Let me prelude this article by stating the following:
Lamar Jackson is a superstar in the making, and has shown outstanding progression in all aspects during his second NFL training camp. I’m more than confident that he’s going to light up the NFL this year if his play early in camp is any indication of how the regular season will look. With that being said, let’s look at what Jackson needs to leave in 2018 ...
And now... THE UGLY:— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) July 23, 2019
Before diving into the chargers game as a whole, let’s take a look at the fumbles in their entirety
In that twitter thread, all 15 of Lamar Jackson’s 2018-19 fumbles are shown. Yup, for those in the back, fifteen fumbles. I didn’t stutter. They came in all shapes and sizes.
Speed option? Check.
Read option? Check.
Strip sacked? Check.
Reaching for the goal line? Check.
Untouched off his own knee? Check.
Fumbled the snap? Check.
We can make excuses all we want. “He’s just a rookie.”
“Some were on bad snaps and weren’t his fault.”
It doesn’t matter. If Jackson fumbles at half the rate he did in 2018-19 again, someone needs to get fired. It is unacceptable to put the ball on the ground almost twice per game. High and tight. Two hands on the ball. Keep two hands on the ball in the pocket.
While taking the Louisville Cardinals from dweller to stellar, Jackson was able to run amuck on D1 competition. His superior speed, spatial awareness, competitiveness and overall swagger took a middling program and propelled them into the national spotlight. He was Superman. The Cardinals granted Jackson free reign with a mixture of option offense and spread looks. This allowed Jackson to dominate his opponent in the open field. That was fine and dandy.
Fast forward to 2018, where Jackson was thrust into starting before most anticipated. The Ravens used Jackson’s legs as much as possible, and that strategy worked quite well. It worked until the Chargers decided to buckle down and put Derwin James aside Joey Bosa to end the nonsense.
A slew of mishaps, shortcomings and bad bounces put the Ravens in an early hole. The Chargers were also able to exploit what others weren't, Lamar Jackson’s Superman complex.
Jackson is a world-class athlete, there’s no denying it. However, the NFL is full of them, and good defenses tend to have a few. The Chargers keyed on the option attack. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram were focused on shutting down the rookies ground game. Pro-Bowlers Derwin James and Jaleel Addai came into the box to back them up. Leaving their star defensive ends unblocked, then trying to outrun Joey Bosa or Melvin Ingram with Derwin James lurking behind them isn’t a recipe for success.
If the Ravens want to continue running the option, which most would bet their entire life savings on, then Jackson needs to let Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and the rest of the Ravens backs take the ball more often. Too many times Jackson kept the ball while staring “the read man” down, when the option-back had a full head of steam and would’ve been able to convert a modest gain.
That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t use his legs, but the element of surprise should help QB keepers find greater success. Look at Russell Wilson. The Seahawks passer gives the ball up significantly more than he races defenders to the sideline, but he also lulls them to sleep before keeping the ball. When he does, read defenders are surprised more often than not. This allows him to cruise past them for easy first downs.
Now let’s talk about the Chargers game, giving it one last look before 2019 kicks off. To do so, first let’s take a step back and think about the flow of Jackson’s eight starts as a whole.
He came in unexpectedly following the bye week. He was ill leading up to the game and had to go to the hospital. The Ravens had training wheels on the 21 year-old Heisman winner from the start. His first series against the Bengals, the Ravens didn’t throw the ball, but milked more clock than they had in any drive all season. They scored.
Jackson attempted only 19 passes, while running the ball 23 times for 122 yards (excluding kneel downs). The Bengals were a historically bad defense, and the Ravens next opponent, the Raiders, weren’t far off. The training wheels were still on, but Jackson aired the ball out on several throws, including deep completions to John Brown (43 yards) and Mark Andrews (74 yards).
Okay, maybe the kid can sling it a bit. He needed to, because if the Ravens wanted to sniff the postseason, then they had very little margin for error against the Falcons, Chiefs, Chargers, Buccaneers and Browns.
In Arrowhead, the training wheels came off.
He showed the ability to put pressure on defenses by forcing them to pick their poison. They could either come up and load the box, allowing LJ to drop touch passes over their heads, or they would have to face a suddenly juggernaut-like rushing attack that the NFL has never really seen before.
The comparison that comes to mind for Jackson’s rookie year is a young Russell Westbrook in the NBA. Westbrook is an ultra-athletic scoring point guard. He’s still a point guard at heart, and if the pass is there... he will make it.
If you dare to leave an opening in the lane, don’t blink, or he’s slamming one home rising above you. He’s a read and react player. If the pass is there, he will gladly pass the rock. Russ has averaged over 10 assists per game multiple times.
If you leave space, Russ will shoot the three. Is he the best three point shooter in the league? No. He’s far from it, but he can shoot it well enough that you have to respect his ability to.
Jackson has that same point guard mentality. Similarly, if you load the box, Jackson will throw the deep ball over your head. Is he the best deep ball passer? No. He’s working at it. Although, he did have a higher deep ball completion rate than Josh Rosen, Josh Allen or Sam Darnold last season, per playerprofiler.com.
He also boasted a higher accuracy rating, QB rating, completion percentage, lower turnover percentage and averaged more air yards per completion, but who’s counting?
Westbrook and Jackson both put so much pressure on defenses with their athletic ability, they force a defense to leave one option open. The success or failure of Lamar Jackson and Russell Westbrook is dependent upon their ability to realize which option the defense is giving them. Westbrook has jacked up way too many threes lately. Will Lamar choose to use his legs too often? We shall see.
However, if these two world class athletes simply take what the defense gives them, they’re nearly unstoppable.
The Cleveland Browns saw that in Week 17. They loaded the box, then saw Jackson float passes over their heads. They played the pass against spread formations, then Jackson blew by them. He recognized what he was given, and took the low hanging fruit.
Jackson was one Maxx Williams holding call, and one millimeter extension over the goal line away from three rushing touchdowns, a 27-7 lead, and blowing out the Browns en route to a home playoff game. The Ravens, for some reason, are a magnet for dramatic endings to late season games, so things didn’t go quite as smoothly, but they still won.
They reeled off wins in six of seven games with a 21 year old green, yet encapsulating quarterback. They made it to the post season for the first time since losing to the Patriots in Gillette five years ago.
Then they got nervous. They put the training wheels back on. The Chargers had seen the ground and pound once before, and got an idea. They used their uber talented defensive back group to load the box with six and seven DBs, then kicked their superstar pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram inside to prey on the Ravens weak interior offensive lineman. The Chargers stonewalled the Ravens rushing attack.
After getting burned by the option offense once, the Chargers brought Derwin James down into the box.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) July 23, 2019
Imagine leaving Joey Bosa unblocked with Derwin James right behind him, then trying to run the ball at them. Nope. pic.twitter.com/P8DjE4zkGa
From the jump, the Chargers weren’t having any of the read option offense. Not today.
What happened against the Chargers: one final look— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) July 23, 2019
The thread above shows every drop-back Lamar Jackson took prior to the fourth quarter. It might look a little differently than you remember. The Chargers ran a ton of cover-3. They generated pressure on over half of the Ravens drop-backs, which spells disaster for any offense.
Jackson threw for over 140 yards and two touchdowns from a clean pocket. The Chargers were able to shut down the Ravens rushing attack, but that doesn’t mean they “made the blueprint to stop it”.
First, the Chargers defense consists Casey Hayward, Derwin James, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Each of those premier defenders makes it a little easier to line up against an athletic offense. Second, the Ravens playbook and roster was constructed for Joe Flacco. The Ravens offense will look entirely different in 2019 under Greg Roman.
Third, the Ravens fumbled on three straight plays, panicked, then played conservatively until they were down three scores. They chose not to go for it on several fourth and short situations around midfield, they didn’t attack the Chargers vertically, nor did they prevent the Chargers from pushing the pocket, often with just four pass rushers. The “blueprint” was generating pressure on over 50% of passing plays.
Finally, Jackson is going to improve. What stopped Jackson in 2017 doesn’t stop him today. What stops him today won’t stop him in 2021. He’s a star in the making, yet still has much to learn.
If he can drop his ‘Superman complex’ and improve ball security, then he will have great success this season. Trying to outrun Joey Bosa and Derwin James to the corner isn’t going to work for anyone, but understanding that the mere threat of doing so can open up lanes for teammates is imperative moving forward.
It would be preferable to let Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon and Mark Ingram take more handoffs with a full head of steam.
A few of the words that embody Jackson’s 2018 performance: Electric, volatile, erratic, inconsistent, explosive and fun.
Jackson has drawn the world’s attention to the Ravens offense like never before. He’s one of the most fascinating players in football today. Regardless of his performance, he will put butts in seats at M&T Bank Stadium, which has had too many empty chairs in recent years.
He played his best in the biggest games, which kept the Ravens season alive. His eight games gave a snapshot of what his potential holds, as well as what he needs to improve upon.
Jackson must improve at throwing screens, following through to his target, finding more consistent arm slots and most importantly, making the right decisions. He must learn the offense well enough to check protection and adjust plays based on what the defense shows him at the line of scrimmage.
Taking what the defense gives him, handing the ball off more and keeping the ball high and tight are all paramount moving forward. Easier said than done, but number 8 is a gym rat.
He’s already identified that he can’t be lazy. His work ethic is nothing short of admirable. He’s gathered with teammates on multiple occasions to throw, and been putting in work on his own as well.
Jackson has gained roughly 10 pounds of muscle this offseason. This should put him somewhere around 225 pounds, which is the size of the average starting running back. That will allow him to take a beating himself in the heat of battle.
The 2019 Ravens should (in theory) look like the 2012 or 2013 Seahawks.
Russell Wilson will be played by Lamar Jackson.
Marshawn Lynch will be played by Mark Ingram.
Richard Sherman will be played by Marlon Humphrey.
Earl Thomas will be played by... Earl Thomas.
Those Seahawks threw the ball a little and ran the ball a lot. When they did take to the air, they were efficient, as Jackson must be. The Ravens boast maybe the best secondary since the ‘Legion of Boom’ and stole their best player. Seattle didn’t boast a 1,000 yard receiver, nor did any player record more than 8.5 sacks in 2013. They did nab 28 interceptions and only allowed one passing touchdown per game.
The Ravens are wise to follow the blueprint of a team that has experienced great success in the past decade.
In one final article, I will predict how Jackson will fare this upcoming season, including stat predictions. Look out for that article in the coming days.