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Quoth The Ravens: “Pass some more!”

Every Sunday I sit down and enjoy 10 to 12 hours of football. I have a deep love for two NFL teams, The Ravens and The Cardinals, but recently the only thing the Cardinals have brought me is sadness. After bringing back their franchise quarterback, Kyler Murray, they have proven they are such a poorly run organization that they are not even capable of properly carrying out a tank. On the other hand, this year The Ravens have looked better than ever. They are the pinnacle of a well-coached and properly run organization. This off-season the Ravens signed their franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson to a $260 million extension. So far this season, Jackson has played better than ever.

Historically I have been a Jackson doubter. Despite being MVP of the league in 2019, I doubted his ability to have future success. I thought teams had successfully adjusted around him. I believed he could not read defenses. I was certain he could not throw a deep ball. And I knew each season he would face season-ending injuries because he is a running quarterback. I was wrong. While Jackson may never again match his amazing statistics from 2019, he does not need to in order to win games. Football is about winning games; a quarterback is simply a tool within the offense to more effectively win games. This season The Ravens have changed the way they use Jackson. While it has made his statistics less flashy, it has made him a more effective quarterback allowing his team to be more successful.

The play callers are asking for less of Jackson in the run game. Last year he played 12 games; he has already played 11 this year. So far this year he has rushed for 535 yards compared to last year where he rushed for 764. Despite this, he has five rushing touchdowns compared to three. Rather than relying on him to make big plays using his legs, his running skills are being used more tactically -- in point-scoring situations. Jackson’s average run distance last year was 6.8 yards per carry compared to this year where he is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. These factors limit the amount of time Jackson spends in the open field in danger of getting seriously injured. They also make it harder to defend against him because, while his runs still need to be defended, there is more of an expectation that he will pass, making it easy for defenders to forget to defend the run. 

The most important thing the Ravens have done to make Jackson a more effective quarterback is to acquire receiving weapons in the off-season. This year the Ravens used their first-round draft pick to acquire rookie receiving sensation Zay Flowers, as well as adding veteran receivers Odell Beckham, Junior, and Nelson Agholor. It is difficult to ask a franchise quarterback to win games without elite receivers. In previous years Jackson’s peers who have had playoff success have all had elite receivers. Patrick Mahomes has Travis Kelce, Josh Allen has Stefon Diggs, Joe Burrow has Jamar Chase, Jalen Hurts has A.J. Brown, and Brock Purdy has Deebo Samuel – all elite quarterbacks with playoff wins who are equipped with elite receivers.  By comparison, Jackson has had very little receiving talent. These acquisitions to The Ravens receiving room, combined with the better usage of Jackson in the run game, have made him a more effective passer. This year Jackson has a completion percentage of 69.5% which is up from his percentage of 62.3% last year and is by far the best in his career. This percentage ranks 5th among quarterbacks and is only .7% behind the leader of that statistic, Brock Purdy. He also has nearly 200 more passing yards on considerably fewer attempts than last season. Jackson is a more efficient passer than he has ever been.

The Ravens are currently 9-3, making them one of the best teams in the league. This is in no small part due to the more effective usage and better play of Lamar Jackson. As a Ravens fan, I am happy to say that I was wrong. Jackson is playing like an elite quarterback, and The Ravens have finally found the proper usage balance between his impressive running and ever-improving passing. If they continue along this trend, The Ravens will be legitimate Superbowl contenders in January.