The Ravens Are Letting Lamar Jackson Loose, and the NFL Can't Catch UpNovember 10, 2019
You will hear about this play if you already haven't. You will see it. Then you will wipe your eyes a few hundred times because it looks impossible.
But then again, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is impossible. He can't be explained by the normal laws of time and space. Einstein might call Jackson the Theory of Lamartivity. The way he runs. The way he throws. It all seems like this is some spectacular dream. He is an agent from The Matrix, the child of Steve Young and Mike Vick and an obvious practitioner of the football dark arts.
The play occurred in the first half of the Ravens' 49-13 obliteration of the hapless Bengals on Sunday. Jackson took the snap, faked a handoff to running back Mark Ingram III and then took off left. The Bengals' Carlos Dunlap had the first shot and missed. Dunlap shouldn't feel too bad. Lots of players miss on the first try.
Then Jackson accelerated up the field. The next guy to get a shot was safety Jessie Bates III. Jackson left him in the dust. But his best move was when linebacker Nick Vigil tried to tackle him. Jackson spun, and Vigil grabbed air.
The play went for a 47-yard touchdown. It was so spectacular, so jaw-dropping, that it's easy to forget he's going against NFL players. Yes, the Bengals are NFL players, too.
We're running out of things to say about Jackson and the Ravens offense. He had a perfect passer rating (again) Sunday, completing 15 of 17 passes for 223 yards and three passing touchdowns. He also led the Ravens in rushing with 65 yards on seven carries and added a rushing touchdown.
Jackson is only the sixth player in history to record multiple perfect passer ratings in his career and only the second to do so in a single season. Ben Roethlisberger was the last in 2007.
The Ravens have won five consecutive games and are averaging more than 33 points per game this season.
Marveling over Jackson is something we're likely to do for many years. This day was no different.
But there's something else we're seeing with Jackson that might not be as obvious, and it's the creativity of the Baltimore coaching staff. That creativity and open-mindedness make him an even more dangerous player.
The Ravens are not taking Jackson's talent for granted.
That seems like a simple thing, but it's happened many times before with special talents. The Broncos would simply roll out John Elway and instruct him to win the game without giving him much schematic help. In the past, Aaron Rodgers was constantly asked to be a hero with little innovative help from the coaching staff.
The Ravens are doing the total opposite. They are maximizing every drop of talent Jackson has with creative schemes and smart play-calling.
Head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are his greatest enablers. The combination of the coaching and Jackson's smarts and athleticism make this offense not only the most dangerous in football now but also one of the most formidable in recent NFL history.
Roman has experience with quarterbacks who do more than throw from the pocket. He coached Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and maximized his talents the way he's doing now with Jackson.
One good example came early in the game Sunday when the Ravens went to what looked like an odd formation. In the backfield were Jackson (working from the shotgun), backup quarterback Robert Griffin III and Ingram. It might have been the first time in pro football history three Heisman winners were on the field at the same time, let alone in the same backfield.
Jackson pitched it to Griffin, who ran for 12 yards.
That play wasn't just a gimmick. It's something future defensive coordinators and players will have to absorb and prepare for. Baltimore could do a hundred things from that look.
The Ravens are also using their tight ends intelligently. Because they are all so good at both blocking and receiving, they are difficult to cover.
When the Ravens go to two or three tight ends, are they running or passing? And can you stop them either way?
When it comes to Jackson, what needs to be emphasized about the Ravens' coaching staff and franchise in general—and this will sound weird, but it's important—is their overall open-mindedness about him.
They drafted him when Hall of Fame general managers were saying he should be moved to wide receiver. Then, once he became a starter, some teams and coaches said privately (I heard this a lot) that he couldn't throw from the pocket. The Ravens let Jackson prove people wrong.
Then, some teams and coaches said privately (I also heard this a lot) that the Ravens run Jackson too much, and he'll get hurt. The Ravens didn't listen.
All along, they never put their quarterback in a box, literally or figuratively. They knew what they had and let Jackson be Jackson.
The coaches' job was to design smart and elaborate schemes to maximize his skills. That's what they've done.
Jackson is the main story. He is transforming the way we think of the position. What he did against the Bengals is becoming his typical performance.
But the way the Ravens are coaching him is also special. The combination of both have made Jackson, and the Baltimore offense, almost unbeatable.
All because of open minds.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.