Most running quarterbacks eventually stop running.
They get older, they get slower, they develop a deeper understanding of the passing game and gradually realize they’re safer throwing the ball than running it.
By his 1998 MVP season, Randall Cunningham only ran 21 times (excluding kneel downs), but he threw 34 TDs and 10 INTs.
By his 2004 Super Bowl season, Donovan McNabb ran only 34 times (excluding kneel downs), but he threw 31 TDs and 8 INTs.
We may already be starting to see that dynamic with Lamar Jackson.
The Ravens’ superstar quarterback owns the two-highest rushing attempt totals in modern NFL history for a QB - 176 last year and 147 his rookie year of 2018.
But check this out:
In 2018, he averaged one run for every 1.4 pass plays, last year he averaged one run for every 2.7 pass play and this year he’s down to one run for every 4.0 pass plays.
He’s still a major threat to take off. But at 23 years old and in his third season, he’s already running significantly less than he did his first two seasons.
“He’s trying to be more of a quarterback,” said Eagles corner Nickell Robey-Coleman, who faced Jackson while with the Rams last year. “He's actually trying to make reads. He's like a running back with the football in his hands. He's a running back and quarterback, but I can now start to see that he's trying to read coverages, read defenses and actually throw the ball to receivers and let them do their thing. That's what I noticed from last year to this year. Last year it was like all run, scramble, run. When I look on film this year he's actually trying to be a quarterback, sit in the pocket and make throws from the pocket.”
Jackson set an NFL QB record with 1,206 rushing yards last year and a 6.9 average, but he also threw an NFL-best 36 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions.
One of the greatest seasons in NFL history.
This past Sunday, he had a career-low two carries (for three yards) in the Ravens’ 27-3 win over the Bengals and threw the ball 37 times, second-most of his career. He was slowed by an ankle injury, but even when healthy he’s been running less.
“We have guys who run the ball very good for us, and we’re winning, so it really doesn’t matter,” Jackson said. “We’re 4-1, so it’s a plus for us right now. But it’s cool. As the season goes on, we’re going to see, [and] if we need to, coach is going to adjust. But right now, we’re doing perfectly fine without me running so much, so we’re doing good.”
Sunday’s game at the Linc will be Jackson’s first against the Eagles, although he was at the NovaCare Complex last summer for two days of joint practices.
If the Eagles are going to win their second game of the year, they’re going to have to do it against a guy who’s won 23 of his first 27 starts.
“Lamar Jackson is probably the most dangerous player in the league,” Jim Schwartz said. “Because there are times you can do everything right on defense and can't catch him or he can throw a ball side-arm underneath a free rusher and complete a pass. I think that you've got to have a resilient attitude when you play him, and you know that a playmaker like him is going to make some plays. You just have to limit his big plays, and you have to stay resilient. You can't hang your head if he ends up making a play.”
Jackson really doesn’t need to run as much this year because the Ravens have three capable running backs. Mark Ingram, the long-time Saint, is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, Rutgers grad Gus Edwards is averaging 5.6 and Ohio State rookie J.J. Dobbins is at 7.9.
With him, they’re the No. 1 rushing team in the league. Without him, they’re still formidable.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who spent 1998 through 2007 with the Eagles, said there was no grand plan to reduce Jackson’s carries, it just kind of happened organically.
“It’s not something we said we wanted to do, but we also understood and knew that things are always going to change and evolve,” he said. “That’s the nature of football. We’re just trying to move the ball and score points, really, by any means necessary. There are really no rules in terms of what direction we go. We just want to find ways to get it done.”
Whether he runs 20 times or throws 40 times, the Eagles will undoubtedly have their hands full Sunday with the Ravens’ 23-year-old MVP.