Haven’t we been here before?
Didn’t we collectively decide in 2013, after NFL defensive coordinators had spent the offseason devising ways to counter the likes of Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick, that mobile quarterbacks weren’t the answer? Wasn’t it clear that the position was too valuable to risk violent collisions with speedy defenders arriving with malice aforethought?
Try telling that to Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Jackson showed us glimpses of his ample ability last fall after succeeding an injured Joe Flacco, leading the Ravens to a 6–1 record as a starter and the AFC North title before stumbling in the playoffs.
Skeptics thought that performance against the Chargers (three fumbles, one interception) was indicative of what we’d see this season, when opponents had time to figure out ways to counter Jackson’s breathtaking athleticism.
Jackson, along with Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, are reviving the idea of young QBs who can beat you with their arm, legs and brains.
In November alone, Jackson and the Ravens have hung a combined 82 points on two of the most accomplished defensive minds of this era (Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips).
In Monday night’s 45–6 romp in L.A., he showed a national TV audience why he’s now the clear front-runner for NFL MVP, throwing five touchdown passes before sitting out almost the entire fourth quarter.
“We got our faces peeled off,” Rams safety Eric Weddle, a teammate of Jackson’s last season in Baltimore, told reporters after the game. “[Jackson] is amazing. The tempo and the speed. I thought the first series or two, we would take our bearings to get adjusted to his speed. He’s one of a kind.”
How is it that Jackson has succeeded while Griffin is now his backup and Kaepernick is holding NFL-sponsored tryouts to try to get back into the league after a three-year absence spurred as much by his anthem kneeling as his play?
There are several reasons.
One, he’s a much more polished pocket passer than Griffin or Kaepernick ever were. (For this, the otherwise loathsome Bobby Petrino, who coached Jackson at Louisville, deserves credit.) He’s posted two perfect passer ratings this season, and he ranks third in the league with a 111.4 rating, trailing only Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson. No one has thrown more touchdown passes than his 24, so opponents who play him primarily to stop the run risk getting burned over the top. If they play loose, he’s ninth among all NFL players with 876 rushing yards.
Two, he’s got a stout, veteran offensive line anchored by All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda and a hard-running tailback in Mark Ingram, so he’s less prone to taking the vicious hits that ended Griffin’s brief era as a supernova.
Finally, he’s coached by offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who’ll be No. 1 on the wish list of every team with a coaching vacancy in January (including the team 30 miles south of Baltimore). Roman overhauled the Ravens’ playbook last offseason to fully exploit Jackson’s talents. It’s no coincidence that Jackson’s two backups (Griffin and Trace McSorley) have similar (if less dynamic) skill sets.
Of course, one well-placed collision could put a “Nevermore” coda on the Ravens’ hopes of a third Super Bowl title. But unless that happens, we should all enjoy watching.