A few weeks ago, I questioned whether or not 2020’s version of Lamar Jackson had the same issue as peak Joe Flacco. That is, “is Lamar Jackson elite?” After leading his team on an undefeated streak and (finally) securing his first playoff victor against a tough Titans team, one has to say “yeah, probably.”
There are still some questions that are to be answered (such as “can he beat Buffalo and KC/Cleveland [again]”), but he did enough Sunday to shut some naysayers up. I don’t anticipate the others going away so silently. Now, I get it. Lamar Jackson isn’t exactly your prototypical quarterback. He’s like a mix of Kaepernick, Vick and–at times–a larger Russell Wilson. Five times out of ten, he’ll beat you with his feet and footwork. He’s fast as hell and has the build of a running back in some ways. Now, those otherfive times, as he exhibited Sunday and throughout the end of the 2020 season, he can beat you with his arm. There are times he’ll underthrow a pass (like his INT against the Titans) and we’ll collectively scratch our heads and shout profanities like we’re on the Nickelodeon Hot Mic. However, over the last six or so weeks, he’s made it known that while he can run with the best of them, he can also pass better than most of them. Jackson, like his opponent this week Josh Allen, has evolved into a true dual threat. All it took was a fire lighting under their collective asses.
Even with that fire, though…the Ravens aren’t typically meant to be an air-it-out team. They’ve almost never been a team to outgun you with arm strength. The Ravens, aside from a few seasons, have all but lived and died by the run. From end-term Marchibroda to Brian Billick to John Harbaugh, running–and therefore ramming–the ball down their opponents throats has been their weapon of choice. That’s even when Flacco decided to get pass happy towards the end. Heck, that’s even considering the team had a plethora of yards thrown by Vinny Testaverde back in the beginning. No one would ever mistake Trent Dilfer for Brett Favre or Troy Aikman. For a while, the Ravens’ offense had a quarterback because it was required to play the game. Flacco changed that in some ways, but the team still revolved around the run. Former RBs such as Ray Rice, Alex Collins, Justin Forsett and others during Flacco’s tenure directed the offense more often than not. Someone on Twitter–can’t recall who–sent a tweet along the lines of “Baltimore is where WRs go to die” (disregarding folks like Torrey Smith, but I get the idea).
However, getting a QB who can do both? It’s proven wise for the Ravens. Jackson, I’ve come to accept, is still a 24-year-old. He will still make mistakes. But I think the Ravens are in good hands. This weekend’s showoff between the two title contenders has the makings of an instant classic. It’s a snow game featuring two of the best QBs in the game right now (who’ve both had their struggles), tough defenses, and RBs who are hungry. Devonta Freeman may be the hungriest of them all on Buffalo’s side, having tasted Super Bowl sweets (and having them taken away by the Patriots’ comeback in Super Bowl LI). Let’s see where this one takes us.