How Lamar Jackson and the Crows reinvented themselves

OWINGS MILLS, Md. There is an argument to be made that Lamar Jackson is not only the best midfielder in the game at the moment but the best footballer of the period. And if he comes close to maintaining his current form, we could witness the greatest season anyone has ever experienced.

Jackson, 25, is playing better than ever – better than he’s ever been His 2019 MVP Collective Campaign – While asking him for more. Jackson was reluctant to admit it when I questioned him about it after Wednesday’s training, but he didn’t dismiss the idea entirely either. Through three games, the Ravens quarterback leads the NFL quarterback and passes touchdown while also robbing his defenses when they attack—the supposed bogeyman—and dominating at pocket throwing, another supposed weakness, according to a lazy misunderstanding about his game. He’s efficiently throwing in from down the center as well, a new wrinkle in offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s evolving system that could portend more supremacy from his most talented pupil.

Oh, and Jackson is tied for fifth in the NFL with 243 rushing yards—although there are far fewer attempts than most runners—with an impressive average of 9.3 yards per lunge, more than twice the league average. Remove his five knees, and he has 21 actual lunges for 248 yards and an impressive 11.8 yards per carry, while also ranking second in the NFL in air yards per pass, according to TruMedia. This is a soccer version of Shohei Ohtani, so it was all right for the cameras to catch a two-way baseball game of GOAT He wears Jackson’s number 8 shirt During the opening weekend of the NFL.

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“You kind of get used to seeing him do these things, but you know it’s not normal,” said the veteran running back Justice Hill. “He’s a player that only comes around once in a generation. It’s crazy to see what he does.”

Jackson’s total of 12 hits is the most of any team in the NFL in three weeks except for the upstart Detroit Lions, who also have 12. The first player in the history of the NFL With no less than 10 passing touchdowns and 200 fast yards during his team’s first three games. He is the only player in history to have had consecutive games of three touchdown passes and 100 fast yards, and in Week 2 he becomes The first player to have 300 passing yards, three or more passing touchdowns, and a 100 passing yard dash, all in the same competition. (In a way, the Ravens still lost out to the Miami Dolphins, an indictment of the depths of a defense he was once proud of.)

An uphill task awaits Sunday with the Buffalo Bills relocating to M&T Bank Stadium, but there are reasons to believe the Ravens’ passing game can sustain that ascent — and that Jackson’s campaign will continue to look different than the previous MVP season. Roman and the Ravens initially reinvented themselves, moving from a quick attack of the revolutionary three-headed monster in 2019 to a new aggressive aerial approach.

In 2019, Baltimore slipped into the No. 1 spot only 39.3 percent of the time, the lowest in the NFL, riding a record running game that often put Jackson in third and short position. The Ravens have struggled to run the ball well almost since backers JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards were injured before last season. This year, Jackson has fallen off about 50 percent of first dips — roughly the NFL average — and has the league’s best starting pass rating.

Jackson Still playing outside the fifth year option Based on his rookie contract and in a way, the 15th highest-paid player in the NFL this season, he’s taking more depth shots in the early touchdowns overall and managing more appearances under center play. And lit when asked about it.

“I love him,” Jackson said beaming. “I feel it’s very effective, because the defenses don’t know if you’re running the ball or backing up to pass it with a playing movement – things like that. So I feel it helps us a lot.”

Roman said, “I really think it adds a different dimension to what we can do going forward.”

The Ravens still don’t put a quarterback under center like most teams, but the transformation is amazing nonetheless. Jackson hit a career high with four passes under the center two weeks ago – then hit a new level with five assists last week. There are all indications more on the way.

“Greg talked about it in the off-season, putting Lamar under position,” said coach John Harbaugh. “That works for us. There’s a running game that goes along with that; there’s a passing game that goes along with that. It’s better in some short-term situations to be able to do that. We’ve usually done that in a short amount of time, but we’ve expanded it to first and second down now.” So I think it has been beneficial to us. Like anything else, we have to keep building on it.”

Jackson almost wore pistol-and-rifle looks in Louisville and said going center in high school wasn’t an option. Jackson cracked: “Nah, my core was just too small.” The quarterback attempted 36 under-center passes in his previous four NFL seasons combined, but when you’re deducting pins to stop the clock and passes from goal-line formations, he’s tried to throw the ball under-centered only 18 times. This season is already 11 for 12 when he passes under center for 106 yards, two touchdowns, and a scintillating 143.1 rating. He’s tried nine bottom-to-under center throws and completed eight, which is a big reason the Ravens lead the NFL in yards per first-down play.

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“Being under center, it’s a lot different with the movement of your foot,” said Anthony Brown. “Lamar threw himself into everything. He was diving into it every single day. We work on it before and after practice and things like that. Lamar is a student in the game, he loves football, and he does his best to give his absolute best. … He He’s able to make a great fake, which he always has been, and he’s able to pull those backers and safety down, and he can throw them over them or throw them into the holes they make. He’s been really good.”

Overall, Jackson was a passing demon, especially in the beginning, when he had some of the best numbers in the game, including an NFL passer rating of 156.9. Hill noted, “Our attack is always evolving, and we’re always looking for ways to expose defences. With Lamar in the middle, anything is possible.”

Jackson, who has done all this despite his questionable offensive streak, and with no proven passing effect except for Mark Andrews, has made significant gains in dissecting opposing defenses when they are also attacking. His susceptibility to blitzkrieg was a common refrain during the injury-shortened 2021 season, and defensive coordinators turned to this strategy. Jackson has 41.4 percent of his players attacked, the most in the NFL. He responded by going 25 for 37 yards at 10.27 yards per attempt (fourth in the NFL) with six touchdowns (first), no interceptions and a 140.8 rating (second).

“Just a lot of studying, a lot of work here on the field, and it translates to the games,” Jackson said of the gains he made against the blitz. Meanwhile, all the blitzkrieg games mean Jackson sees more coverage than any other midfielder, creating mature running lanes to exploit.

So what are defensive coordinators trying now? Most quarterbacks, even the greats Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, struggle against dark coverings, or odd looks with seven defensive backs on the field. The New York Jets tried some of that first week against the Ravens; did not work. Jackson is among the least qualified quarterbacks with five or more defensive linemen on the field – expect that to go up – but he has the third-best passer rating in those positions (106.5) with six touchdowns to one interception.

All this raised the question I asked the man himself: Is this the best Lamar Jackson has ever played? She prompted the pregnant woman, you might say, to stop.

“It’s too early,” Jackson said. “It’s too early now. It’s only three matches. It’s too early.”

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