The Pittsburgh Steelers are now playing in a division in which there is great change going on around them, while they continue to do business as they always have. They are playing out the final years of the Ben Roethlisberger era, however long that may take, and it is now overlapping with new beginnings in each of their rival cities.
That includes the Baltimore Ravens, who like the Cleveland Browns used a first-round pick on a quarterback a year ago. Baker Mayfield was the first-overall pick for Cleveland, while the Ravens waited until the 32nd pick to draft Lamar Jackson.
Jackson got into the starting lineup due to a hip injury suffered by Joe Flacco with seven games to play, and he helped take a 4-5 team into the postseason by going 6-1 as the starter, though they were one-and-done in the Wildcard Round, losing to the Los Angeles Chargers.
While the Ravens were 6-1 with Jackson in the starting lineup, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he was a spectacular quarterback, or at least a spectacular passer. Baltimore had one of the best defenses in the league, which carried much of the weight, and their running game was boosted by the promotion of Gus Edwards, complemented by Jackson as a running threat (he set a quarterback record for rushing attempts in a season, even though he started just seven games).
In his second season, he is looking to make those necessary strides as a passer that all young players in his position must take. But his particular focus is “finishing in the red zone”, he told reporters as the Ravens’ open portion of training camp came to a close.
Jackson completed nine of 21 passes inside the red zone last season for 61 yards, throwing four touchdown passes versus no interceptions. He also rushed 34 times for 107 yards and another four touchdowns. He fumbled the ball four times, but the Ravens were able to recover three of them.
The Ravens did actually have a top-10 red-zone scoring offense before Jackson was in at quarterback, scoring on two thirds of all of their trips inside the 20-yard line over the first nine weeks. But they finished the season ranked 20th, scoring touchdowns on only 56 percent of their trips inside the red zone, which shows a stark decrease.
Becoming a more accurate passer should certainly help Jackson’s cause ,and the Ravens believe that he has made progress on that front by improving his mechanics. He said that his goal for this season is simply “making great passes, trying to catch my receivers in stride”.
Jackson was not great as a deep ball thrower, completing nine of 23 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns versus one interception. He completed only two deep passes that exceeded 30 yards, both to tight end Mark Andrews, one for a touchdown of 68 yards and the other a 74-yard connection.