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Lamar Jackson is a one-man wrecking crew (This can last, too)
The Ravens prove they can win their way and Jackson proves, again, he's a 1-of-1 talent at quarterback. Also, should the Bills run more? Are the Vikings doomed? All of that inside our Monday column.
There is no way to properly prepare for Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. None. This is all so different from the rest of the NFL.
Every other offense is on an everlasting mission to spread you out with three, four, five receivers wide and here are the Ravens bringing everyone in tight. The ball’s snapped and a herd of bodies move in all directions. Guards and tackles and even a 300-pound fullback criss ‘n cross within a complex scheme.
And, of course, the tip of this spear is one of the most electrifying players ever.
No wonder John Harbaugh had zero problem going for it late Sunday night.
The Ravens had the ball at their own 43-yard line. It was fourth and 1. There was still 1 minute and five seconds on the clock which, vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, might as well be 10 minutes.
Cameras captured the memorable moment — Harbaugh yelling, “Lamar! Lamar! You want to go for this?” — and the Ravens simply ran a good old fashioned Student Body Left with Jackson. Behind four linemen left of center, Jackson found the crease to ice a 36-35 Ravens win.
A win that reminded the entire NFL that this team isn’t going anywhere.
More specifically, Lamar Jackson reminded the NFL he’s still an MVP talent.
This should’ve been a Chiefs rout. Practically everything was working against Jackson.
A pick-six to start the game, to no fault of his own. Wideout Sammy Watkins fell down at the top of his route and Tyrann Mathieu took it to the house to give the Chiefs a 7-0 lead a mere 50 seconds into the game.
Horrendous officiating. Watching this game felt something like living in New York State… multiplied by 100. Too many rules that make zero sense. Bizarre regulations that only piss everyone off. If the Chiefs would’ve pieced together a game-winning field goal drive, Baltimore would’ve had every reason to be livid. A ridiculous illegal man downfield penalty wiped out a two-point conversation that should’ve given the Ravens a three-point lead. It’d really be nice if the NFL stopped trying to reinvent the wheel every offseason. (And if there’s anyone out there who truly does enjoy the crackdown on “taunting,” I’d love to meet them.)
Injuries. No team’s been slammed harder than the Ravens. Of course, they were already down to their fourth-, fifth- and sixth-string running backs and cornerback Marcus Peters is done for the season. But this night, they also didn’t have left tackle Ronnie Stanley.
Yet, none of it mattered because of Jackson’s relentless play style. He’s in constant attack mode.
His timing on the read option is textbook. Jackson knows precisely when to pull the ball and take off to leave your free defender paralyzed in space. And once he slams the gas pedal, it’s nearly impossible to get a hand on him.
Jackson rushed for 107 yards on 16 attempts with two touchdowns. As a team, the Ravens churned out 251 yards.
Jackson, again, made a defense pay through the air, too. Harbaugh didn’t only ask Jackson if he wanted to go for it on that fourth down. As Marquise Brown noted in our convo a couple years ago, the Ravens asked the QB who he wanted in the 2019 draft and Jackson recommended Brown. Between Brown’s foot injury and frustrations with the offense, the passing game hasn’t always been smooth. But this duo was at its best against KC with Jackson even uncorking one, two-footed jump pass of a heave to Brown for a touchdown.
Big picture, the game was proof that the Ravens can win a shootout.
Every time you thought the Chiefs would run away with this — like the Chiefs always do — Baltimore answered.
The knockout punch sure seemed to hit the Ravens right in the jaw soon after Jackson’s touchdown pass to Brown cut the KC lead to 28-24. With six minutes to go in the third quarter, Travis Kelce did things no tight end has any business doing.
Kelce juked linebacker Malik Harrison to get open.
Kelce stiff-armed corner Tavon Young.
Kelce shimmied past safety Brandon Stephens.
Kelce carried nose tackle Justin Ellis over the goal line.
NBC’s cameras panned to Ravens linebacker Tyus Bowser — one of the three defenders applying heat on Patrick Mahomes that play — and Bowser looked completely exasperated. As if to say, What in the hell else can we even do? Andy Reid didn’t celebrate at all after this touchdown. He chewed his gum. He didn’t even smile, as if this is always expected.
Yet then, Jackson continued doing things no quarterback has business doing.
Mahomes’ ill-advised interception gave the Ravens one opening. Anthony Averett’s pass breakup covering Tyreek Hill on third down gave the Ravens another opening. And Jackson pounced. His speed continued to dizzy KC all night. He gunned one pass to Brown in the end zone between two defenders, Brown dropped it and — no problem — Jackson was soon flipping into the end zone for a touchdown after embarrassing Chiefs end Mike Danna.
For the fourth time in his career, Jackson threw for 200 yards and ran for 100, the most in NFL history.
Numbers don’t do his game justice. His game is physically draining and mentally exhausting.
Once again, there’s no identity crisis in Baltimore. This offense knows exactly what it wants to do and it doesn’t matter what chaos breaks out around the quarterback. As long as Lamar Jackson’s pushing the buttons, these Ravens can beat anyone…
… which also means these Ravens will probably want to get a deal done with their quarterback ASAP. That price tag just skyrocketed.
Also, if you’re interested in learning more about Jackson’s rise and why his game is so dangerous, I highly recommend replaying our Happy Hour conversation with his private quarterbacks coach, Joshua Harris.
It’s OK to run the football.
You have to think the Buffalo Bills have reached this point of self-awareness, that even offensive coordinator Brian Daboll realizes they have to commit to running the football more often.
Last season was last season.
Josh Allen and this passing game torched defenses in empty stadiums like it was nothing. The playoffs arrived. Games tightened. And the Bills showed no willingness to run the ball, eventually losing to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship. Into the 2021 opener, the Bills didn’t change much philosophically. The entire NFL saw 10 snaps of “zero” personnel in Week 1 — zero backs, zero tight ends, five wide receivers — and the Bills? They accounted for nine of those 10 snaps.
Over the offseason, starting running back Devin Singletary told us that the organization informed him there would be a greater commitment to the ground game in 2021.
Against the Steelers, that most certainly was not the case. Don’t be misled by the team’s 371 total yards in that 23-16 loss. It took a whopping 79 plays to reach that total for a paltry 4.7 yards per play. For context, the New York Jets ranked 32nd of 32 teams last season in yards per play at… 4.7. Those Bills ranked sixth at 6.0.
Quite possibly, Buffalo’s 35-0 blowout win over Miami is a turning point.
By no means am I declaring Josh Allen’s contract a failure after two games but anyone with two eyes can see he’s not himself. He’s sailing passes high. He’s jittery in the pocket. He’s very 2019 Josh Allen through two games. Considering the plethora of talent around him, there’s a good chance he snaps out of this funk at some point this season, but until then? Let your offensive line move forward instead of backwards. Give Singletary the ball 15-plus carries. Feed Zack Moss.
The two young backs combined for 108 yards on 21 carries with three touchdowns.
It’s clear that “Motor” is, indeed, a completely different player after training with Nick Hicks at PER4ORM down in Florida. It’s also clear “Moss Mode” had no business being a gameday inactive in Week 1 — he blasted through four Dolphins defenders on a seven-yard score Sunday.
This week would a good time for McDermott, Daboll and Allen to have a mini meeting of the minds and agree that this offense must start running the ball more often.
That’s what’s working.
Why fight it?
It’s time to panic in Minnesota.
If Mike Zimmer’s kicker is able to split the uprights from 37 yards out, fine, nobody’s freaking out this week.
Instead, Greg Joseph kicked wide right and now the 0-2 Vikings have dates with the Seattle Seahawks and Cleveland Browns up next.
A 0-4 start is a very real possibility for an organization trying to win now.
No, that is not what Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman had planned a year ago when they doubled down on Kirk Cousins as their starting quarterback. When the Vikings made the organizational decision to stick with a player the rest of the world deemed “good” but never “good enough,” they declared Cousins could rise above any issues that flare up on this roster.
His numbers are always sparkling. Cousins threw for 244 yards and three scores against Arizona on Sunday. But he never quite passes the eye test — everything has to be perfect around him — and, given his contract, he should be able to compensate for the Vikings’ slipshod defense. He cannot. The Vikings have drafted plenty of defensive backs in recent years in attempt to get by yet Zimmer, whose career is forever based on building a defense, hasn’t been able to develop this youth.
Problems like this — unlike Buffalo’s issues — cannot necessarily be fixed on the fly.
In other markets, I’d say Zimmer’s job status would be shaky but the ownership here hasn’t been too interested in shaking it up. As we covered in a two-part series at Go Long, this has been a strange place the last few years.
The Titans have Derrick Henry and you do not.
That’s all this comeback boiled down to.
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks raced to a 24-9 halftime lead at home, the Tennessee Titans refused to abandon the run and Derrick Henry went to work. After totaling only 34 rushing yards in the first half, Henry exploded for 148 the rest of the way in the Titans’ 33-30 overtime win. He had another six catches for 55 receiving yards, too. If the Titans’ defense can just get a stop here and a turnover there, that’s enough. Tennessee manufactured enough of a passing game to prevent defenses from loading the box, even with A.J. Brown dropping four passes.
Henry, to his credit, looks better than ever.
You’d think his body would show some signs of slowing down after 782 carries in back-to-back seasons, but he’s clearly in his prime at 27 years old. Henry only got better as the game grinded on and eventually wiped out that deficit.
Football cannot be contextualized completely in numbers, too.
Much like trying to stop Lamar Jackson, this takes a toll for three hours on a Sunday. Corralling this 6-foot-3, 247-pound behemoth weakens you physically and breaks you mentally.
The Titans remain the team to beat in the AFC South.
MNF Happy Hour!
A reminder here that subscribers can gather at 6:45 p.m. (EST) tonight for a Happy Hour on Zoom. Bob McGinn and Jim Monos will both be on hand to talk NFL, Packers/Lions, “Asleep at the Wheel” and the ignoramuses who feel the need to stand up the second their plane arrives at the gate.
It’ll be a lot of fun. We’ll be rolling until 7:45 p.m., so feel free to hop in whenever.
All log-in information can be found right here:
Also, you can always replay all Happy Hours at Go Long in the archives. Before he was scoring touchdowns from one-yard out on Sunday, Browns fullback Andy Janovich was crushing Busch Lights with us in the offseason. Is there a player you would like to hang out with? Let me know in the comments below or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sam Darnold is here to stay. Everything in Joe Brady’s offense is so rhythmic. The Panthers OC has an answer for everything you could possibly throw at him. One week after the Saints pummeled the reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers, they had no answer for Darnold, who completed 26 of 38 passes for 305 yards with two touchdowns.
As for Jameis Winston… yeah, this is what crashing back to earth looks like. The Saints’ 128 yards of offense were the fewest ever under Sean Payton. Star running back Alvin Kamara gained all of five yards on eight carries. New Orleans couldn’t do a damn thing on offense, but the gut feeling here is that Payton brings his “A” game against Bill Belichick next week. What a meeting of the minds this will be.
Belichick knows exactly what he’s doing in New England. While a win over the Jets is no reason to raise a banner, the Patriots flat-out embarrassed Zack Wilson. It was ugly. At one point, the BYU quarterback had four completions and four interceptions. You may recall that Belichick went on a $232 million spending spree last March, fully confident he could add studs at positions all around the quarterback and get by on the cheap with Mac Jones (who looked sharp again). Bucs/Patriots cannot come soon enough in two weeks.
Derek Carr is a top 10 quarterback. At least. We’ve got to accept this as reality. I’m not sure how everyone missed it, but Carr has improved dramatically these last two years. The willingness to throw the deep ball. The touch on that deep ball. The guts in the fourth quarter. Let’s not forget this guy was the MVP frontrunner before breaking his leg in 2016.
In Sunday’s 26-17 win over Pittsburgh, Carr looked like an even better quarterback than he did then. This is becoming a trend, too.
Just take a look at Carr’s last six full games:
- 34 of 56, 435 yards, two touchdowns, one pick
- 28 of 37, 382 yards, two touchdowns, no picks
- 24 of 38, 371 yards, two touchdowns, two picks
- 21 of 34, 336 yards, one touchdown, zero picks
- 31 of 45, 316 yards, two touchdowns, two picks
- 28 of 47, 381 yards, three touchdowns, one pick
We’ve been critical of the Raiders and head coach Jon Gruden in this newsletter. Both coach and quarterback deserve credit for building something that could — could! — potentially make Patrick Mahomes sweat in the AFC West.
We shall see.
A prediction for tonight? A lot of Aaron Jones. A lot of AJ Dillon. A breezy Packers win at Lambeau Field. Week 2 has allowed plenty of offenses to get back on track. It shouldn’t be any different for Green Bay against a Lions club devoid of talent.