John Harbaugh’s grandfather, Bill, was a terrible driver.
At his weekly Monday press conference, Harbaugh was asked if he thinks quarterback Lamar Jackson is close to where he was a season ago when Jackson was named league MVP. Instead of a direct answer, Harbaugh took the scenic route.
He talked about his grandfather’s spot in the garage which was constantly nicked up, and one day, Harbaugh’s dad asked about the lack of a rearview mirror in Bill’s car.
"‘What the hell do I need a rearview mirror for?” Harbaugh recalled his grandfather saying, with a big smile. “I don’t need to know where I’m coming from — I need to know where I’m going.’”
He did, however, have a point as it related to Jackson.
“We need to know where we’re going, and that’s what we’re going to work on going forward,” Harbaugh said, finishing his story with a grin.
Through seven games this season it’s clear the Ravens’ offense and Jackson isn’t what it was last year in a season where Jackson won league MVP in a runaway vote and led the way as the Ravens set numerous offensive records.
But the drop-off was most evident in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers.
Jackson threw for 208 yards on 13-of-28 passing — his worst completion percentage of the season — and turned the ball over four times (though the fourth and final turnover, a fumble, was when he was clearly short of the first down marker on a fourth down and stretched for the line). It wasn’t his worst, at least statistical, showing of the season, but it was clearly his most careless as it related to turnovers.
He made plays to keep them in the game with his arm and his legs. His talent is such that it leaves defenses, even the top-ranked defense, grasping at straws sometimes. But his mistakes and turnovers, simply, were the reason the Ravens lost.
“No turnovers, we’re winning the game,” Jackson said postgame.
Through seven games this year, Jackson has thrown four interceptions — two-thirds the total he threw in 15 games last year. He’s on pace for nearly 10 fewer touchdown passes than a year ago as well. Even his rushing numbers, which were expected to drop anyways, have declined. He’s run for 58.7 yards per-game, more than 20 yards fewer per game than he averaged a year ago on about two less attempts per game.
No matter how well Jackson plays, if the turnover bug persists, the Ravens won’t be in position to win many games. It was only due to the rushing attack on Sunday that the offense moved the ball, as they ran for 265 yards on 47 attempts — figures that Jackson undoubtedly impacted.
“So, the bottom line is that turnovers are the thing,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “There’s nothing that tilts the scales toward success or failure in football more than turnovers – getting them and not committing them. We have not done a good enough job with that of late. That’s something that we had done a really good job of up until recently and throughout last year.”
But even after another poor performance for Jackson against a top-tier team — one that drew criticism with valid and invalid points, the time to be concerned about Jackson’s play is still in the future.
Through the first 38 games of Jackson’s career, there’s little evidence to suggest that he’s a turnover machine like he was against the Steelers. In 761 career pass attempts, he’s thrown just 13 interceptions and has lost nine fumbles. Sunday’s loss was just the fourth time in Jackson’s career where he’s thrown more than one interception in a game and the fourth multi-turnover games of his career.
With a bit more care of the football, which there’s plenty of information to back up that's coming, the Ravens’ offense will avoid the big mistakes long-term.
The dip in Jackson’s play is noticeable both on and off the scoresheet, but can be explained in a handful of different ways.
Defenses have adjusted to what the Ravens are doing and give new looks each and every week. The Ravens are without Hall of Fame talent Marshal Yanda at right guard and have since put rookie Tyre Phillips in his place. Now, both Phillips and left tackle Ronnie Stanley are injured — and Stanley is gone for the season. Without an offseason, the Ravens weren’t able to bring along running back J.K Dobbins and wide receiver Devin Duvernay as much as they’d hoped.
All are valid criticisms, but the simplest point is that the Ravens were in a nearly impossible spot to replicate last season’s record-breaking success. In some places, statistical regression was a near-certainty. And to place that all on the feet of Jackson is an unfair assessment of his play so far this season.
As is the nature of quarterbacking in the NFL, Jackson is due to receive the majority of the blame when things go wrong and the majority of the praise when they’re going well. It shouldn’t be any surprise he’s facing criticism for his poor play against the Steelers, as well as the loss against the Chiefs.
But Jackson’s electrifying talent is undeniable. And for the crowd that insists records matter overall, Jackson is now 24-5 as a regular season starter with three losses to the Chiefs, one to the Browns and one to the Steelers. When the Ravens lose, it’s usually to a team of their own standing in the league.
If history is any indicator, at the very least, Jackson will be able to clean up his mistakes down the stretch. For the Ravens, that’s all they can ask for.