As much as a showdown between the last two league MVPs would be great for television ratings and from a headline standpoint, sitting Lamar Jackson this week might be in the best interest of the Baltimore Ravens and their chances of winning the AFC North.
They will host reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers and the NFC powerhouse Green Bay Packers in Week 15. However, Jackson is nursing a low ankle sprain that he suffered in the first half of the team’s Week 14 loss to the Cleveland Browns and didn’t practice all week. With his availability for the non-conference bout uncertain and a key road matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals that could potentially decide who wins the division up next, it might behoove the Ravens to give their best player some additional rest.
On Monday, Head Coach John Harbaugh said that he planned to have Jackson available but would monitor his progress throughout the week. On Tuesday, the team signed veteran quarterback Josh Johnson off the New York Jets practice squad. On Wednesday, he said his status was day-to-day after missing the first day of practice. On Thursday after Jackson missed a second straight day of practice, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman eluded that his availability would come down to a game-time decision.
“That’s a hard one. I think it could go down to the wire,” Roman said.
Even after Jackson missed Friday’s practice, which essentially equates to a walkthrough, Harbaugh still wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him playing Sunday.
“I’d say he has a chance,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said Friday. “It’s just one of those things where it’s an ankle sprain where if he starts feeling good … We’ll check him out pregame and he’s in all the preparations and all that. We’ll see where we’re at.
If Jackson is unable to suit up, the Ravens offense would be led by second-year pro Tyler Huntley, who he said will be ready to go after taking all first-team reps in practice this week. In limited action, the 2020 undrafted free agent has shown that he can operate and even excel in Roman’s scheme similarly to Jackson.
He made his first career start in Week 11 against the Bears and led a last-minute touchdown drive to notch his first win as a starter. He nearly guided a miraculous comeback against the Browns this past week before coming up just short in a 24-22 defeat.
Huntley has proven that the offense will be in more than capable hands with him at the helm. He showed tremendous poise and precision late in Chicago and helped the Ravens score 20 or more points for the first time since Week 9 in Cleveland. He spreads the wealth around well amongst his talented group of targets and gives them opportunities to make plays on the ball downfield in high leverage situations.
The starting quarterbacks for both teams heading into this matchup are ailing from a lower extremity injury. Rodgers manages to get by playing on his fractured pinky toe by leaning less on his mobility and more on his mastery of the mental side of the game. However, the Ravens’ offense’s success relies on the quarterback being able to consistently contribute in the run game as well as elude pressure to extend plays in the passing game.
With that in mind, an uninhibited Huntley — who has been a full participant in practice this week — will likely give the Ravens a better chance of pulling off an upset over the Packers over a hobbled Jackson, who sat out the entire week of practice. Recent history shows that when Jackson misses practice time to injury or ailment, he is a little rusty and off-target in the game(s) that follow. So, in the best interest of the immediate and foreseeable future this season, sitting him out this week would be the smartest course of action.
Harbaugh also said Wednesday that the looming game with the Bengals is an absolute non-factor in the team’s decision on whether to play Jackson against the Packers. However, if they have as much faith in Huntley’s ability as they claim, why not give him a shot to do that against a non-conference opponent nearly instead of trotting out a banged-up Jackson?
Another avenue they could explore is to have Jackson active for the game as the emergency backup quarterback behind Huntley and possibly even Johnson if he is active.
The Miami Dolphins deployed a similar tactic in Week 10 when they hosted the Ravens on a short week. Tua Tagovailoa wasn’t healthy enough to start, according to Head Coach Brian Flores, but was able to come off the bench and lead them to an upset victory after interim starter Jacoby Brissett had to leave the game for a short period due to injury. Even after Jacoby was cleared to return to action, the Dolphins decided to roll with the hot hand of their regular full-time starter and it resulted in the second win in their current five-game winning streak.