BALTIMORE — Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson couldn’t have been more wide open.
With the Baltimore Ravens facing third-and-goal from the opposition’s 5-yard line on the second drive of the opening quarter, Joe Flacco dropped back to pass and zeroed in on John Brown near the back of the end zone, firing a throw that sailed well out of reach of the well-covered receiver.
He never saw Jackson, in on the play as a receiver, who had broke into motion prior to the snap and was hovering near the far pylon with arms raised and not a defender within five yards.
“We were kind of rushing around there. It didn’t get off perfect, and he’s the last guy out of probably five guys out there anyways,” Flacco said of his progression on the incomplete pass. “It’s one of those where maybe you wish you had extended the play and ended up seeing it late.”
The Ravens, who eventually fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-16 on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, settled for a 23-yard field goal, delivering an early 3-0 advantage with just over five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
“I could’ve called his name but the crowd was loud,” Jackson said. “I was open, but you can’t blame it on the quarterback. He was going through his reads. I was a late option, a last resort. In practice, I wasn’t open for it. It wasn’t designed for me.”
While that particular play may have been set up to distract the defense rather than include Jackson as a pass catcher, Sunday still marked the most that the rookie quarterback has been used as a member of the starting offense in a single game all season. The Ravens (4-5), who drafted the the former Heisman-winning quarterback with the 32nd overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, have steadily increased Jackson’s involvement every week, taking advantage of the rookie’s standout speed and on-field decision making.
By the time he broke the huddle to line up at receiver late in the first quarter, he had already been involved in five offensive plays through the game’s opening 10 minutes. Each time, he either handed the ball off or rushed the ball himself, while Flacco lined up far away from the action.
“I don’t think it’s counterproductive because we’re gaining yards and making plays. I would like to find more of it, to be honest with you. I would like to see him out there more and find ways to get him on the field more, if we can,” Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a good player.”
Jackson later moved the chains on a second-down pass play midway through the third quarter, connecting with receiver Michael Crabtree on a crossing route that picked up a dozen yards and guided the Ravens to just outside the red zone. Seven plays later, Alex Collins galloped into the end zone from one yard out to record Baltimore’s only touchdown of the afternoon.
On that play, both Flacco and left guard Alex Lewis lined up as receivers on the left side of Jackson — perhaps the most unique play call yet that Baltimore offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has cooked up in an effort to utilize both quarterbacks at once and disrupt opposing defenses.
“Give him the ball. You can see how athletic the kid is,” Lewis said Jackson. “There’s nothing really I can do lining up at receiver, I’m just out there to distract, but we’ve got a great package with Lamar. The zone reads, the RPO, he’s got a great arm, he’s shifty on his feet. I’m looking forward to what he can really do.”
Jackson finished the contest having directly been involved in a dozen plays. He tallied the lone pass completion, picked up 10 yards rushing on five carries and even finished with one target, after Flacco threw incomplete to him just three plays before Collins’ rushing touchdown.
“The Saints came in here a couple weeks ago and put their two quarterbacks out there 24 times, I think. Whether that’s something we do in the future, we’ll have to decide,” Harbaugh said. “Our offensive coaches do a good job of working through that stuff.”
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