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SNYDER: Ravens embraced all-or-nothing approach

January 8, 2019

The Baltimore Ravens considered the long view Sunday when they stayed with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson instead of relieving him with veteran Joe Flacco.

Jackson was acquired via a first-round draft pick and represents the future. Flacco hasn’t played since Nov. 11 and is headed out of town. Pulling an ineffective Jackson from the wild card game against the San Diego Chargers would’ve created a dilemma if Flacco led Baltimore to a comeback. Could the Ravens go back to Jackson in that case?

No matter how it turned out, benching Jackson might’ve been a crushing blow to his confidence moving forward. His run-heavy style and shaky passing ability have made him a question mark since he left Louisville and fended off pre-draft suggestions of a position change. He would’ve faced renewed doubts if he was removed from his first playoff game, even after leading Baltimore to victory in six of seven contests down the stretch.

Coach John Harbaugh apparently decided that turning to Flacco wasn’t worth the risk to Jackson’s psyche or the team’s collective belief.

“I can assure you we were considering putting Joe in the game,” Harbaugh told reporters after the Ravens’ late rally fell short, 23-17. “Everybody was on the same page with what we did, everybody including Joe.”

Flacco’s feelings on the matter should’ve mattered least. But it’s hard to imagine every player being behind Jackson after three quarters.

At that point he had completed three of nine passes for 25 yards, with no touchdown passes, three fumbles, three sacks and an interception. The score was only 12-3. Broadcasters were calling for a switch. Fans at MT Bank Stadium were booing and pleading for Flacco.

Putting Jackson on the bench would’ve been completely understandable. If his ego is so fragile that he couldn’t recover, he’ll never be the quarterback Baltimore needs.

Questions about his game haven’t disappeared just because he finished the contest. There are rampant suspicions that Baltimore’s Jackson-led attack is untenable. Los Angeles only reinforced the skepticism.

The Ravens gained 361 yards in a Week 16 victory against the Chargers. Jackson passed for 204 yards and ran 13 times for 39 yards. His yardage on the ground included a 27-yard burst, while tailback Gus Edwards rushed for 92 yards.

On Sunday, Baltimore was held to 83 yards entering the fourth quarter and finished with 229 only 90 on the ground.

“The more times you see that offense, the better you’re going to be against it,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn told reporters.

“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 Chargers crowded the line of scrimmage and dared Jackson to beat them through the air. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, L.A. used seven defensive backs on every snap. The unusual alignment gave Lynn’s defense more athleticism to counter Jackson’s elusiveness outside the pocket.

His speed and quickness as a runner make Jackson such a tempting quarterback prospect. Teams enjoy an edge when they employ a dual threat under center. But it only works if defenses must respect the QB’s ability to hurt them with his arm.

Otherwise, the offense becomes too one-dimensional and the quarterback becomes a health risk every time he takes off. Jackson’s accuracy has been a concern from the start. His ball security and pocket awareness are also major issues. He never looked worse than he did Sunday, and you have to wonder if Los Angeles provided a blueprint.

“I feel like I played poorly,” he told reporters. “I feel like there were a lot of things we could have done, I could have done. I didn’t play my game ... only toward the end. There are a lot of things I need to work on.”

That’s an understatement.

He’ll be the latest passer to challenge the theory that accuracy can’t be coached, that players either have the ability to throw through tight windows and hit receivers in stride, or not. Great passers make it look easy to avoid overthrows and underthrows as angry defenders crash the pocket, but many QBs never develop that skill sufficiently.

Jackson’s mechanics remain a work in progress, which isn’t unusual for young quarterbacks. He was all over the place with his footwork and his delivery against the Chargers, who sacked him seven times. They made him look as clueless and ineffectual as Mark Sanchez against the Giants last month at DeadEx Field.

However, the Ravens are committed to Jackson. They could’ve maintained that posture and still called on Flacco one more time, an option that won’t exist next season. But now there’s no turning back.

From this point on, it’s all Jackson, all or nothing.

⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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