The Baltimore Ravens do not have a plethora of household names on the offensive side of the ball like the Kansas City Chiefs or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, they do have the most electrifying dual-threat quarterback in both college and NFL history in QB Lamar Jackson.
While the former unanimous league MVP does have a First-Team All-Pro offensive tackle protecting his blindside in Ronnie Stanley, and one of the premier pass catchers at the tight end position in Mark Andrews, there aren’t any other ‘stars’ just yet.
The only other player on that side of the ball that has made one or more Pro Bowls is newcomer OT Alejandro Villanueva at offensive tackle. He defected from the Ravens’ archrival Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency and is making the transition to the right side after spending the first six years of his career on the left.
There are a handful of young ascending players that could make a name for themselves this year such as second-year running back J.K. Dobbins and third-year wide receiver Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown; both poised for breakout seasons.
Over the last two offseasons, General Manager Eric DeCosta and Co. have done their best to surround Jackson with the requisite weapons that will take some if not most of the onus to make plays on the ground as well as through the air off his shoulders. But make no mistake, Jackson is the best weapon they have against opposing defenses.
His dynamic generational skillset can mask the mistakes that his teammates make on any given play and hide their individual deficiencies. It can also help elevate their level of play as well as make their respective jobs much easier with all he can do to make and extend plays with his arm and legs.
Thanks to the threat he presents as a runner, edge defenders often can’t just come crashing down the line of scrimmage when playing the run. They have to both expect and respect him as a potential ball carrier on any given play because if they don’t he can take it the distance in almost an instant.
This causes defenders both on the edge and near the line of scrimmage to freeze momentarily or at least slow down a bit until they can definitively ascertain who has the ball on zone-read and read-option plays. Those pauses and delays can be just enough time for the Ravens’ running backs to find and hit lanes that open up heading in the opposite direction of Jackson which can lead to big plays and even touchdowns.
His elusiveness helps his offensive line look better than they actually are at times because he can avoid disastrous plays when one or more of them get beat off the line or in one-on-one blocking situations. His ability to escape the pocket and elude would-be tacklers that sometimes chase him deep into the backfield allows his blockers time to recover, pick up another block, or assist others in theirs while he looks downfield to pass or decides to tuck and run.
The running backs aren’t the only offensive skill position that greatly benefits from the threat their quarterback presents with his legs. Jackson’s rushing ability makes opposing defenses always play the run first when facing the Ravens’ offense because even in long down and distance situations, there’s a chance he’ll take off and pick up a lot more than just move the chains if he can’t find an open target or sees a crease he can hit.
While Jackson is arguably the most dangerous ball carrier in the league and a nightmare to try to tackle in the open field, he is always looking to pass first and foremost. His capability as a scrambler allows him to extend plays and gives his pass-catchers more time to get open or at least gain some separation downfield. Since there will often be more defenders in the box dedicated to stopping the run, his wide receivers and tight ends will continuously have plenty of opportunities to make plays in one-on-one coverage.
The Ravens defense gets a major morale boost and energized by watching Jackson do his thing and operate the offense. They also get to catch their breaths and stay fresh on the sidelines when the offense goes on long extended drives so that they can finish games almost as strong as they begin them more often than not.
Calling Jackson the ultimate equalizer for the Ravens’ offense isn’t an homage to Denzel Washington’s fictional character Robert McCall who serves as a highly trained guardian angel to the less fortunate in his action film series “The Equalizer”. It highlights the vital role that the 24-year old has played as both the focal point and driving force on that side of the ball for the team since he became the full-time starter midway through his rookie season.
True franchise quarterbacks are those that don’t just play at a high level themselves but also raise the play of those around him, Jackson does that and much more for the Ravens. Hopefully, the upgraded weapons at his disposal and the revamped blocking unit in front of him will alleviate some of the pressure off of him to elevate them and they can return the favor more going forward.