Two years ago, Lamar Jackson strutted into the Coliseum on Monday Night Football and preceded to throw five touchdown passes and rush for 95 yards in a 45-6 thrashing of the Los Angeles Rams. The brutal primetime shellacking was Baltimore’s seventh straight victory en route to a 14-2 record and top seed in the AFC. Jackson punctuated his unanimous MVP campaign while the Rams were hungover from scoring a mere field goal against the Patriots in the Super Bowl the previous season.
Flashing forward to present-day, both teams are in the thick of the playoff hunt. LA as we know currently sits atop the NFC West. Baltimore on the other hand, has faded to becoming the eight-seed in the AFC following a promising 6-2 start to 2021. Even worse is that Lamar might not be ready to play Sunday in the Ravens biggest game of the season as he continues to nurse an ankle injury.
Life comes at you quickly in the NFL and we’re about to see what fight the Ravens have left in them this weekend. As my way of keeping up with the happenings in Baltimore, I sent 5 Qs to Kyle Barber of Baltimore Beatdown (such an intimidating name for a blog I might add) and he sent me 5 As in response.
Q - I love watching Lamar Jackson, he’s fun to watch and if you blink you might miss him with all that speed. All I know is that I’ll never want to race him. Lamar was recently named to the second Pro Bowl of his young career but this hasn’t exactly been a highlight-reel season for him in 2021. What has been the most noticeable change you’ve seen in his play this year and how could his apparent decline in production compared to past years impact a future mega-extension with the organization?
A - It’s a challenge to look at this season and wonder whether the negatives are due to a regression in a certain area, the injuries mounting up, the scheme accommodating for the player loss, or how much to assign what is “to blame.” But, Jackson is not without fault and I think the game against the Miami Dolphins looked most painful this season. Something that helped to make Lamar Jackson special, along with many other reasons, was his quick-thinking ability to make reads and execute. That didn’t mean he was always getting the ball out quick, as that quickness to diagnose a play and decide to tuck it and explode past the line of scrimmage equally lethal to getting rid of the ball when the blitz was bearing down on him. The Dolphins game just wasn’t that. He held the ball too long. He’d been doing it for a couple weeks. This game showed how much he was making said mistake drive after drive.
Of course it’s going to impact his contract. That said, just about any season was going to be a regression. It’s incredibly difficult to sustain the production he had in 2019 where he threw for 36 touchdowns to only six interceptions, while combining for 4,300 yards passing and rushing. But Jackson is a bonafide quarterback in the NFL and doesn’t have “is he the guy” questions about him. He is. And that alone can get a guy paid at his position.
Q - Rookie Rashod Bateman finally scored the first touchdown of his freshman campaign in the Ravens’ 41-21 loss to the Bengals. Bateman began his rookie year on IR due to injury and has played in 10 games since he was activated in October. What is something you have been most impressed with in his game so far and what is an area where he could improve on most as his career progresses?
A - Bateman is something special. His route running is something to behold for a rookie receiver. He’d hit the releases and breaks in his routes at speeds you’d expect from a veteran. He wasn’t rounding off his cuts like most. It was as advertised: polished. And even after he went through groin surgery and has returned, he’s still making those types of moves.
As for what he can improve upon, I think it’s consistency, though it’s tough to know whether or not it’s the play calling that’s not creating things for Bateman or if he’s vanishing against defenses for extended periods of time.
Q - Head Coach John Harbaugh has gotten a lot of flak for deciding to go for two at the end of a game twice in a span of three weeks against the Steelers and Packers. Given the circumstances, I personally respected Harbaugh’s decisions in both instances because I hate seeing coaches play scared. There’s too much playing not to lose rather than playing to win in today’s game for me. Without further ado, how did you view these two-point tries and why did they fail to succeed both times?
A - I liked both decisions to go for two. You play to win the game and you coach it that way, too. The Ravens are mercilessly banged up and they were trying to steal a couple more wins so they wouldn’t be on the outside looking in. All season long, they’d been playing with fire and managing to come away untouched. But the injuries, poor stretches of play and other things caught up to them and the close games were no longer going their way. But going for the win isn’t the wrong choice due to the result.
Q - Quarterback Tyler Huntley was activated from the COVID list Thursday and could have a chance to play against the Rams Sunday depending on the availability of Lamar Jackson. In essentially a must-win game against Los Angeles, how confident are you in his ability to get the job done and what kind of future do you see him having in the NFL if he moves on from the Ravens in the off-season?
A - Huntley is likely the starting quarterback for Sunday with Jackson missing Thursday’s practice. I think Huntley is more than capable of stealing a win, but it’s more on the defense stopping Cooper Kupp and the Rams offense more than it’s on Huntley. As for his future, Huntley is an exclusive rights free agent with the Ravens and unless somebody is wanting to trade a decent draft pick in the offseason, I don’t expect Huntley to be in a different uniform next season.
Q - A week removed from the Bengals’ Joe Burrow shredding the defense for 525 yards and four touchdowns, the Ravens depleted defense gets Cooper Kupp who is closing in on a 2K receiving campaign. What kind of game plan do the Ravens have in store to slow Kupp? Do you believe they’ll deploy a “17 Bulldog” scheme like they used with All-Pro Davante Adams or do they have other tricks up their sleeves?
A - I assume the Ravens will do everything in their power to limit Kupp in this game, but that’s not going to be easy. He has dominated this season in ways few wide receivers have in history. For the Ravens to ‘figure it out’ is unlikely, especially with the secondary they fielded against the Bengals on Sunday. Though they’re getting some guys back in this game from the COVID-19 list, I don’t see it as enough to do much more than slow Kupp. He’s too good and Matthew Stafford will look to right the ship against an opponent that bleeds.