Mike O’Brien ’23
In the past couple seasons in the NFL, a pattern of a quarterback captivating the hearts and minds of NFL fans around the country seems to be emerging. In the 2017-2018 season, Eagles fans worshipped Nick Foles for helping the Birds win out after Carson Wentz’s injury during the regular season and win one of the greatest Super Bowl games ever over the Patriots. In the 2018-2019 season, Kansas City Chief Patrick Mahomes all but dominated the NFL en route to winning MVP in his second season, throwing for 50 TDs and 5,097 yards. This year a more unlikely QB has been generating endless buzz with his ultra dynamic style of dual-threat quarterbacking: Lamar Jackson.
Although the former Louisville Cardinal won the 2016 Heisman Award, Jackson seemed to have endless doubters heading into the NFL Draft. Criticized for running the ball too much and even having some teams request for him to workout with them as a wide receiver, it appeared that many wrote Jackson off as the next Robert Griffin III; a black quarterback who could run all over college defenders but didn’t have the arm or physique to make it in the NFL. As sports media outlet Bleacher Report tweeted leading up to the NFL draft, “An anonymous OC says Lamar Jackson won’t be able to play QB in the NFL: ‘Mark my words…When he throws, he hopes…’”
Well, it turns out Jackson can play. And he can play damn well. Heading into Week 12, the Ravens stand at 8-2, well atop the lead for the AFC North, and are the two-seed in all of the AFC. How did the Ravens, with a “running back” throwing the ball, end up here? Let’s find out.
While the QB may only rank 19th in total yards for a QB so far this season, this is one instance in which stats can lie. Although this may seem like sub-par numbers for a quarterback who has been thrust into the MVP race, Jackson has been a nightmare for NFL defenses. The second-year quarterback has the 10th most rushing yards in the NFL amongst all players (with more yards than elite running backs like Todd Gurley and Joe Mixon) as well as being ranked third in average QBR with a 77.8. After opening up the season 2-2, Jackson has especially been on a tear over the Ravens’ last six games, going 6-0 with wins over some of the league’s best such as New England, Seattle, and Houston.
In this six game stretch, the Ravens offense has been as deadly as they come, averaging over 34 points per game. The win that established the Ravens as a force in the league was their 37-21 wins over the Patriots in primetime on Nov. 3rd. The Pats’ defense had looked unbeatable all year, giving up a stingy 7.6 points allowed per game up to that point. However, Lamar was able to pick apart the previously near-perfect Pats’ D by posting 163 passing yards and a passing TD while tacking on 61 rushing yards and two rushing TDs. This type of duality in a quarterback was something that the Pats had not seen all season, and they paid the price severely for it by suffering their first loss of the season.
In their Week 11 clash against the Texans, people were expecting to see an epic showdown between two of the league’s premier young QBs in Jackson and Deshaun Watson. However, Lamar stole the show as the Ravens trounced the Texans with the help of a great showing by their defense in a 41-7 victory. Lamar torched the Texans with 222 passing yards, 86 rushing yards, and 4 touchdowns. This was Jackson’s second game in a row with four touchdowns, as he had done the same in a 49-13 win over the Bengals in the previous week. Even Watson recognized the greatness in Jackson, writing “MVP” on the jersey that he gave to Jackson during their jersey swap.
It would also be ignorant not to mention the phenomenal seasons other MVP candidates Russell Wilson and Christian McCaffery are having as well. Wilson, who appears to be right behind Jackson at the moment, is currently having a career year with Seattle, leading the league in QBR, tossing 23 touchdowns, throwing for 2,737 yards, and being the first quarterback to defeat San Francisco this season. McCaffrey, who has been far and away the league’s best running back, has posted unreal numbers as well; the Stanford product has rushed for 1,059 yards and 11 touchdowns and has been the most valuable player in fantasy football all season.
However, despite these two stellar campaigns from Wilson and McCaffrey, it seems that Jackson just possesses the X-factor that makes defensive coordinators lose sleep. Speaking on Jackson’s leadership skills in a conversation with his quarterback on the sidelines, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh went on to say, “You changed the game, man. You know how many little kids in this country are gonna be wearing No. 8 playing quarterback for the next 20 years?”
Indeed, as Harbaugh said, Lamar Jackson seems to be revolutionizing the quarterback position for the next generation of kids playing football everywhere. While mobile quarterbacks are often frowned upon in the NFL and often end up as let downs such as RGIII, one would be remiss to forget about the scrambling greats such as Mike Vick, Warren Moon, Steve Young, and more. If someone wants to grow up to be a running quarterback, Lamar Jackson is only helping their dreams become a reality.
However, the work is not yet done for Jackson and the Ravens. While they look like they could be the team to beat across the league, they still stand behind the Patriots for the lead in the AFC. While the difference between the #1 and #2 seeds may not seem like a huge deal, it appears like home field advantage could be a huge factor in a potential AFC Championship clash between New England and Baltimore. Tom Brady has won a remarkable 20 straight regular season games in Foxborough, while the Ravens were able to handle the Pats comfortable while playing in Baltimore. Every game counts in this race, and with a tricky schedule against the 9-1 49ers and divisional rivals Pittsburgh and Cleveland in the final two games of the season, the Ravens can’t let up. Still, they have plenty to feel good about from their MVP in the here and now.