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Lamar Jackson Needs To Elevate His Play in 2020

Lamar Jackson needs to imrpove his play for the Baltimore Ravens in 2020 if they are to be considered true Super Bowl contenders again.
Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson was at the center of the Baltimore Ravens 28-24 Week 8 loss to their division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The game was Jackson’s first loss to the Steelers of his career. Baltimore is 2-3 against Pittsburgh since Jackson entered the league but he has started in only two games of the five and is now 1-1. The Ravens rode their league-best running attack to a whopping 265 yards on the ground. Jackson picked up 61 yards on 16 carries, while the running back duo of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards combined for 200 yards on 31 carries.

The game was a hard-fought battle through-and-through but Lamar Jackson and the Ravens came up just short in the end. The biggest difference were the turnovers. While Jackson had a number of electric and impressive plays, he also made a number of costly decisions that held the Ravens back from taking a stranglehold in the game. These weren’t out of character for Jackson this year either. So far in 2020, Jackson has not looked like the unanimous MVP he was last season. He has not been bad by any stretch but Jackson is held to a very high standard after the things he has already accomplished at 23 years old.

When the Ravens entered 2020, they were in Super Bowl or bust mode. Their roster might be better than expected as well. Unfortunately, they have not been able to piece it all together yet. Baltimore has all the tools to be the best team in NFL but Jackson has not been the constant he was in 2019 and needs to be better if the Ravens are going to consider themselves title contenders this season.

Lamar Jackson Needs To Elevate His Play

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

No matter how you slice it, the Ravens are a very good team. They do not lead their division but they have been very successful to this point in the season. However, they do not look like the dominant 14-2 side that had the best record in pro football a year ago.

Lamar Jackson was the centerpiece of the offense last season and accomplished things no player in the NFL had ever done before. Most notably, he became the first quarterback to ever rush for over 1000 yards and pass for 3000 yards in a single season. His 36 touchdown passes and his 82.3 QBR each led the NFL. He smashed the single-season rushing record by a quarterback by over 100 yards with 1,206 and became the first quarterback in a single season to have four different games in which he threw four or more touchdowns passes.

In 2020, his numbers are a bit subdued. Through seven games in 2020, Jackson is averaging fewer passing yards per game, fewer passing touchdowns per game, and fewer rushing yards per game. His quarterback (61.6) and passer rating (94.3) have dropped as well. Statistics aren’t everything when it comes to a quarterback but they mean something. The numbers Jackson put up in 2019 were historical in a number of different ways and he has yet to replicate that play consistently in 2020.

Jackson is still the energetic and athletic player he was last season but has just struggled to find a rhythm. The Ravens still have a great shot at a playoff spot and the potential to make a run at a championship. They just need Jackson to be closer to his 2019 self than his 2020 self to start to believe it again.

Turnovers Dictate Results

The most concerning part about Lamar Jackson’s game has been the frequency with which he has turned the ball over. When Jackson first took over starting duties in 2018, fumbles were a big problem. He fumbled 10 times in just seven starts — losing four. He then mostly cleaned up the issue the following year. In 2019, Jackson had just nine total turnovers.

This season, he has a combined seven turnovers through seven games — four interceptions and three fumbles. They have also been a centerpiece in Baltimore’s two losses. In the Ravens five victories in 2020, Jackson has fumbled the ball just once and the ball was recovered by Baltimore. In their two losses, he has four fumbles lost. Jackson knows he can be better too. “The turnovers, I feel, are the reason we lost the game. I put that on me,” he said following his Week 8 loss.

Baltimore’s inability to keep the ball kept the game close against the Steelers. Jackson and the running game gashed the Steelers all day on the ground but because of untimely turnovers, the Ravens defense found themselves in a number of bad situations. Baltimore’s third play of the game was a Jackson pick-six to Steelers linebacker Robert Spillane that led to the Ravens playing catchup before a single minute had come off the clock.

The sign of a good team is an ability to close out games. Baltimore was very good at doing this in 2019 and they have shown a lack thereof in 2020. Sunday’s game was the first time Jackson has lost a game after leading at the half, after previously being 20-0. Per CBS, it was also the first time a team had lost a game after each out passing them and outrushing their opponent by 200+ yards.

The Ravens Are Too Talented To Waste the Year

Picking and choosing the best overall roster in the NFL is hard but Baltimore is firmly in the thick of conversation in 2020. A quick look at the Ravens roster tells you a lot about this team. They have very few weaknesses and those that exist are minor.

Baltimore’s passing game has been seen as a weakness to this point in the season but the Ravens are still averaging 29 points a game. The pass rush was also considered a weakness but has the third-highest pressure percentage in the NFL. Baltimore also ranks within the top-10 in each rushing yards, scoring defense, passing defense, and turnover differential. General manager Eric DeCosta is also always improving his team with moves like adding star pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue during the Ravens bye week.

With a roster this good, it is hard to keep everyone around. Each Ronnie Stanley and Marlon Humphrey have already signed long-term extensions this year but the Ravens have a number of high-profile free agents who are set to receive raises during the summer of 2021. Ngakoue and Matt Judon, are set to demand top-10 EDGE money on the open market this coming off-season while Orlando Brown Jr. and Mark Andrews will likely be looking for similar high-profile money in 2022.

In 2020, the Ravens have a player graded 70.0 or higher by Pro Football Focus in every position group outside of running back. Keeping a roster this talented together is incredibly tough so Jackson needs to play his best while he is still a part of it. Roster turnover in the NFL happens fast and DeCosta, and his predecessor Ozzie Newsome have never been known for overspending on free agents.

Nobody Cares, Work Harder

The Ravens are an incredibly talented team but if they want to take that next step, they need their quarterback to be better. Despite the rocky start, Lamar Jackson is still one of the best in the game and perhaps the most dynamic athlete to ever play his position. The 2019 unanimous MVP does not have to be the most valuable player in the NFL for a second straight year. Like Patrick Mahomes did in 2019 after winning the MVP award in 2018, Jackson needs to play well enough to positively impact the game and take care of the ball in the process. His team is good enough to help him through the tough times as long as he doesn’t beat himself.

At 5-2, Baltimore might not have the best record in the NFL again in 2020 but they have a chance to fix their mistakes. The Ravens will see the Steelers again in Week 12 — potentially still vying for a division title. They also get a shot at redemption for last year’s playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans when the teams play Week 11.

Baltimore may not be in perfect form but they have multiple chances to stabilize the ship. If the Ravens want to get back into the conversation for the best team in the NFL, they have a schedule that will let them prove themselves. If the Ravens want to get the most out of their season Lamar, Jackson needs to elevate his play to keep his team as true Super Bowl contenders.

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