Lamar Jackson is back in the NFL playoffs. Last year’s MVP experienced an inconsistent regular season. Baltimore struggled to find their offensive form; they experienced some injuries and dealt with Covid chaos.
At one point it looked like the Ravens might miss out on January football, a dominant December changed that narrative.
Baltimore surged their way into a wildcard spot; now the Ravens must confront the demons of last year’s playoffs. That’s right, standing in the way of Lamar Jackson is the Tennessee Titans. It’s time to take the next step.
January Is the Crucible for Jackson
Jackson enjoyed an incredible year last season; he ran to the MVP. Baltimore took the one seed in the AFC; then the tenacious Tennessee Titans punched Baltimore in the mouth. Derrick Henry’s crew ran all over Baltimore in a devastating display of rushing dominance. Baltimore was heartbroken, the best team in the NFL got ambushed at home.
A lot of the scrutiny in the aftermath fell at the feet of Lamar Jackson. There were the usual lazy accusations of him choking or being a playground bully. None of those takes was correct. Baltimore fell behind by a lot early on; the coaches designed a team that plays from the lead, not a team that can come back on teams. That can happen, particularly in a one and done format that is the NFL playoffs.
Jackson is a fantastic player. The NFL world knows that. Now, he must make a mark in the playoffs. Players get judged in the postseason, that is when they can create their legend. Lamar Jackson knows this; he owns all the skills, now he and his team need to find another level this January. The Ravens know they threw a Super Bowl shot away last year, they’ll be desperate not to do it again.
Ironically, being the wild card might suit the Ravens, as they are in great form right now. The Ravens surged their way into the playoffs; now they need to step up, they also require their former Heisman Trophy winner to bring it. Be in no doubt, Jackson is more than capable of bringing it.
Why He Can
Following on from that bizarre Thanksgiving game against the Steelers, the Ravens’ offense came back to life. It is a ground and pound attack, right now the Ravens are pounding their opponents into submission. In the last three games, they’ve averaged 270.7 rushing yards. Finally, Baltimore is back to what made it successful in the previous year.
They are running brilliantly out of run-heavy formations. For example, earlier this year, they tried to run out of pass-heavy looks. Once Mark Ingram got injured, it didn’t work. Recently, they’ve reverted to using run-heavy packages. It is performing exceptionally well. It all bodes very well for Jackson.
Baltimore is averaging 7.3 yards rushing when they run outside the tackles. That suggests that the tight-ends are blocking brilliantly downfield. Pair this with a dominant offensive line; the Ravens can run the ball on anyone in the AFC.
The Ravens’ offensive line ranks fourth in run-block success. That is more than good enough for John Harbaugh’s team. With the guys upfront establishing the run, Greg Roman uses his diverse backfield to full effect.
Then we see Jackson. He is the best runner of the lot. He’s so smooth, so fast and he reads the field magnificently. The three backs mentioned above cause chaos for opposition defenses; it creates more opportunity for Jackson to use RPO plays or run the ball out of shotgun. Establishing the run allows Baltimore to unlock its best runner, Jackson can feast then.
Unlock the Passing Game
Creating a sustainable run game makes life easier for Jackson in the passing game. Except for Dez Bryant, the other Ravens wideouts aren’t the big-bodied contested-catch guys. They need to be open, Jackson is an excellent open-window thrower.
Open windows come from establishing the run, which creates RPO and play-action opportunities. The Eagles employed this tactic brilliantly when they won the Super Bowl; the Ravens can do it as well.
After Week 12, Jackson posted four games with a passer rating above 100. In between Weeks 13 to 17, Jackson’s downfield completion percentage also jumped up. In a lot of those chunk plays, you notice how open the receivers are. That is down to building an elite running game.
Due to the electric running game, Lamar Jackson is passing better than ever. He looks confident, poised plus he is throwing into some fantastic windows. The Titans pass defense is lacking, in recent weeks we’ve watched them get dominated through the air. Jackson is a clean passer, his decision making is on point, and he excels at throwing the ball around.
The Ravens enter the playoffs as the wildcard no-one wants to face. The Titans will not fear them, quite rightly so, but nevertheless the Baltimore Ravens are playing better football than Tennessee.
In Lamar Jackson, Baltimore possesses one of the hottest quarterbacks in the game; he can take the Titans out. Can Lamar Jackson step up in the playoffs? Allow me to answer by borrowing a phrase from a famous Chicagoan; yes, he can!