Some NFL teams will spend a decade-plus searching for a franchise quarterback who could potentially earn MVP votes at one point in his career. Yet when the Baltimore Ravens made Lamar Jackson available this offseason, multiple teams publicly shot down any intention to pursue Jackson.
The Atlanta Falcons chose Desmond Ridder, while the Washington Commanders settled for Baker Mayfield and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Baker Mayfield. Jackson, only 26 years old, already had won NFL MVP once and was doing things like no other quarterback in the history of the game.
Related: NFL MVP odds
Fortunately for Baltimore, the Ravens’ front office settled its differences with one of its best players in franchise history. Not only was Jackson rewarded with a lucrative contract extension, but the organization finally made the kind of commitments you’d expect from a team being carried by its franchise quarterback.
The Ravens’ decision and the willingness of other NFL teams to settle for mediocrity, might’ve had one of the biggest domino effects on the 2023 NFL season.
Lamar Jackson is replicating his 2019 success
Before taking the field against the Detroit Lions defense in Week 7, the narrative surrounding Jackson and the Ravens wasn’t especially positive. Few viewed Baltimore’s quarterback as anything close to an MVP candidate and there was a focus on some of his early turnovers.
However, Jackson had been playing well heading into the Lions’ game. He completed 69.94 percent of his passes, averaging 7.24 yards per attempt with a 93 QB rating. He was equally effective on the ground, averaging 54.5 rushing yards per game and 5.45 yards per carry with four touchdowns. If not for a missed pass interference and endless drops, Baltimore might have even been undefeated when they faced Detroit.
With all eyes on him, Jackson delivered a flawless performance on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t just that he threw for 357 yards and three scores on 27 attempts, posting a 155.8 QB rating. Jackson beat the Lions’ defense in every way humanly possible.
“That’s the best game that I’ve seen Lamar as a passer…and I think the most shocking thing is this: the Baltimore Ravens are a top-five pass game in the NFL. Think about that.”Dan Orlovsky on Lamar Jackson’s performance against the Detroit Lions
According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson had a perfect 153.8 QB rating on throws 10-plus yards downfield. He posted a 158.3 QB rating when pressured – 8-of-9, 238 yards, 2 TDs – with a 118.8 QB rating and 77.8% completion rate against the blitz. He also went 3-of-4 for 80 yards and a score on throws of 20-plus air yards.
It was arguably his best passing performance in the context of his opponent. While it reminded many of how dominant Jackson was during his 2019 NFL MVP season, the fact of the matter is Jackson’s been playing at an MVP-caliber level for the entire season.
|QB Rating vs Pressure
|Expected Completion %
|EPA + CPOE composite
|Bad Throw %
|Lamar Jackson stats (2019)
|91.0 (2nd in NFL)
|Lamar Jackson stats (2023)
|103.8 (2nd in NFL)
Jackson’s supporting cast deserves plenty of credit, too. Baltimore’s offensive line only allowed nine pressures with zero sacks and one quarterback hit. It allowed Jackson to average 3.18 seconds per throw and he used that free time in the pocket to pick the Lions’ defense apart.
Of course, it hasn’t always been this way for the Ravens’ offense. In fact, the offensive line and receiving corps are largely responsible for Jackson being held out of the MVP debate before Sunday.
Slow start by the Baltimore Ravens’ supporting cast hurt Lamar Jackson’s production
The Ravens’ receiving corps earned a lot of buzz this season. After adding wide receiver Zay Flowers in Round 1 and signing Odell Beckham Jr., many expected this corps to be the best in Jackson’s NFL career. However, the collective group has let its quarterback down a lot prior to Week 7.
A Week 5 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers defense certainly sticks out as the best example. In that 17-10 loss, Jackson completed just 22-of-38 passes for 236 passing yards, finishing with a 48.5 ESPN QBR thanks to an interception and four sacks. However, those who watched the game saw how many points the Ravens’ pass-catchers left on the field.
It started early. With 12:55 in the first quarter on 1st and 10, Flowers saw the football slip through his hands in open space. Even if the defender tackled him immediately, it would’ve been a 21-yard gain. Baltimore’s drive stalled out three players later.
Early in the second quarter on 2nd-and-goal, Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews attempted a leaping grab that slipped through his hands. On the very next play, Jackson hit Bateman with a dart in the chest that the former first-round pick dropped. That’s at least 25-plus yards and a touchdown taken off Jackson’s line already.
Later in the quarter from Baltimore’s 36-yard line, Jackson fit a ball to Flowers inside a tight window that was dropped. A would-be first down turned into a 2nd-and-long and the drive stalled. In the third quarter on 2nd-and-6 from the Steelers’ 44-yard line, Jackson placed the ball right into Nelson Agholor’s hands on a deep sideline throw, but Agholor dropped the would-be touchdown from 44 yards out.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Jackson found Flowers wide-open deep downfield. Only, the rookie had a mental lapse and the football hit the ground right near him. Conservatively, the Ravens’ receivers took two touchdowns and 100-plus yards off Jackson’s stat line. Baltimore lost 17-10.
Related: Highest-paid NFL players
As for the Ravens’ offensive line, per Pro Football Focus, it ranked 21st in Pass Blocking Efficiency from Weeks 1-6 with 62 pressures and 43 hurries allowed on 216 dropbacks. While quarterbacks are often to blame for sacks, Jackson was graded as having only been responsible for 6.8 percent of pressures allowed, the fourth-lowest mark among qualified starting quarterbacks.
Jackson’s performance against the Detroit Lions wasn’t a one-off game or merely an instance of things breaking his way. It was the first time this season that the Ravens’ offensive line played well and Baltimore’s pass-catchers looked comfortable. That’s the scary part for NFL defenses moving forward.
Ravens’ schedule and crafting the narrative for NFL MVP
While the MVP award often isn’t decided until the final three weeks of the regular season, narratives help shape the path to reaching that point. In Jackson’s case, there are opportunities to dictate his finish in the MVP race and shape his narrative.
Baltimore faces the Cleveland Browns in Week 10. Not only does this provide Jackson a shot to secure a win that would improve the Ravens’ chances of winning the AFC North, he can also strengthen his MVP odds. Against one of the NFL’s best pass defenses another performance like the one he had in Week 4 – 4 total touchdowns – would go a long way with voters.
A few days after that, he gets a head-to-head matchup against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals on Prime Video. While the Bengals don’t have a top-10 defense right now, a divisional win and outperforming Burrow would swap even more MVP voters.
Then, Jackson can pass his stats against the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams before rolling into December for a pivotal two-week stretch. If he takes down the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins, securing the Ravens’ a home playoff game and besting two of the NFL’s best teams, Jackson will be the runaway choice for MVP.