Baltimore Ravens

Ravens should not hesitate to start Lamar Jackson era

The Baltimore Ravens need to win on Sunday, but there should be no hesitation to go with Lamar Jackson under center.

Lamar Jackson has seen the field a fair amount as a rookie, with 28 carries and 12 pass attempts while playing in all nine games. But as of now, he’s the only rookie first-round quarterback not to start a game this season.

Sunday’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals is a practical must-win for both teams. But it’s of slightly greater importance to the Ravens, who went into their Week 10 bye on a three-game losing streak. A loss would drop them to 4-6, with two losses to Cincinnati.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (right hip) is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game, but Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said the former Super Bowl MVP can play without practicing. No. 3 quarterback Robert Griffin III was the only quarterback to practice on Thursday, as Jackson dealt with a stomach issue, and he’d bring plenty of intrigue with him if he were to make his first start since the 2016 season finale for the Cleveland Browns.

Jackson returned to practice on Friday, and ESPN’s Jamison Hensley passed along the “growing expectation” the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner will start on Sunday.

The idea Griffin may be mixed in suggests a hesitation to go all in on Jackson. Harbaugh may not be ready to give up on Flacco as they both possibly enter their final weeks in Baltimore, but Sunday’s game is a very good spot for Jackson to succeed.

After the Bengals allowed over 500 yards for the third straight week last week, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was fired. Cincinnati is now last in the league in total defense (454.6 yards allowed per game), as well as last against the pass, 31st against the run and 31st in points allowed. Things can’t really get any worse, as head coach Marvin Lewis goes back to his roots to take over the defense.

Jackson’s highest completion rate during his college career at Louisville was 59.1 percent, so he probably has some work to do accuracy-wise at the NFL level. But the Bengals have surrendered a 66.8 percent completion rate this season (23rd in the league), and over their last three games opposing quarterbacks have completed 69.3 percent of their passes. If you take out Jameis Winston’s 18-for-35 performance (with four interceptions) in Week 8, that number rises significantly.

It goes without saying Jackson adds mobility and dynamic running ability to the equation. So a full game plan that highlights that would be in order, and as Flacco has never seemed close to playing on Sunday it should have been the primary focus for Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg all week.

Jackson will surely have some ups and downs as he sees his first extensive action under center, and the Ravens are trying to stay in the playoff race. But a generous Bengals’ defense is as good as it gets for a soft landing in a first NFL start, and it’s time for the Ravens to kickstart a new era at quarterback.

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