It’s time to call Lamar Jackson’s bluff

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson rolls out looking to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Baltimore. Photo by Gail Burton/AP Photo.

We forgave him for the 2018-19 Wild Card mishap against the Los Angeles Chargers, and rightfully so. He’d come in for a subpar quarterback in Joe Flacco midseason and ultimately exceeded expectations. Was the spotlight too bright for him? Yes, but he would learn.  

We forgave him for the 2019-20 Divisional Round debacle against the Tennessee Titans. Sure, he didn’t throw the ball well, but he did lead the Ravens to their first back-to-back AFC North titles in franchise history and was phenomenal throughout the regular season. Bad games would happen, and he would bounce back.  

We cannot forgive him for the 2020 regular season calamity against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  

“But it’s only the regular season!” It is, but the reality is that judgement day waits for no one. We cannot continue to ignore the fact that Jackson is a quarterback — yes, a quarterback — yet cannot throw the ball. Sure, the run-pass option is nice, the dodging and weaving excites the crowd and he electrifies the offense. But when the kitchen starts heating up, and pressure is at an all-time high, he has continually fallen short.  

As a matter of fact, we are being generous to a player who has failed to show up against big teams on multiple occasions. Let’s use the Kansas City Chiefs as an example. The first outing can be excused on the fact that it was Jackson’s rookie year, and he was thrown into the fire midseason. However, his second outing was wrongly excused by fans and analysts alike; although Jackson had 267 passing yards, he did not do anything in drives that would make the Chiefs fear his throwing ability. He was only able to find his tight ends, meaning the wide receivers served little to no purpose.  

We once again return to the main point, which is that Jackson may excite the crowd by his ability to run with the football, but when he needs to change a game with his arm, he simply cannot do it. Sure, making a five-yard pass to tight ends Mark Andrews or Nick Boyle is simple, but making the more difficult 15-yard pass into a tight window to his wide receivers — be it Marquise Brown or Devin Duvernay — is something he simply cannot do.  

His most recent outing against Patrick Mahomes was a complete disaster, with Andy Reid’s defense forcing him to throw the ball. Once again, we saw the same issues that have plagued Jackson when going up against big teams, which is his inability to connect with wide receivers, meaning the defense only had to worry about Baltimore’s tight ends and running backs. Even when he did complete a pass, it was almost always behind or infront of his respective receiver, never putting them in the best position possible. He finished the game with less than 100 passing yards, and although he had 83 rushing yards, they did not impact the game. 

Now, let’s return to the calamity that occurred on Sunday, Nov. 1. If there was ever a time for Jackson to change the narrative surrounding his performances against clutch teams, it would have been against bitter AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers. It would be the first time the former Louisville Cardinal would go up against Ben Roethlisberger, and he wanted to make it count. From the get-go, most football fans definitely had a feeling that there would be a repeat of what had occurred against the Chargers, Titans and Chiefs. And boy, were they right.  

Baltimore’s first drive of the game saw Jackson get intercepted due to a poorly thrown ball which was intended for wide receiver James Proche II. Using the words “poorly thrown” does not do it justice, as a good NFL quarterback would have read the coverage and realized that a throw to Proche would not have been the wisest option due to the high probability that Steelers linebacker Robert Spillane would come underneath and get the pick-six, which he did.  

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, front left, fumbles the ball while being hit by Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (39) and inside linebacker Vince Williams (98) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Baltimore. The Steelers won 28-24. Steelers linebacker Robert Spillane (41) recovered the fumble. Photo by Gail Burton/AP Photo.

Jackson would then target Andrews heavily, while also relying on his own running game and that of his running backs. Where Jackson’s inability to throw the ball consistently becomes a problem is seen at the start of the third quarter. An underthrown lofted pass to Andrews was picked off by linebacker Alex Highsmith, killing all the momentum garnered by the Ravens in the first half. The Steelers would end up getting great field position at the 18-yard line, with Roethlisberger finding tight end Eric Ebron on the first pass of the drive for a touchdown, cutting the lead to three.  

One of the main things that was also observed throughout the majority of the match was Lamar’s inability to put his receivers in the best position possible. On multiple occasions, receivers had to stretch to make the catch or make sure the ball was not intercepted. Any big pass plays he made were mostly thanks to busted coverage, which was the only hope he had of making a difference with his arm. 

Another clear example of Jackson’s inability to make a difference with his arm can be seen in the second-to-last drive of the game. Down 28-24 in the fourth quarter, with less than two minutes to go, Jackson chose to scramble and run it third and fourth down, failing to look for the pass first, something that ultimately cost them as the Ravens turned the ball on downs. On the last drive of the game, Jackson once again relied on low-yardage throws, and he even struggled with that, failing to find Andrews on a simple eight-yard throw on third down.  

Lamar would find Willie Snead on busted coverage, but it wouldn’t be enough as the Ravens would fail to score, with Pittsburgh once again proving to the world how fallible Lamar can be when forced to throw the ball.  

So, now what? Can Jackson get better? I believe he can. A lot of bright spots were seen in the match, such as Lamar’s excellent touchdown pass to Miles Boykin and his second touchdown throw of the game to Brown to retake the lead in the fourth quarter. However, he needs to show consistency in order to truly take the next step. His accuracy needs to improve, and he must get better at targeting his wide receivers throughout the match.  

Yes, John Harbaugh and the coaching staff should continue taking advantage of his strengths, which — of course — is his running, but they must balance that with his ability to pass the ball. A hybrid of sorts, that would create a system in which he can scramble and run, scramble and throw, or stay in the pocket. However, this one-trick pony stuff cannot continue, or it will lead to easy pickings for opposing defenses. 

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