Why Lamar Jackson HAS to Win in 2020

Last year the Baltimore Ravens took the NFL by storm. Great defense (not surprising-that’s Baltimore’s staple for years), and a great rushing attack. But now a passing game (when needed) that is effective enough to really add that dimension of a whole new scary.

The Ravens selected Lamar Jackson in 2018 after teams worried he wouldn’t be a legit passing quarterback. Some thought Baltimore wasted the pick. In two seasons, Jackson however has helped guide the Ravens to two division championships with the latter being a 14-2 season, best record in the NFL, and an MVP to his credit.

The numbers are impressive that Jackson has put out on his MVP year: 1,200 rushing yards, 3,100 passing yards, 43 total TD’s (bear in mind he played 15 of 16 games). It wasn’t ANY doubt Jackson was deserving of taking home the trophy. Adding on, he makes smart decisions with the ball and is a very accurate passer.

But there has been one tiny problem with Jackson to this point. He’s 0-2 in playoff games.

I think we all gave Jackson a free pass in his rookie year because well, it was his rookie year and the Chargers had a pretty good team. But last year people were stunned that not only the Ravens lost at home to a Titans team that was labeled as one-dimensional on offense, but were smacked silly by Tennessee. And Jackson looked anything but an MVP quarterback (3 turnovers, sacked 4 times).

Now it may be premature to think that in year three Lamar Jackson is in a make-or-break year. I don’t think he is in THAT category. But most of the time the mobile quarterbacks do not have prolonged careers without adapting (McNabb comes to mind as an example of becoming more passing oriented later on) and Jackson is definitely a true dual threat QB. However, do I think that the next season Lamar Jackson is very important? Yes.

I mentioned after the 2015 season that Cam Newton’s biggest season had to have been 2016. He was licking his chops after the Super Bowl loss to Denver and how he handled the loss (though many viewed him as a childish brat after all the antics he done when he was winning). I thought “maybe he will be more driven” to succeed in 2016. Instead he went out and spoke that how he was zeroed in on…..a new dance in 2016 whenever he would score a touchdown. Compiling on was that Cam was starting to get dinged up including a concussion he suffered early against the Falcons as he looked like he was about to high step in after a 2-point conversion and later on getting benched in the first series against Seattle for whatever team rule he violated and just performed on a mediocre level in 2016. The next 3 seasons where hit or miss (mostly miss) when he was on the field and had battled injury after injury to the point now teams are shying away on Cam as a starting QB.

But we are talking about Lamar Jackson here, not Cam Newton. And Lamar Jackson has proven he is no Cam Newton.

Jackson is one of my favorite players in the NFL. He can do things not many people can do on that field, but he is also soft-spoken and lets players around him get the love. But also what I give him mad respect for is how he is always improving his game and WANTING to improve. When Jackson won the Heisman at Louisville, many believed he didn’t deserve to win because of A. Deshaun Watson and B. He was a running only QB who couldn’t pass. The next year Jackson’s numbers were similar but had been more prevalent in the passing game and could have ended up with another Heisman Trophy had Louisville not been a mediocre squad in 2017. So for Jackson to keep improving on all aspects of the game CANNOT be overstated. He does.

But again we are back to Jackson possibly having detractors. I mentioned that the one concern I had about the Ravens getting the Lombardi Trophy was that they hadn’t dealt with adversity (i.e. trailing much in games) and the times they did, the Ravens ended up losing those games to both the Chiefs and Browns. Jackson had challenges when he was forced to pass and expected to pass. The Titans jumped on Baltimore early and often and you could tell at times Jackson was not comfortable all the time being and staying in that pocket. He possibly put TOO much pressure on himself to do well.

So now Jackson will have to answer questions of being a quarterback that can thrive under pressure a la Brady, Rodgers, and now Mahomes. To me, the upcoming season for the Ravens will be one that if Jackson builds off of that he will be a monster. That is the next step in his progression will be a comeback QB if the manner presents itself to him.

Baltimore has to be considered one of the front-runners and probably my “way too early Super Bowl pick” but if Jackson doesn’t take that next step it could be an opportunity missed and sometimes what seems like is a large window will close very quickly.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed AFC Wild Card Preview

Playoff time has arrived in the NFL. The Colts and Texans take it to round three while the Ravens and Chargers do battle for the second time in three weeks. And honestly, these may be the hottest teams in the AFC so this may be the best games we’ve seen in a while in terms of Wild Card games. And could the winners be more of the favorites than the Chiefs and Patriots? Time will tell with that. But today, let’s look at these two games.

Sep 30, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) looks to pass the ball in the first quarter against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

COLTS AT TEXANS, 4:15 (SATURDAY), ESPN:

FOR THE COLTS: It will be very important on how they start the game. They need to take the Texans fans out of the game early. They jumped to a 17-7 lead at halftime in Houston last month not looking back in a 24-21 stunner. It gave Indianapolis that massive momentum of a team that doesn’t need to be messed with. Andrew Luck is getting stronger and better as the season continued while TY Hilton has been a monster in this stretch (while being “questionable” with his nagging ankle injury) and to me being one of the game’s elite receivers. Adding on top, the Colts may have found a stud at running back in Marlon Mack (25+ rushing attempts in two of the final 3 games of the season). The defense has been pretty good in this run and has a feel of the 2016 Falcons defense down the stretch of playing stronger and stronger with a young group of standout players led by Darius Leonard. But once again, they have to be on top of their game against DeShaun Watson and frustrate him as much as possible. Also, trying to find a way to keep DeAndre Hopkins from being a massive factor will be a key.

FOR THE TEXANS: Trust the stars. Houston has a bevvy of great players on both sides of the ball. DeShaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins on offense. JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Jonathan Joseph on defense. Those guys will have to play the games of their lives. Lamar Miller also needs to have a big game on the ground to keep Houston from sinking even at home. Last game against Indianapolis he only rushed for 33 yards on 14 carries. That needs to be better. Watson played decent, but was also sacked 5 times so the Texans need to do a better job of protecting their young quarterback. If Houston has no answer for the Colts pass rush, it may be a major repeat of last time out. The other major key is can the Texans put pressure on Luck the entire game? He was sacked twice but still threw for nearly 400 yards last game and nearly 500 the time before. Houston can’t shut down Luck, but they can’t let him take over a game like he’s been doing. Or the Texans (my AFC pick) will be going home Saturday.

OUTLOOK: This game will be FUN. I have no dog in the fight (and no, I do not bet on games) so I am going to enjoy seeing this game on how it plays out. I think we will see offense, but also I think we will see key stops being made and whoever gets that key turnover may win. I just think right now despite the hot streak they have gone on, the Colts are still a tad young and winning on the road against a team with a lot of veteran punch in the Texans is a tough task in January. I’ve told a few of my friends however that if there is one team I REALLY want to see win in the playoffs, it is the Colts. I just think the task is too great for a youthful squad. But maybe they aren’t smart enough to realize it and make that run. TEXANS 34, COLTS 31

Dec 22, 2018; Carson, CA, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) is pressured by Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (99) in the third quarter at StubHub Center. The Ravens defeated the Chargers 22-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

CHARGERS AT RAVENS, 1:05 (SUNDAY, CBS)

FOR THE CHARGERS: The leader of the crew, Philip Rivers, needs to be composed. I know he is a fiery guy and people love him for that. However, when things go awry sometimes, it helps nobody on the team. That win in Kansas City the Chargers had in December, I felt Rivers kept his emotions in check well enough to give Los Angeles that W. However, one game later, it somewhat went away and the team lost at “home.” The team that frustrated him? The Ravens. And this time the game is in Baltimore. The weather forecast doesn’t play out to be a disastrous one for the team coming in from southern California (sunny and 55 is the kickoff forecast) and since I have joked a few times the Chargers have played 16 road games the last two years, it may not amount to much. But Baltimore really frustrated that balanced Chargers offense. And they went after the leader. So all the weapons of Melvin Gordon (12 carries for 41 yards vs. the Ravens), Keenan Allen (5 receptions for 58 yards), Mike Williams (1 reception for 7), and Tyrell Williams (1 reception for 12), would be useless. The good news is Hunter Henry, who has been out all season, may play Sunday so it will help out the offense and maybe spread Baltimore out. But if Rivers is pressured constantly (sacked 3 times in that game), there isn’t going to be much hope for the Chargers. Defensively, they really didn’t have Lamar Jackson completely take over the game in the win, but will have to be a little bit better and really win the field position war. The Chargers have studs around like Joey Bosa and Derwin James. They just need to step up in a big way to shut down Jackson & Co. The best bet however is for the Chargers to build a lead late and make Jackson pass.

FOR THE RAVENS: While the talk and love will be going to Lamar Jackson, the defense is what will be key. If they pressure Rivers and frustrate Rivers like last time, I don’t see the Ravens losing this game. Now if Rivers plays well and some hiccups happen, that is when Jackson will be brought in focus. He reminds me a lot of Michael Vick where he relies on the running and passing is still a question mark (for the record, I do think he will be a better passer as seasons progress). Part of it is the receivers have to make plays. But if the Ravens are down, that will be the big thing. But he can dictate the tempo of the game with his legs. If he doesn’t make mistakes with the ball, he should be fine. That means he better keep an eye out on Bosa because he won’t be fine for that long.

OUTLOOK: The more I have thought about this game, the more I like Baltimore at home. The issue isn’t really the Chargers playing on the road as they are pretty good and they’re accustomed to playing in front of crowds who pull for the other team. But it is how they can frustrate Rivers. I think Rivers had a great year, but he is one of those guys who wears his emotions on his sleeves. Baltimore is a team who feasts on those kinds of quarterbacks throughout its history. And while that isn’t Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on that side of the ball, CJ Mosley is coming into his own and a few other “no-namers” are coming into their own. The Chargers will put up a fight, but offensively will have issues I think while Baltimore does just enough to make the key plays needed on offense to win. RAVENS 20, CHARGERS 13

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed AFC North Preview

In the past years it seems like the AFC North has been a fight among three teams: the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals.  Of course, the Browns are “there” but really haven’t made an impact since 2007.  It’s always been a division built with hatred among the four squads and you have some very competitive games among at least three out of the four teams.

This year, there seems to be a vibe that the AFC North isn’t really going to be as fun or exciting to watch.  The holes of the teams are becoming gaping.  You have issues with certain players in Pittsburgh, a team that is starting to clean the slate in Baltimore, a team that needs to clean the slate in Cincinnati, and a team that is just trying to find anything go their way in Cleveland.  And a debate can be made that the AFC North may be one of the worst divisions in all of football in 2018.  So we will see how things line up for this group.  But who knows what will happen.

Onto the preview.

Pittsburgh

(1) PITTSBURGH STEELERS

LAST SEASON: 13-3, 1ST PLACE; LOST TO JACKSONVILLE IN AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF

KEY ADDITIONS: LB-Jonathan Bostic (FA-Indianapolis), S-Morgan Burnett (FA-Green Bay), S-Terrell Edmunds (Draft-Virginia Tech), QB-Mason Rudolph (Draft-Oklahoma State), T-Chuks Okorafor (Draft-Western Michigan), WR-James Washington (Draft-Oklahoma State)

KEY LOSSES: T-Chris Hubbard (FA-Cleveland), WR-Martavis Bryant (Trade-Oakland), S-Mike Mitchell (FA), CB-William Gay (FA-New York Giants)

The Steelers have that feel of a house of cards franchise.  Yes, I know they have been one of NFL’s staples for years and have a front office second to none.  I get it.  However, Pittsburgh has a running back who is unhappy and has threatened to hold out from time to time and no telling what mindset he is in.  The Steelers franchise quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger has been playing the “maybe, maybe not” game of retiring.  However, he said he would come back after the loss in the playoff to Jacksonville, but the Steelers wasted no time in drafting quarterback, which has made him unhappy.  The defense is not going to be mistaken for the Steel Curtain in the 70’s or even the ones in the 90’s with Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, and Rod Woodson, or even the recent ones of seeing James Farrior, Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton and others.  Yes, the stats looked nice (top 10 against the pass) and 10th in yards allowed, but the Steelers were sliced up by the Jags running game of Leonard Fournette & TJ Yeldon while Blake Bortles played like a top-notch quarterback on them.  Now it seems like there are questions abound this year of how well the Steelers can be as they had hiccups despite being a 13-3 squad.  And with ALL OF THIS said, the Steelers are still one of the most talented squads in the NFL with having a running back in Le’Veon Bell when on his game, he is the best in the league.  They have the best WR in the game in Antonio Brown despite all his flashiness and swagger and Roethlisberger has done everything and seen everything.  Given that the AFC North may be in a bit of a rebuild with the other squads while they see two NFL powers come to the Steel City in 2018 (Falcons & Patriots), they could have another great record and quite possibly take the top seed.  It will all depend if the defense gets more consistent.  KEY QUESTION:  If the Steelers start to bicker like they had last year, could it call come crashing down on them?  Well, yes and I think regardless, the window for this run for Pittsburgh is starting to shrink so it is somewhat of a now or never.  But that said, I don’t see Pittsburgh, even if they have a crash, fall out of the top spot in the division.  They are too talented and too good while the others have major issues around.  MY PREDICTION: 12-4.  Pittsburgh has a good home schedule and can still run the table in the AFC North.  Key games at Jacksonville and New Orleans will test them though.

Cincinnati

(2) CINCINNATI BENGALS

LAST SEASON: 7-9, 3RD PLACE

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Matt Barkley (FA-Arizona), T-Cordy Glenn (Trade-Buffalo), T-Bobby Hart (FA-New York Giants), DT-Chris Baker (FA-Tampa Bay), LB-Preston Brown (FA-Buffalo), C-Billy Price (Draft-Ohio State), S-Jessie Bates (Draft-Wake Forest), LB-Malik Jefferson (Draft-Texas), DE-Sam Hubbard (Draft-Ohio State)

KEY LOSSES: QB-AJ McCarron (QB-Buffalo), RB-Jeremy Hill (FA-New England), T-Andre Smith (FA-Arizona), DE-Chris Smith (FA-Cleveland), LB-Kevin Minter (FA-New York Jets), CB-Adam Jones (FA)

Cincinnati in general has been that team that is just flat and plain in the NFL.  They aren’t great to compete for a Super Bowl.  They aren’t exciting or flashy to even be super-competitive in the AFC.  But they aren’t terrible like we remember in the 90’s when they were the Bungles and have the likes of David Klingler, Akili Smith, and others crashing on them.  And the players like Andy Dalton, is not regarded as being a great quarterback or a guy to lead them to the promised land (though if you’re a Bills fan last year, he led the Bills to the promised land…), but he isn’t a guy that will keep the Bengals from crashing and burning.  Coach Marvin Lewis, the same thing.  After surprising many after the season ended, Lewis stayed on, which many feel the Bengals will keep the status quo of being not good but not terrible.  And that’s the problem.  At some point, the Bengals will have to make some tough decisions and that is I think what the management has been afraid of.  Dalton at this point is not an answer.  Lewis has coached teams that have had misfits and malcontents on the squad and still has some that is more of a headache than a help.  The team is “okay” enough to win games, especially against the lesser teams especially at home, but facing off against the likes of the Falcons, Saints, Chargers, and Steelers, I think they will be easily overmatched and some of those road games with talent that is on their level or slightly better, they will not be able to take those games.  So I think while the Bengals have kept the status quo going for the last few years, I think the fall is going to happen soon and it may start this year.  KEY QUESTION: Do the Bengals consider drafting a quarterback in the first round next year?  I think so.  While Andy Dalton hasn’t done anything overly wrong in Cincinnati, he isn’t that guy that can just take over a game.  The Bengals need that especially with AJ Green climbing north of 30 now.  MY PREDICTION: 6-10.  Cincinnati may fight and have pieces to do it, but really will be overmatched in a lot of areas.

Miami at Baltimore

(3) BALTIMORE RAVENS

LAST SEASON: 9-7, 2ND PLACE

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Robert Griffin, III (FA), WR-Michael Crabtree (FA-Oakland), WR-John Brown (FA-Arizona), WR-Willie Snead (FA-New Orleans), QB-Lamar Jackson (Draft-Louisville), TE-Hayden Hurst (Draft-South Carolina), T-Orlando Brown (Draft-Oklahoma)

KEY LOSSES: RB-Danny Woodhead (retired), RB-Terrance West (FA-New Orleans), WR-Mike Wallace (FA-Philadelphia), WR-Jeremy Maclin (FA), TE-Benjamin Watson (FA-New Orleans), G-Ryan Jensen (FA-Tampa Bay), T-Austin Howard (FA-Indianapolis), G-Luke Bowanko (FA-New England)

The writing is on the wall in Baltimore, notably for Joe Flacco.  The days of him being the franchise guy is coming to a close after the Ravens selected Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, who has been impressing the coaches in Baltimore.  And really, you just have a sense of a rebuild coming there with the push for a youth movement.  While the defense is decent, it is a far cry when Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and others were there dominating the field and having those classic duels with the Steelers.  CJ Mosley is a great linebacker and probably underrated at his spot while Terrell Suggs has been an underappreciated player throughout his career and the defense is fine, but it doesn’t have that mystique they had when Lewis was there.  They do have some great youngsters like Marlon Humphrey, Matt Judon (keep an eye on him), and Tony Jefferson so the defense will develop, but maybe one year away.  On the offensive side, it is still a major work in progress with Baltimore especially of the impending switch from Flacco to Jackson.  The running game will be their butter, but Alex Collins needs to be that guy the Ravens can rely on to take pressure off of Flacco or Jackson.  KEY QUESTION: When does Lamar Jackson start?  If Flacco gets injured, underachieves, or the Ravens are eliminated and that Week 17 game is more of a “tryout” for next year.  I think Baltimore will give Flacco a last stand before handing it over to Jackson.  MY PREDICTION: 6-10  Baltimore’s defense will win them games, but I think the offense, especially the passing game, is non-existent.

Browns

(4) CLEVELAND BROWNS

LAST SEASON: 0-16, 4TH PLACE

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Tyrod Taylor (Trade-Buffalo), QB-Drew Stanton (FA-Arizona), RB-Carlos Hyde (FA-San Francisco), WR-Jarvis Landry (Trade-Miami), WR-Jeff Janis (FA-Green Bay), TE-Darren Fells (FA-Detroit), T-Chris Hubbard (FA-Pittsburgh), T-Greg Robinson (FA-Detroit), DE-Chris Smith (FA-Cincinnati), LB-Mychal Kendricks (FA-Philadelphia), CB-TJ Carrie (FA-Oakland), S-Damarious Randall (Trade-Green Bay), CB-EJ Gaines (FA-Buffalo), CB-Terrance Mitchell (FA-Kansas City), P-Justin Vogel (Waivers-Green Bay), QB-Baker Mayfield (Draft-Oklahoma), RB-Nick Chubb (Draft-Georgia), CB-Denzel Ward (Draft-Ohio State), DE-Chad Thomas (Draft-Miami), G-Austin Corbett (Draft-Nevada)

KEY LOSSES: QB-DeShone Kizer (Trade-Green Bay), RB-Isaiah Crowell (FA-New York Jets), G-Marcus Martin (FA-Dallas), LB-Josh Keyes (FA-Houston), DT-Danny Shelton (Trade-New England), CB-Jason McCourty (Trade-New England), QB-Cody Kessler (Trade-Jacksonville), QB-Kevin Hogan (Trade-Washington), CB-Jamar Taylor (Trade-Arizona), WR-Corey Coleman (Trade-Buffalo), T-Joe Thomas (Retired)

Mark my words: the Browns will win GAMES.  Key word: GAMES.  Last year the talent level while still down, was better than what an 0-16 team has (I know you really can’t compare teams that are 0-16 but only 2 have done it-the 08 Lions who were incredibly bad and the Browns).  People blasted the Mayfield pick at #1, but honestly, I think Mayfield fits perfect for a team like Cleveland.  Yes, he’s brash.  He’s arrogant, and he does let his emotions get the best of him (which is a negative).  But being a quarterback, you need to have that arrogance to help you.  And two things that I think people forget on Mayfield in college: the guy busted his butt to make the teams at Texas Tech and Oklahoma; and he also is one tough player, physically and mentally.  If he starts week 1, great.  But I think he is the right guy for the job in Cleveland, who has struck out time after time on quarterbacks ever since they drafted Tim Couch.  That said, the team is still patchwork and with a coach who is in way over his head in Hue Jackson.  His play-calling I thought really doomed Cleveland in games they should have won and his personality doesn’t really mesh well with the team.  They added a lot of pieces in the off-season notably Jarvis Landry to give Mayfield (or Tyrod Taylor) a target and a jolt to the running game in Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb, but the Browns lose their tackle Joe Thomas to retirement so that will sting as he also provided leadership.  The bottom line on Cleveland is, they are still going to take their licks, but with the feel that Baltimore and Cincinnati being down and they get the Jets at home, they could win those games as they are feasible.  KEY QUESTION: What would it take for Hue Jackson to get fired?  If Cleveland starts 0-4 and they lose that game to the Jets at home.  There are people who can make it as a head coach in the NFL and there are people who can’t. Jackson has proven he can’t because that team last year had enough talent to win at least 4-5 games.  Instead he is a measly 1-31 so far in his career.  Nobody survives that unless you have a front office who has no idea what they are doing (which may explain why the Browns are the joke of the NFL for the last few seasons).  MY PREDICTION: 5-11.  Again, Cleveland will win games, but they will have that monkey on their backs early.  I think it may be if Cleveland parts with Hue Jackson in the season that things will get going for them.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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