When a player has their jersey retired, as Lamar Jackson did at Louisville this weekend, it makes them seem old. Don't be fooled. Despite his scroll of accomplishments, Jackson is still just 24 years old.
That's something that shouldn't be lost in the fallout from Thursday night's surprising loss to the Miami Dolphins – the Ravens' worst offensive performance of the Jackson era.
The offensive struggles certainly should not be placed on Jackson's shoulders alone. Head Coach John Harbaugh said the blame shouldn't fall on the players at all. "Our schemes weren't up to snuff and we weren't prepared to execute the way we needed to," he said.
As brutal as that night was, the positive is that it was absolutely an opportunity to learn. It was a chance for Baltimore's offensive coaches to learn. Most importantly for the long-term success of the Ravens, it was an opportunity for Jackson to learn.
Opposing defensive coordinators have been throwing their laboratory concocted schemes at Jackson all season. For the most part, they've missed. The notion of Jackson being "figured out" has flopped.
But Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores, a defensive Bill Belichick disciple, definitely hit. Now the Ravens must prove that other defensive coordinators won't be able to beat the Ravens with their cloned approach.
The NFL is a copycat league and other teams certainly paid attention to what the Dolphins pulled off. Remember when Detroit Lions Defensive Coordinator Aaron Glenn said other teams were calling him looking for tips after holding the Ravens to 19 points? Marquise Brown dropped multiple touchdowns in what should have been a blowout, and other teams still wanted a piece of that action.
If that was the case after the Detroit game, Flores probably had to put his phone on airplane mode this weekend.
The Ravens also had trouble with "Cover 0" looks against the Cincinnati Bengals in a blowout loss in Week 7. The Dolphins took that and multiplied it. The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer broke down the issues in his Ravens film study, saying the Dolphins lined up in a "Cover 0" look before 31 of Jackson's 50 drop-backs.
"There was no lone culprit. There was blame to spread around, from Jackson to the skill position players to the pass protection to the coaching," Shaffer wrote. "The most obvious influence of the Dolphins' Cover 0-heavy approach was on how Jackson played."
That's the part that keeps clanging around in my head. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and his staff will find Xs and Os solutions this week to counterpunch what opponents have had success with. It didn't happen fast enough, but there were some answers late in Miami.
Now it's going to come down to Jackson and his teammates executing those solutions, and there's every reason to believe that they will. If opponents want to keep daring the Ravens to beat them deep and one-on-one on the outside, Baltimore has the wideouts to do it and Jackson certainly isn't afraid to challenge them.
Jackson was a check-down machine to his wide receivers in Miami, seemingly even audibling to such plays at times, but it wasn't long ago when he led the NFL in average yards per pass. He's always looking for the big play; he just needs enough time to try it.
The Dolphins blitzed Jackson more than he's ever seen Thursday night, leaving him and the entire offense frazzled for much of it. But every time Jackson sees something new so early in his career, it gives him an opportunity to grow. He's done it time and time again over his four NFL seasons.
Frankly, growth is an overarching theme of this season, as Jackson has had to put more of the offense on his back without top running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. If anyone wanted to see whether Jackson could become a better passer and more well-rounded quarterback, he's done it.
But remember, he's not a finished product. Jackson will continue to learn, and he'll have to this week after the Miami slog.