Lamar Jackson's 2019 season was nothing short of brilliant. Statistically, his success in both the running and passing game was something few have achieved. On the field, he was a walking highlight reel every single week. That effort made him the easy choice for Most Valuable Player.
Yet, that campaign is now in the past and has a bitter taste with the Ravens exiting early from the playoffs. Jackson's 2019 success has quickly turned into lofty expectations for 2020. Repeating as the MVP of the league is no easy task, but putting the hardware aside, is it reasonable to believe that Jackson can find similar success in his third season as a pro?
NFL Network's Steve Wyche believes so, but it may not be a mirror image of 2019. As both Jackson and the rest of the NFL continue to grow, things are bound to change.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be replication because I think Greg Roman and this offensive continue to evolve," Wyche told NBC Sports Washington.
The main reason Roman's system will reach new levels in 2020 is simply because it has to. Jackson's and the Ravens' success on offense undoubtedly put the rest of the league on notice. As innovative as the dynamic was in Baltimore, defenses will not spend time scheming against it.
"Defenses are going to change their coverages and things like that when they play the Ravens," Wyche said.
Wyche likens the adjustment Jackson will see in 2020 to what happened to Colin Kaepernick when he burst on to the scene with the San Francisco 49ers in 2012. With Roman calling the plays for Kaepernick, the two created an RPO offense that professional defenses weren't prepared for.
Great at first, coordinators were able to then find ways to stop Kaepernick from torching them. The offense was still effective, but there was now a defense to combat it. That example may make Jackson's 2020 season seem grave, but Wyche doesn't seem the quarterback being completely stopped.
Instead, Jackson will just have to continue to adapt at the position. If defenses are now going to harp on his ground game and try to keep him in the pocket, he'll need to learn how to hurt teams through the air more consistently and read opposing schemes at a higher level. 2019 demonstrated Jackson's improvement in arm accuracy, and that will now need to continue this season because it is where defenses will be vulnerable.
"We saw Lamar expand his game as a passer. A lot of it with the between the hash marks type-of route, a lot of tight end stuff," Wyche said. "That’s going to open up, that field is going to open a little bit for him."
“I think he's just going to expand overall as a quarterback. His knowledge of opposing defenses, his knowledge of opposing personnel is going to continue to get better," Wyche added.
Though Baltimore and Jackson will need to evolve in 2020, it doesn't mean last season's success on the ground will be thrown away. The Ravens will continue to use their ground attack to their advantage, and Jackson will be a part of it. His speed, athleticism and dual-threat ability is something that will never be restricted.
“I think he’s going to continue to run, they’re not going to take away a strength from him," Wyche said.
In addition, Jackson's backfield counterparts will be able to help him move the ball on offense. Mark Ingram leads a running back group that now has a strong secondary option in J.K. Dobbins out of Ohio State. If defenses work to try and stop the two of them and Jackson option-runs, receivers will be open. If they don't stack the box, the ground game will continue to beat defenses down.
It's a pick your poison going against the Ravens' offense.
“Some of the pieces they added in the offseason. You get J.K. Dobbins to go with Mark Ingram," Wyche said. "That’s only going to help set up the play-action pass game because they’re going to be able to run the ball like crazy.”
Jackson's 2019 MVP season was truly one of a kind. Even if the quarterback continues to make jaws drop in the future, it will never be a mirror image of that campaign. He and the rest of Baltimore's potent offense have a major target on their back, as defenses around the NFL will make it their goal to stop them.
Adjustments will be needed, but Wyche believes that if anyone can do it, it's Jackson.
"Teams are going to be coming for the Ravens. They always do, but they’re going to be coming for them a little bit differently," Wyche said. "So it’s going to be more of a challenge, but I think his experience will allow him to evolve.
“He’s a natural leader, I think he’s just going to continue to grow.”
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