The Baltimore Ravens, riding a three-game winning streak, find themselves in control of their playoff hopes with four games left. If they win out, they will be in the playoffs.
That said, the likelihood of them winning out isn’t high, as they still have games on the road against sophomore standout Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs (this week), and the always-dangerous San Diego Chargers (Dec. 23rd) to worry about. Still, the Ravens are in good position for a playoff run, but there is still a controversy swirling around the quarterback position. Namely, who should be the starter for the final month of the season, Lamar Jackson or Joe Flacco?
Since this debate will continue to rage throughout the week, and likely the next several, my colleague Norm Elrod and I decided to weigh in with our thoughts by making a case for each quarterback. If you want to see Norm’s argument for Flacco, head here.
As for Jackson, there is one quick stat that can be pointed to by defenders of his starting job. He is 3-0 as the starting quarterback for the team this season and one of the primary reasons that the Ravens have gone from discussing a potential coaching change to playoff position in that span.
Now, one could argue that the defense’s effectiveness in those games is the bigger factor in the team winning and you wouldn’t be wrong. The defense has allowed 18 points per game over that stretch and turned in two touchdowns. However, it’s not as if Flacco hasn’t benefited from that defense too as the Ravens have been the seventh-best team in the league by DVOA this season, and that rank moves up a spot to sixth in Football Outsiders’ Weighted Defense metric.
Taking the defense out of it, there is one thing that can’t be denied. Jackson has been integral in igniting the ground game. The team has gone over 200 yards rushing in each of the last three games while averaging over 4.2 yards per carry in each contest. Jackson, when combined with undrafted rookie Gus Edwards, has provided a consistent threat that opposing defenses need to account for on every play. The threat of Jackson running has helped open things up for Edwards as Cian Fahey noted on Twitter.
As you can see in that clip, the linebackers react to the threat of Jackson coming around the edge leaving a gaping hole up the middle for Edwards to blast through. We knew coming out of Louisville that Jackson presented a unique threat in the run game, but the larger concern was his accuracy issues. Through three games, the numbers don’t look great, as he is completing just 60 percent of his passes for just 151 yards per game. However, he has shown strides in identifying coverages and throwing to the right reads.
Drops haven’t helped. The Ravens receivers have had problems all season in this department. Willie Snead has the highest catch rate on the team at 65%, with Crabtree (53%) and John Brown (36%) pulling up the rear among players with more than 48 targets in the league this year. Crabtree leads the league in drops this year (7) and Willie Snead is 11th (4) according to Fox Sports.
All of that is to say that while Jackson hasn’t been impressive as a passer, the receiving corps hasn’t exactly helped either quarterback this season. With that in mind, the question seems simple. Would you rather have Joe Flacco, a stationary pocket passer who is coming off a hip injury to play with a limited receiving corps? Or, would you rather have Jackson, who poses a threat both with his arm and in the running game, when going up against the Chiefs and Rams in the next few weeks?
Both the Chiefs and Rams rank among the league’s worst teams in defending the run. Against two explosive offenses, one of the best defenses is to keep that unit on the sidelines by controlling the clock with the running game. Jackson gives you more versatility and more explosiveness in the running game which is why he should continue to start.