Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson earned his first NFL start on Sunday. Jackson was tasked with filling the shoes of Joe Flacco, as the Ravens desperately needed a win to stay alive. Although he faced the Bengals, a team noted for being a perpetual thorn in the side of the Ravens, Jackson played well enough to win.
The Ravens are not yet comfortable letting the rookie loose in the passing game, and they have reason to be hesitant. In college, Jackson was not a refined passer. He relied more on his legs than on his arm. The Ravens see the raw talent and the unique athletic ability that Jackson possesses, and plan to develop him as a passer while he holds on to his athletic abilities. The process is underway but is nowhere near completion. This was evident in the passing plays that Jackson was set up with. Most of Jackson’s passes were dunk plays to receivers not far from the line of scrimmage. The Ravens schemed these plays well, however, and most of the time the receivers were uncovered, allowing for Jackson to make easy throws, and the receivers to run for yards after the catch. Jackson did occasionally make some longer throws, one being a 19-yard pass to tight end Mark Andrews, and another being a 23-yard pass to John Brown.
Jackson completed most of the passes the Ravens asked him to make, but his day was not all sunshine and roses. Jackson showed off why the Ravens have been hesitant to use as the franchise’s starting quarterback. Jackson’s accuracy and decision-making issues were drawn out by the Bengals. Early on, Jackson tossed a pass right into the hands of a Bengals defender, who fortunately dropped the ball. Later on, Jackson’s luck would run out, as he threw a pass straight into the lap of another defender, who this time caught it. Jackson also would throw a wobbly pass to Chris Moore, who bailed Jackson out with an amazing catch.
Jackson did what he was asked to do by the Ravens in the passing department, be a game manager. He limited his mistakes and took what the defense gave him. He rarely tried to force a pass, and for the most part, only targeted wide open receivers. Jackson finished the day with 13 completions on 19 attempts for 150 yards. This modest performance in the air was coupled with a much more dominant one on the ground. The Ravens took care of business in the running department, as Lamar Jackson, and a surprise breakout player.
In his first career start, Jackson stuck with what he knows best, how to run effectively. The Ravens created a masterful game plan, filled with read options, and other designed quarterback runs. Jackson kept the ball on the ground 27 times to gain 117 yards. Jackson’s performance on the ground was the first time that a Ravens quarterback ever rushed for over 100 yards. Jackson, while his rushing performance was spectacular, was outshined by a Raven that few expected to even be active on Sunday, Gus Edwards. Edwards, an undrafted rookie free agent, was given the football 17 times on the ground. He turned those 17 opportunities into 115 yards and a touchdown capped off with a two-point conversion rush. Both of these rookies managed to keep the Ravens on the ground, giving Baltimore a total of 265 rushing yards, and 38:09 time of possession.
The Ravens offense dominated the game on the ground, and Lamar Jackson managed the passing game well enough to win. Although he looked raw at times, the young quarterback showed poise in a must-win game. He made mistakes, but was not rattled, and kept fighting. The Ravens should be impressed with Lamar Jackson. His talent is there, and his mindset is right for the future. In a year or so, he may be able to take over the Ravens full time. But for right now, he is fine as the fill in for an injured Joe Flacco.