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Eisenberg: Here's What Matters Most for the Ravens in 2022

QB Lamar Jackson throws against Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 12, 2021.
QB Lamar Jackson throws against Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 12, 2021.

As the Ravens build their roster for 2022, there's plenty of chatter about their efforts to fortify their offensive and defensive lines, solidify their pass defense, amp up their pass rush and juice up their running game.

But there's virtually no chatter about the single most important aspect of what I'll call their Bounce Back Project.

Anytime the subject of Lamar Jackson comes up, his contract situation dominates – understandably, as the star quarterback's rookie contract expires after this season and any new deal he signs would be the largest in Ravens history.

But while the off-field focus might be understandable, Jackson's on-field performance will be the centerpiece of the Ravens' efforts to return to the AFC playoffs in 2022, and I'm hearing next to nothing about it.

When last seen, Jackson was struggling more than usual; in the last three games he started and finished, he threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and posted below-average passer ratings as the Ravens went 1-2 while averaging just 17 points per game.

To be clear, he also did a lot right in 2021, including tying Randall Cunningham's NFL record of seven games in a season with at least 200 passing yards and 50 rushing yards. (Jackson also had seven such "double-doubles" in 2019.)

In Jackson's toughest season to date, the Ravens went 7-4 in games he started and finished, and 1-5 otherwise. Say no more.

But there was a discouraging conclusion. It faded from memory when Jackson was knocked out of a Week 13 game with a bruised ankle and missed the rest of the season. But a less electrifying Jackson was among the factors that contributed to the Ravens missing the playoffs.

What happened?

"To be honest with you, I really don't know," Jackson said glumly after the season ended.

He added: "I got sick at the Miami game (and) played horrible in the Cleveland game. I really don't know, man. I really don't know."

In the wake of just their second losing season under Head Coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are aggressively attacking everything they didn't like about 2021. Only five other teams have committed more dollars in free agency, according to Spotrac. They've hired a new trainer and plan to alter their training practices in hopes of experiencing fewer injuries.

They've also quietly added a new coach who'll provide another set of eyes on Jackson -- Kerry Dixon, a former college quarterback who has recently coached wide receivers at Florida and Georgia Tech and will now assist James Urban, Jackson's position coach.

If anything can be done to help Jackson in 2022, it's worth doing.

No surprise, Jackson has been on task, throwing regularly to teammates in Florida. His commitment and desire are among his qualities the Ravens like most; Owner Steve Bisciotti recently described him as "obsessed" with winning a Super Bowl.

When the team's offseason program cranks up at the Under Armour Performance Center next week, Jackson surely will huddle with the coaches, deconstruct what happened late last year and formulate a plan to keep it from happening again.

He is a "time and space" player, meaning he needs time and space to do his thing. His issues arose during and after a Week 10 loss to the Miami Dolphins, who limited his time and space with an all-out blitz, a strategy other teams promptly copied.

It's part of the eternal chess match between quarterbacks and defenses. Jackson had the upper hand. Defenses adjusted. Now, it's on Jackson to adjust to those adjustments.

Putting a stronger and healthier team around him would help, for sure; a better O-line would give him more time and space.

But it's mostly up to Jackson to re-establish the soaring performance level he attained from the day he became a starter in 2018 through the middle of last season.

Several AFC teams have added star power in 2022, leading to speculation that the Ravens aren't shining as brightly.

But they already have their star, and he's one of the brightest in the NFL when playing well.

If Jackson is back on his "A game" in 2022, the Ravens' Bounce Back Project almost surely will proceed quite nicely.

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