There’s no question that keeping Lamar Jackson healthy is a top priority for Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
The best way to do that is to keep Jackson off the field, but that’s not going to happen if there’s a shred of a chance that Baltimore’s opponent can rally from a rather sizable deficit.
Jackson is a quarterback who likes to run, and he doesn’t skip out of bounds if there’s extra yardage to be gained. The 2019 NFL MVP also will hang in the pocket while under pressure if his receiver needs another second or two to break free of coverage.
Jackson did all of those things Sunday against Cleveland, running for 45 yards and throwing for 275 yards and three touchdowns. Yet he was still taking snaps until Harbaugh finally kept him on the sideline when Baltimore’s offense entered with 4 minutes left and the Ravens ahead 38-6.
That was the same score with 10 minutes to go, but Harbaugh sent his quarterback onto the field, a move that was questioned Monday during a Zoom call with the coach.
“You look around the league, you’ll see that not too many people are taking their quarterbacks out with 10 minutes left in the game,” Harbaugh said. “That’s historically true. People who say that should be done, I’d have to disagree with that.”
Jackson is the most important player on the team, and his downfield sprints make him more susceptible to injury that most quarterbacks. Harbaugh understands this, but has no intention of making Jackson shelve the quality that makes him so much of a threat.
“Lamar does a great job of protecting himself. Every player out there is in a situation where you’re at risk,” Harbaugh reasoned. “You try to minimize it as much as you can, but you can’t run from it. You can’t play scared. You’ve got to play the game to win, Lamar does that.”
So, in a season opener that Baltimore seemingly had in hand, Jackson played deep into the fourth quarter. Didn’t get hurt, either.
“We could take him out of the game at halftime,” Harbaugh said. “That might keep him safer, too, but we’re not going to do that.”
Jackson was sensational in his first game since collecting his NFL MVP trophy. He completed 20 of 25 passes and led Baltimore in rushing yardage.
“It’s just hard work and dedication,” Jackson said. “Our guys just dialed in. They helped me out a lot, made my job a lot easier.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
It’s hard to find many flaws in a 38-6 romp, but the Ravens allowed Cleveland to average 5.1 yards per carry — including runs of 22 and 29 yards.
“It was all on us,” rookie middle linebacker Patrick Queen said. “It was all stuff that we can fix and get better at and eliminate.”
Matt Skura. The veteran center tore three ligaments in his knee last year, worked diligently to return and took his place in the middle of the line in the season opener.
“I think it’s a remarkable accomplishment,” Harbaugh said. “I didn’t think there was a chance he could go in Week 1. He played a great solid game and is only going to get better from here.”
Gus Edwards played a prominent role as the second-string running back behind Mark Ingram last year, but it appears he’s dropped to No. 3 on the depth chart behind rookie J.K. Dobbins.
Dobbins had seven carries for 22 yards and two scores. Edwards ran four times for 17 yards.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley left with an ankle injury, but Harbaugh said it wasn’t serious and expects him to practice Wednesday.
8 — That’s how many tackles Queen had, most on the team. The former LSU star also had a sack and a forced fumble.
“I felt very comfortable going into this game,” he said. “Coaches prepared me the best way they could. I just felt like I was at home.”
The Ravens will take to the road for a game at Houston on Sunday, their first trip together outside Maryland during the pandemic.
“Our people do a great job,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll try to focus on the football part of it.”