It was all Lamar Jackson could do to stifle a smile as he stood at the podium, taking questions in the aftermath of leading the Baltimore Ravens offense to a 59-10 blowout victory over the Miami Dolphins.
As he raised his eyebrows, he uttered six words that made for one of the best soundbites of Week One: “Not bad for a running back.”
Baltimore Ravens Offense Makes Early Statement
Jackson had just played about as flawless a game as any NFL signal caller could ever hope for, completing 17 of 20 passes for 324 passing yards and five touchdowns, good for a flawless 158.3 quarterback rating in about three quarters of work. It was an absolutely scintillating performance from the 2018 first-round pick and easily one of the best stories from opening weekend.
It’s inarguable that Jackson had been the subject of endless off-season scrutiny regarding his capabilities as a passer. In fact, his game was nit-picked to ridiculous levels as pundits tried to assert that the sophomore was only effective as a runner. But on Sunday, he didn’t need to run, as his three carries for six yards illustrate. No, instead he looked every bit the part of a true franchise passer and it was evident to anyone watching.
Not bad for a running back? Nope. Not bad. Not bad at all.
A Changing Landscape
As the quarterback of an NFL team, the story this week has been all about Jackson. While he deserves much of the acclaim, of equal importance is the incredible development of Baltimore’s offense in a single off-season.
Always a franchise known for running the football and playing great defense, the Ravens looked more like “The Greatest Show on Turf” on Sunday than the much more methodical, ground and pound-oriented club that has won two Super Bowls this century.
The NFL is changing, and the Ravens have clearly adapted. Yes, they still ran the ball in bunches on Sunday (46 times to be exact), but the passing game showed signs of life that this team arguably hasn’t seen since Joe Flacco‘s incredible playoff performance that led the team to a Super Bowl victory in 2013 and while it caught a lot of us off guard, perhaps it shouldn’t have.
New and Emerging Faces
Some of this has to do with personnel. A team’s draft will often tell you a lot about its philosophy. New general manager Eric DeCosta spent first and third-round picks on play-making wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, while snaring an exciting satellite back in Justice Hill in round four.
That’s three off his first picks on the job, and they were all invested in making the offense more dynamic and explosive. Boykin and Hill had relatively quiet days in Week One, but their impacts will be felt as the season wears on. Brown on the other hand, put the league on notice immediately with four grabs for 147 yards and two touchdowns, and looks like a difference-making talent for this offense.
Meanwhile, Mark Ingram was added in free agency to shore up the running game and the former Heisman winner picked up where he left off in New Orleans with 14 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
Oh, and all that off-season hype about tight end Mark Andrews? It was legitimate, as the sophomore secured all eight of his targets for 108 yards and a score. Make no mistake about it, this offense is home to a substantial amount of dynamic talent, and that hasn’t always been a statement one could honestly make about this franchise.
A One-Hit Wonder?
In spite of such an electrifying debut performance, a healthy dose of skepticism remains about the Ravens, and to a certain extent, that’s fair. After all, it came against a Dolphins team that is clearly re-building, acquiring a veritable mountain of draft picks while unloading countless reliable veterans. Our own Ben Ramos-Salsberg wrote an excellent piece about not over-reacting to the Ravens’ sterling Week One performance that I’d highly encourage you to check out.
The reality is, things will definitely get tougher as the season wears on but it’s not like the upcoming slate of match-ups are particularly imposing. Over the next four weeks, they face the Arizona Cardinals, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. All of those defenses struggled to some extent in Week One, so the Ravens are in a position to find sustained offensive success.
For the first time in a long time, all the ingredients are in place for an exciting Ravens offense. A dynamic young quarterback who can beat you with his arm or his legs (make no mistake about it, Jackson will still make an impact as a runner), a collection of uniquely talented running backs, multiple dynamic pass-catchers, and an offensive line that appears to be gelling at the right time.
Will they put up 59 points every week? Of course not. Will there be bad days? Without question. But if you’re a team fan or a football fan in general, you’re likely itching to watch this Baltimore Ravens offense as the season wears on. A repeat performance as AFC North champions is well within the realm of outcomes, but the journey figures to be much more exciting this time around.