustain long-term success using Lamar Jackson’s running threat as an important piece of their arsenal.
Expecting the offense to expand and improve in 2019, Harbaugh does not view the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers as a sign to move in a different direction.
The Ravens were the NFL’s best rushing team after Jackson became the starting quarterback, closing the regular season by winning six of their last seven games. Jackson is arguably the fastest and most elusive quarterback the league has ever seen, still in the early stages of his career at age 22.
Jackson had his worst game of the season in the playoffs, as the Chargers used seven defensive backs to chase him with quick players, containing him (nine carries, 54 yards) like no previous opponent. However, Jackson remains a threat to make a big play whenever he touches the football. Harbaugh made it clear that Jackson will continue to run, and that the risk of injury is part of utilizing his talents to the fullest.
“Every player is one play away from being hurt, and every quarterback standing in the pocket is one hit away from being hurt, too,” Harbaugh said. “The fact that he gets out and runs and scrambles … I get it. I think it’s fair to consider that, but you can’t live your life in fear. I think there’s just as much fear on the other side as he’s going to take the thing to the house if he gets out and runs too. So we’ll live in that world as opposed to the other world.”
How much Jackson improves as a passer could be the biggest key to the Ravens’ offensive success under new coordinator Greg Roman. Jackson completed 60 percent of his passes in just two of eight starts. Until the Ravens scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter against the Chargers, Baltimore’s offense was held to three points and Jackson (14 for 29, 194 yards) was under duress, sacked seven times.
It was the second time in three weeks that the Chargers faced the Ravens, and afterward several Chargers said Jackson and the Ravens’ offense was much easier to defend the second time seeing it. However, Harbaugh doesn’t buy the notion that the league has figured out how to stop Jackson, or the Ravens’ read-option offense.
“It’s going to work if we call it at the right time against the right defense and build the right system around it, where we can get to the right play,” Harbaugh said. “They can’t stop everything. If you think there’s a defense that’s going to line up and stop Lamar running plays and us executing really well, that’s just not the case. You can’t put 13 guys out there. They have to play their 11 against our 11.
“The Chargers out-played us that game and out-coached us. There’s no doubt about it – I said that after the game. They deserve all the credit in the world. We need to do a better job of attacking what they did that day. What they did that day is not going to work next game. But we have to be ready for the next thing that’s coming, just like they have to be ready for the next thing that’s coming.”
The Ravens have been impressed with Jackson’s work ethic and desire to improve. That will be critical this offseason, because contact between NFL teams and players is restricted once the season ends. After speaking with Jackson about his offseason plans, Harbaugh is confident his young quarterback is on the right track.
“He’s going to work at it really hard,” Harbaugh said. “Who he works with, or where he works it, I’ll leave that to him to answer if he wants to answer. But I’m quite sure that he’ll be working at it really hard, and he already is. Throughout the course of the offseason he’s going to throw the ball a lot. He’s going to have his receivers and throw the ball to them, he already told me that and all those other things. He should come back, I expect him to come back a better quarterback skill-wise than he was when he left. He’s determined to do that.”
Meanwhile, the Ravens have determined that a different offense from the norm is better for them. In midseason, they transitioned from a pocket passer in Joe Flacco to a unique duel threat in Jackson. They have promoted Roman to the position of offensive coordinator and play-caller because it seemed the best fit for Jackson.
The Ravens are not deterred by what happened in the playoffs. They are determined to improve, and excited about the possibilities.
“The offense that we’re going to put together is going to be very diverse,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to include elements that weren’t in there this year, that maybe we aren’t there with or didn’t get to, or hadn’t learned about yet.
“We built the defense from the ground up last year, we’re going to build special teams and we’re going to build the offense from the ground up this year. That’s what’s kind of exciting, and we’ll see what comes of it.”