Lamar Jackson has heard the outside noise.
Off the field, he's been called a running back and wide receiver and told he can’t throw the ball. He’s heard all the criticisms and naysayers in just a year and a half in the NFL and done his best to stay away from negative comments about himself or the Ravens.
On the field, Jackson is leading the 5-2 Ravens into one of their most important mid-season games in years. And he’s doing it with his passing — and his running.
In a league fixated on passing, the Ravens have bucked the trend and built a unique offense around their very unique quarterback. The results have been incredibly positive.
“The way they’ve built the roster is perfect for what we’re trying to do,” Robert Griffin III said. “All those things are signals to a quarterback that, not only have we got your back, but we’re going to surround you with talent.”
Griffin, also a dual-threat quarterback, signed with the Ravens in April of 2018 to backup Joe Flacco. A few weeks later, the team drafted Jackson 32nd overall.
And since then, they’ve gone all-in on their franchise quarterback in one of the most unique ways an NFL team could.
They’ve added young speed and size to the offense in the last two years with Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst at tight ends and Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin and Justice Hill at wide receiver and running back. Greg Roman, who coached Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco to a Super Bowl, was named the offensive coordinator, too.
“Right then and there, it was a sign that they’re going to build a system around him,” Griffin said. “They’re going to help him develop but they’re also going to help him do things he does really really well. That’s a sure sign to a young player that not only are they saying it, but they’re taking actions that show that they believe in him.”
Rather than conform to the rest of the NFL in a wide-open passing league, the Ravens have honed in on what Jackson does well and focused on what he is, rather than what he isn’t.
Since Jackson took over as a starter last season, the Ravens are 11-4 (including playoffs) and have boasted the league’s best rushing attack by far.
This season, Jackson has 576 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 83 rushes this season. By himself, Jackson has out-rushed seven NFL teams and is tied with another.
Through the air, Jackson has 1,650 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions. He’s currently on pace for 5,088 total scrimmage yards through the season which would place him 5th all-time for scrimmage yards by a player in a season.
“I just feel like the energy that he came in the building with, from the moment we got here, you knew what he could be and what his potential was,” Orlando Brown Jr. said. “He’s somebody that loves to win, loves to compete, wants to be the best at what he does. He’s going to do whatever it takes to do that.”
Brown was in the same draft class as Jackson and has seen the change from the offense the Ravens ran with Joe Flacco to the bye week transformation to Jackson.
“He’s night and day,” Brown said. “He’s a lot better player now than he was then. He’s a lot more comfortable in the system, it’s definitely more accommodated to him and I think numbers speak for itself. He’s been able to be productive.”
In addition to the 2018 class, the Ravens made it a point to add different types of weapons across the board for Jackson to utilize in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Baltimore brought in ‘Hollywood’ Brown, Boykin and HIll to give Jackson young weapons. It signed veteran Mark Ingram to give the team a physical running threat and kept Gus Edwards.
And for everyone, it was obvious that the skillsets they added were going to mesh immediately.
“Since day one,” Hill said. “They’re not going to draft you if they don’t think you’re going to fit into their skillset. I just bought in since day one, knowing they’re going to put everybody in the right situations.”
As a team, the Ravens are a bit unique to the rest of the league in terms of efficiency. They’re not like the Chiefs, who try and burn teams with big plays with Patrick Mahomes. Instead, their offense is clock-killing and methodical.
The Ravens lead the NFL in average time of possession at 35:33 per game.
And when the Ravens are faced with a fourth down, they’ve been one of the most aggressive teams in the league.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore... pic.twitter.com/NMGpwpbHDT— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) October 21, 2019
They have a different value system than the rest of the league, and through the first 15 games of Jackson’s tenure, it’s paid dividends.
There’s still been doubters, however, of the Ravens long-term viability of the offense.
The Ravens don’t let that impact the team and Jackson doesn’t let that impact him.
“I don’t think he pays much attention to it,” Orlando Brown said of Jackson. “He knows people say he can’t pass, and that’s something that he’s always been dealing with being a black quarterback. If I was a quarterback, too, I’d take offense to that just being in his situation.”
But the Ravens have a support system for Jackson in place, something that’s permeated through the rest of the quarterback room.
They’ve kept Griffin as a backup quarterback for Jackson and brought in Trace McSorley to be a third string quarterback, fully committing the rest of the team to the system.
“Each one of us is a little bit different,” McSorley said. “You’re able to see what Lamar can do in this offense. I think the best part about it is it puts the players in the best spot to be successful, whether it’s quarterback or receivers or offensive line.”
While other teams around the NFL adjust to a quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses as a passer, the Ravens have done the same thing with Jackson’s legs.
And there’s no doubt who the franchise guy is.
“There is no separatism in the building at all,” Griffin said. “I think that’s really important, and I’m happy for him. In my discussions with him, I’ve talked to him about just how important those things are and to have the organization backing you the way they are is paramount for a young quarterback’s support.”
There aren’t many quarterbacks like Jackson, and Griffin, in the NFL that can move as well as they can with ability to throw on the run.
Baltimore realized that, and leaned into what Jackson does best.
“Tom Brady is not going to run a 4.43, that’s just not his skillset,” Griffin said. “But he’s really good at what he’s really good at. We’re trying to work to where not only can we do the things this guy can’t do, we want to do the things this guy can do and that’s what sets us apart.”
The Ravens offense has been a fascinating watch for the NFL this season, especially as it — and Jackson — continues to evolve.
If the Ravens had tried to turn Jackson into a pocket passer, the results would have been far more negative.
Instead, they made their offense evolve into what he does best. And when an offense is created for a player that is unlike most others, the results can be staggering.
“I don’t think anybody has played with a quarterback like Lamar before,” Boykin said.
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