When the Baltimore Ravens host the Los Angeles Chargers this weekend, some history will be made, as rookie Lamar Jackson will become the youngest quarterback to ever start a playoff game. The first-round draft pick, whose birthday is on Monday, will be the first player to ever start a postseason game at the quarterback position at the age of 21 or younger.
The Ravens traded back into the first round with the 32nd-overall pick back in the spring in order to select Jackson, an obvious sign of their plans to move on from Joe Flacco. The 11-year veteran started for most of the season, but brought Baltimore out to a 4-5 record before he suffered a hip injury.
That hip injury gave Jackson a few games to try out for the starting job while Flacco recovered. Once he did, and the Ravens continued to win games, the decision was made to leave the rookie under center, transitioning Flacco into a backup role.
Baltimore has gone 6-1 in the seven games that Jackson has started, with their only loss coming to the Kansas City Chiefs. That game took the Chiefs to the limit, requiring them to make two huge conversions on fourth down to score a game-tying touchdown and send it into overtime, where they would eventually come out on top.
While Jackson may not have played lights out, the defense generally has, and his presence has bolstered the running game behind Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon. The quarterback of course has played an instrumental role in the running game himself. He actually led the team in rushing attempts. But I’ll talk about this more tomorrow morning.
If the Ravens are going to make it deep into the playoffs, it’s not going to be off of the strength of Jackson’s arm. He has only completed 58 percent of his passes, though he has averaged 7.1 yards per attempt. That’s far from great, but it could be worse. He has thrown three interceptions on 170 attempts, but he has also fumbled an astonishing 12 times.
No, the running game and the defense will be the key cogs in this machine. The Ravens’ 2441 rushing yards—much of which came in the final seven games—was second in the league, their 19 rushing touchdowns third. They actually had more rushing touchdowns than passing.
Defensively, they owned the fifth-ranked passing defense, the third-ranked rushing defense, and the top-ranked overall defense, allowing the second-fewest points.
A lot of people are still wondering just how seriously they should take Jackson. Even if he can help the Ravens advance a couple rounds in this postseason, I don’t think we’ll have the answer yet. Defenses will adjust to him in 2019, and if he doesn’t develop his arm, he’ll have problems maintaining his success.