When the Ravens fell to 6-4 after their overtime loss to the Titans in Week 11, there was real concern over whether they would miss the AFC playoffs, one season after going 14-2 as the top seed of the the AFC. The central question at the time was “What’s wrong with Lamar Jackson?”
No one asks that anymore about Baltimore’s current NFL MVP quarterback as the team prepares for a rematch in Tennessee in Sunday’s wild card showdown (1:05 pm ET, ABC / ESPN). Jackson is still looking for his first NFL playoff victory and must face the opponent who also knocked out the Ravens 28-12 in last year’s divisional round.
Since that regular-season rematch, the Ravens haven’t lost a game to Jackson. Since Jackson missed the Week 12 loss in Pittsburgh while battling COVID-19, he has returned to lead them on a dazzling five-game winning streak with excellent momentum in his third career playoff game.
Jackson’s performance against the Titans in Week 11 was his last bad. In the past five games, Jackson has a 67.0 completion percentage and a 115.8 passer rating. He averages 8.1 yards per pass attempt. He also averaged 86 rushing yards per game with 15 total TDs.
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Last season, during his MVP campaign, Jackson had a completion percentage of 66.1 and a passer rating of 113.3 while averaging 7.8 yards per attempt. He averaged 80.4 rushing yards per game. His current numbers say that he is now playing at that level or better than him.
So what explains Jackson coming out of his depression? For one thing, he’s just been more accurate as a passer and has shown more decisive juice as a running back. He has returned to being confident and aggressive in his dynamic athletic skill set, versus being tentative. Defenses have done their best to accommodate the Ravens’ unique offensive style with Greg Roman and Jackson was challenged to improve his game.
There’s good reason Jackson didn’t go on autopilot from the start to replay his elite game of 2019.The Ravens lost a large chunk of their offensive line to guard Marshal Yanda until retirement, and then saw the fall. left tackle Ronnie Stanley. with an ankle injury in Week 8. The young wide receivers, led by Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, didn’t make a big jump early and the traditional running game didn’t start out as dominant as it did from wire to wire in 2019.
Jackson seemed to come back refocused after his absence from a game. Time off allowed him to do what he needed to do best to pick up the offense. In turn, Roman and the Ravens deserve a lot of credit for making some good changes around them.
Part of has been settling for the continuity of the strongest offensive line without Stanley and Yanda. Orlando Brown Jr. took a while to adjust the game on the left side to replace Stanley, but turning it around was smart, as veteran DJ Fluker has been robust at right tackle. Both Patrick Merkari and rookie injury substitute Trystan Colon-Castillo have propped up the center. Ben Powers, who made his first start in that Titans game, has been the right guy to take over Yanda’s right guard.
With the Ravens feeling stronger up front, Roman has called in more Jackson-designed runs in to keep defenses off balance, as he is still able to round the corner for big runs as well. The Ravens have also worked to become less predictable about when and how they pass, knowing that the action and game package should be a bigger threat on early downs when defenses are more geared towards stopping Jackson and his rushing attack.
With those concepts, second-year first-round player Marquise Brown and the rest of the wide receivers, at the not-so-subtle request of “Hollywood” himself, have become more involved. Since the Titans game, Brown has caught 26 of 41 goals for 332 yards and 6 TDs in 6 games. Also starter Miles Boykin has just 5 catches in the last 5 games, but 3 went to critical TDs. Tight end Mark Andrews remains his go-to force, but Jackson has done a better job of distributing the ball in key situations.
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Yet no move has been bigger in boosting Jackson than the Ravens’ decision to vanish Mark Ingram backfield and let rookie JK Dobbins and third-year Gus Edwards take over. This complementary duo has delivered an ideal 1-2 shot with much younger legs, which leads to optimizing power and explosiveness in the rushing attack.
During the five-game winning streak, Dobbins and Edwards have outplayed defenses. Dobbins has converted 62 carries on 425 yards and 6 TDs, averaging 85 yards per game and 6.9 yards per carry. Edwards has converted 50 carries on 337 yards and 2 TDs, averaging 67.4 yards per game and 6.7 yards per carry. Ingram had less work to do after he dropped from 5.0 yards per carry to 4.2 this season.
The Titans struggled with many aspects of the Ravens offense in Week 11, before it all came together and Jackson and everything else got hot again. The Titans defense is also unable to do what it did in the playoffs last year.
The best and complete version of Jackson has yet to appear in the postseason. With a little help from his Ravens’ coaches and teammates, Jackson is on a different kind of pace this time around. Overcoming a midseason hurdle has made him stronger for the playoffs.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.