Lamar Jackson’s first appearance in the Ravens offense on Sunday was at wide receiver—kind of.
The first-round pick made his NFL debut at the 13:02 mark, on second-and-16 near midfield. Jackson was lined up just inside Michael Crabtree on the right-hand side. He was a decoy on a fake jet sweep handoff, and the ball eventually went to Alex Collins for a short gain up the middle. A few plays later on that same drive, Jackson lined up as a quarterback in a pistol/full house-type formation, with Flacco lined up as a receiver to the right.
Jackson kept an option handoff for no gain. Flacco, like most quarterbacks who split out for wildcat-type formations, did not advance to block.
The Ravens built up enough of a lead over the hapless Bills to give Jackson some garbage time (he finished 1-of-4 for 24 yards in 30 total snaps), but what happened on Baltimore’s first drive was by far the most interesting aspect of Sunday’s game plan. It was not necessary. Joe Flacco looked great; comfortable with the best set of weapons he’s had since the team’s Super Bowl run in 2012. He backed up the effusive praise he received from those inside the organization this offseason, who saw the potential for a renaissance year from the franchise quarterback now that he’s totally healthy.
Still, the temptation to take Flacco out and insert another passer into the game was high, because, like many coaches and coordinators before them, John Harbaugh and Marty Mornhinweg are chasing the elusive opportunity to mess with the heads of future opponents.
It didn’t take long for the broadcast to mention Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier admitting in production meetings that he had to prepare for the potential of Jackson on the field. This is catnip for other coaches, who understand the grind and what a few minutes away from their game plan could mean. This was always Rex Ryan’s rationale for the quixotic Tim Tebow experiment with the Jets, and the defining legacy of the wildcat era in Miami.
But Baltimore has a starting quarterback who can actually throw the football.
Perhaps the greatest gift the Ravens got to start this season was an opponent who allowed them to experiment with almost no downside relative to the final score. Now that this is on film it is something to consider for teams down the road. The question is, can Jackson evolve enough over the course of a season to make it truly dangerous, or can Flacco put such a stranglehold on this offense where it’s not even necessary anymore?
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