The Ravens fell to the Chargers on Sunday 23-17 after their last-ditch comeback attempt was cut short when Melvin Ingram strip-sacked Lamar Jackson on 2nd-and-10 from the Ravens 47 with under a minute left. In the aftermath of the game, the main question posed by Ravens fans and media alike has centered on whether Jackson should have been in the game at all after the first half.
The Ravens totaled just 55 yards of offense in the first half as they dug themselves a 12-0 hole at halftime. Jackson had a particularly rough start, fumbling the snap twice to kill drives and throwing an interception to end another. During the halftime break, The NFL Today crew weighed in with Boomer Esiason saying that Harbaugh should replace Jackson with Flacco if he continued to play that way in the third quarter. Jackson’s struggles did continue as the first four drives of the second half netted -5 yards. Still, Harbaugh stuck by Jackson and allowed him to play through it and the rookie quarterback led the team on 75 and 80 yard drives that resulted in touchdowns the next two times they had the ball.
So, did Harbaugh make the right move? For me, the answer is yes. For the opposite perspective, you can check out my colleague Norm Elrod’s piece here.
Why do I believe keeping Jackson in was the right decision? There are a couple of reasons. The first is, as a franchise, the last thing you want to do is potentially undercut your quarterback-of-the-future’s confidence by pulling him from a game after you have inserted him as the starter. When you look back at the start to the careers of any top-tier quarterback, they were allowed to and encouraged to push through their mistakes and their tough starts. For just one example, look back to 2013 playoff meeting with the Indianapolis Colts. The Ravens defense sacked Andrew Luck three times, picked him off once and held him to 288 yards on 54 pass attempts (5.3 YPA).
By no means am I saying that Jackson is close to Luck as a rookie in the passing game. The accuracy issues are certainly there. But, if Jackson is your guy going forward, and all signs indicate that, then you have to let him grow through the mistakes, even in the playoffs.
Another reason that I think it was the right call is because, overall, part of the blame for the poor start has to also be shouldered by offensive coordinator Marty Morninwheg. While Jackson had a brutal first three quarters, Morninwheg didn’t do much to help him with the game plan. The Ravens ran on first down on eight of their first 10 drives during this game with those runs totaling nine yards. That includes the fumbled snap by Jackson. Taking that out, they gained 18 yards on those eight first down runs, an average of 2.25 yards per carry.
Heading into the game, everyone knew the strength of the Ravens was the running game. The Chargers, who had just faced Baltimore three weeks prior, were certainly aware of and ready to stop the run. In addition to running on the first play of those drives, the Ravens ran on 2nd down on five of those drives, gaining nine yards on those plays and losing a fumble. It took until the team was down 20-3 for the offense to open up more and at that point the game was already well into the fourth quarter.
Yes, Jackson had an erratic day and looked rattled early in the game with the mishandled snaps, but the gameplan did him no favors by not allowing for quick outlets against a Chargers defense clearly geared up to stop the run. L.A. was daring Jackson and the Ravens to beat them passing. Instead of trying, most drives started with a series of runs. As Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said after the game, that type of offense is easier to defend against when facing it multiple times. (From The Baltimore Sun):
“The more times you see that offense, the better you’re going to be against it,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said after his team held the Ravens to 90 rushing yards, by far their lowest with Jackson starting. “I used to run that offense, and I remember we started off really fast, but, once people got enough tape on us, they could catch up. And I think that’s what happened today, we saw it enough.”
The loss to the Chargers was painful to watch and still hard to swallow. But, those are the growing pains of a young quarterback. Jackson was the only rookie QB to lead his team to the playoffs. He showed that he does have the ability as a passer on the final two drives. The Ravens have the parts to make him successful, but sometimes the best, and most difficult lessons in life to learn, come from failure. Jackson’s comments after the game in that respect were encouraging. Once again, from The Sun.
“I feel like there were a lot of things we could have done, I could have done, I feel, [to] put us in a better situation,” said Jackson, who was sacked seven times Sunday and finished the season with 15 fumbles. “We have to move on now, get ready for next year.”