Lamar Jackson shows marked improvement in second preseason game for Ravens
Ravens rookie quarterback showed some flaws, but made some explosive plays with both his legs and arm
BALTIMORE – Lamar Jackson did not disappoint.
In his first ever appearance at M&T Bank Stadium, the Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback played almost the entirety of the first half and led multiple scoring drives. Jackson made splashy, explosive plays with both his legs and arm while drawing plenty of roars from the crowd along the way. The Ravens' quarterback of the future, whom they moved up to select 32nd overall, certainly looked the part of a novice at times as well, but in general improved upon his initial showing in the Hall of Fame Game last week and provided ample fodder to keep this fanbase intrigued about what he may be capable of down the road.
Jackson isn't competing for the starting job – that belongs to Joe Flacco, who continued his superb summer in his one series of work Thursday night – or for playing time (he's going to see the field right away in certain formations that allow his athleticism to shine). His outings are more about continuing to display a knowledge of the offense, keeping the team moving and picking up invaluable professional experience adapting to the size and the speed of the NFL game.
While he seemed overwhelmed at times against the Bears a week ago, Jackson was more at ease and in control. The Ravens wisely gave him a series with the starting offensive line, during which the Heisman Trophy winner marched right down the field for a highlight-reel touchdown drive. In general, the pass protection was better than the onslaught he weathered in Canton, Ohio. Jackson came out firing – albeit against the Rams backups – and connected on a perfect 36-yard toss to receiver Chris Moore, moving the Ravens 73 yards on five plays.
Jackson did well to abide the message the coaches are imparting to read the game from the pocket, but when it was time to flee he did expertly. Jackson darted away from several defenders, elusive as can be, to scamper nine yards for a touchdown. He is fearless – perhaps to a fault as learning to slide doesn't seem to come all that naturally to him – and he gave the Rams plenty to worry about.
Jackson ended up going 7-for-16 for 119 yards through the air in the first half, and also ran for 21 yards. He overshot a few deep attempts and, surprisingly, failed to get outside on the Rams defenders on multiple occasions, including being stopped just short on a third-and-three sprint to the sidelines. And, what may concern the coaches the most, Baltimore had to burn a timeout on each of his first two drives with some communication issues apparently cropping up. Again, some of that is to be expected given how different this process is than what he experienced at Louisville. There was certainly more good than bad and there was enough razzle-dazzle to make you wonder about the kind of tricks this staff may have prepared for Week 1, when Jackson takes the field in various spots.
Plenty to build on for a player the Ravens are developing with the longview in mind.
- I came into this week of practices and game between the Rams and Ravens having serious reservations about LA's backup quarterback situation. And, yeah, I'd keep an eye on that. GM Les Snead told me he was hoping Sean Mannion, the only backup on the roster with any NFL experience (just 50 attempts) would build confidence through the summer. Well, not tonight he didn't. It was ugly all around and for a team with such high expectations and a beefed up roster across the board, I'd suggest they trade for a proven backup. There were plenty of reservations in the organization before Mannion went 3-for-13 for 16 yards in the first half with one interception (a bad one). It was a tough gig, with the Rams sitting their starters and Baltimore playing its starting defense for the first quarter, but it was also impossible not to think how cooked this team might be if Jared Goff was to miss even a month due to injury. I'm not saying they need to trade for ex-Ram Nick Foles … but there will be plenty of guys with real NFL experience cut elsewhere and the Rams need to keep their eyes open.
- Flacco looks almost like a fog has been lifted around him. He is truly healthy for the first time since before he tore his knee ligaments during the 2016 season and it shows. He moves with much more fluidity and confidence and is getting things done outside the pocket. He showed off some speed on an early run that seemed designed and went 5-for-7 for 71 yards and a touchdown during his one series of work. "We've had a great camp and it was good to come out here and see it carry over into a game," Flacco said.
- The Rams would love to get this two-year Aaron Donald saga wrapped up before they play their next preseason game. Some in the organization question just how long the defensive tackle would want to hold out into the regular season and the prospect of a big, glitzy press conference next week back in Los Angeles wouldn't be a total shocker.
- The Ravens got flashes again out of two young pass rushers they need to step up. Kamalei Correa wasn't a game-wrecker like he was against the Bears, but he saw action with the second-team defense and looked stout both at inside and outside linebacker. Timmy Williams, I dare say, won't be held without a sack again in 2018. His speed and confidence is apparent, making tackles for a loss behind the line of scrimmage and getting after the quarterback again. Mannion was under significant pressure, though, again, I'd caution the Rams starting offensive line wasn't playing.
- Ravens kicker Justin Tucker isn't quite in top form yet. He actually missed a 60-yarder. Will probably beat himself up about it until the next preseason game.
- Didn't see as much of Ravens rookie tight end Hayden Hurst as I figured. He had a great week of work in practice against the Rams.
- Running back Justin Davis was the only bright spot for the Rams offense (one that mustered just 45 yards on 25 plays in the first half). He ran seven times for 41 yards in the first half, including a powerful 17-yard burst. Todd Gurley, a Baltimore native, did not play in the game.
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