With Joe Flacco out with a hip injury, Jackson completed 13 of his 19 passes for 150 yards and an interception while adding in 117 yards on 27 carries on the ground. The 24 points the Ravens scored against the Bengals was the most points they’ve put up since Week 4, when they scored 26 points against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jackson became the first Ravens player this season to rush for 100 yards in a game and he was soon joined by Gus Edwards, who ran for 115 yards. The Ravens finished with 265 rushing yards, more than double their previous season high of 123 yards against the Tennessee Titans.
It wasn’t a coincidence. The Ravens designed a game plan to fit Jackson’s skillset, including plays and formations that he used at Louisville.
Here’s what it looked like in action.
Designing runs for Lamar Jackson is smart!
One of the biggest selling points of Jackson’s game coming out of college was his ability to produce as a designed runner. Jackson ran for 4,132 yards in 38 games at Louisville, so the Ravens took advantage of his legs early on.
Baltimore’s first possession of the game was an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive where they did not call a single passing play — 11 straight runs down the field.
The Ravens even used the run to convert a key third down near midfield. That third-and-4 play was a perfectly executed quarterback draw by Baltimore.
They had five blockers to account for four Bengals defenders in the box. The Ravens’ “empty” set (only the quarterback in the backfield) spread the Bengals defense out and Lamar ran right through the middle for a 21-yard gain with center Matt Skura leading the way.
Baltimore did what Louisville did for the better part of the last two and half years: They gave the ball to Jackson and got the hell out of the way. Cincinnati didn’t seem to be prepared for what the Ravens were throwing at them on the first drive of the game.
It may have been his first start, but not having anyone account for Lamar Jackson on a third-and-short is asking to give up a big play.
Jackson made good decisions with the ball in his hand
The Ravens ran a couple of successful read-option plays on their first drive too. They gave Jackson the ability to take the ball and make the right decision based on what the defense was presenting.
Take this read option play on second-and-8. The Bengals had six defenders in the box with cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick playing as the force player on the end of the formation. Jackson saw Kirkpatrick waiting on the edge, and took the ball himself for 12 yards and a first down.
When the Ravens ran another read play to finish their opening drive with a touchdown, Jackson made a nice decision to hand the ball off to Alex Collins.
That play was a run-pass option from the 7-yard line. The route by tight end Mark Andrews (closest receiver to the right tackle) pulled the safety away. The Bengals’ linebackers flashed like they were going to blitz, but they ended up dropping back into a zone.
This gave Collins just enough room to maneuver his way into the end zone for a touchdown. It capped off an impressive stampede to start the game.
Jackson’s biggest strength is his mobility in all facets of the game. He was able to use that to spring a big passing play loose right before halftime.
Jackson showed big time improvisational skills for a passer
Right before the half, with just 19 seconds left, the Ravens needed a big play to get into field goal range. Fortunately for Baltimore, they had Jackson just waiting to make it happen. Very few defenders can catch Jackson — even when he’s bottled up in the pocket.
The Bengals were trying to contain Jackson in the pocket by slow-rushing him, but all hell broke loose when Carlos Dunlap tried to dart inside and bring Jackson down. The pocket became disjointed, Jackson ran in a little circle and outside the pocket before finding John Brown for a 23-yard gain to get the Ravens in range for a Justin Tucker field goal that gave them a 13-7 lead.
After a pair of Bengals touchdowns put Cincinnati back in the lead, 21-14, the Ravens dialed up more of the same from Jackson and the offense.
Jackson led a 10-play, 80-yard drive that included three more rushing attempts from the quarterback for 21 yards and two pristine passes to the middle of the field for another 31. On second-and-3 from the Bengals’ 11-yard line, Jackson handed it off to Edwards who ran it through a thoroughly confused Cincy defense for the score. Edwards ran it in again for a two-point conversion that tied the game, 21-21.
In the fourth quarter, Jackson led a Ravens drive that burned up almost seven minutes of clock time and covered 55 yards before ending with another field goal. This one provided the deciding points in the Ravens’ 24-21 win.
With a scaled back game plan, Lamar Jackson showed off the playmaking ability that made the Ravens feel comfortable enough to trade up for him at the end of the first round of the 2018 draft.
It remains to be seen if the Ravens will keep Jackson as the starter when Flacco gets back from his hip injury. With Jackson, they had a level of playmaking that they haven’t had at the quarterback position in years.
Whether or not Jackson continues to start for the Ravens, at the very least he showed that he belongs in the NFL and is capable of creating big plays — both running and passing. This is only the beginning, but it’s a great first start for his career.
The Lamar Jackson Show has officially reached the NFL.