Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he isn't surprised that questions about his job status are swirling in the wake of the team's three-game losing streak, and he insisted the Ravens will be healthier and faster after this week's bye.
Speaking at his weekly news conference Nov. 5, the day after the Ravens lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 23-16, to fall to 4-5 on the season, Harbaugh also continued to suggest that rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will have an increased role moving forward -- though he stopped short of saying Jackson would be starting anytime soon.
Harbaugh is thought to be operating on a playoffs-or-else mandate this year after Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said he had considered firing Harbaugh last season, the Ravens' third straight season missing the playoffs.
Now after losing their third straight game this year, the Ravens increasingly face the proposition of a fourth straight season without a playoff bid. Bisciotti rarely speaks to the media during the season, and it is considered unlikely that he will make an in-season change, but Harbaugh's seat is getting hotter by the week.
Harbaugh said he was "not really surprised or insulted" that he faced questions about his job status in the wake of the loss to the Steelers.
"I understand that's part of it. ... You gotta win games in this league," he said. "That's the bottom line."
Harbaugh spent a considerable portion of his news conference fielding questions about Jackson in the wake of his declaration after the Steelers game that he'd like to see more of Jackson moving forward.
Dismissing the notion that Jackson's appearance in the middle of a drive can be counterproductive or disruptive to the rhythm of the offense, Harbaugh said after the game that he would like to "find ways to get him on the field more, if we can. He's a good player."
Harbaugh doubled down on that the next day when asked about Jackson's usage, saying the Ravens have considered a lot of options, including running an entire series with Jackson at quarterback. Thus far, he has been sprinkled in for a play here or there, sometimes taking the snap at quarterback, sometimes lining up out wide.
"When I say I want him on the field more, it's because he's such a good player," Harbaugh said, "and you want to put your good players on the field."
Jackson has 28 carries for 139 yards and one touchdown during nine games this year, and he has completed seven of 12 passes for 87 yards. Harbaugh noted that the Ravens want to see more of Jackson as a passer.
Jackson played 13 snaps against the Steelers, rushing five times for 10 yards and going 1-for-1 through the air. He has averaged about nine snaps a game, with a season-high 30 in a blowout win against the Buffalo in Week 1. In one key play in the Steelers' game, Jackson lined up wide on third-and-goal from the Steelers' 5-yard line, went in motion and ran a wheel route. Jackson was completely uncovered in the end zone, but Flacco never saw him and instead threw incomplete intended for receiver John Brown.
Harbaugh pointed out that not only has Jackson been successful as a ball carrier -- his average of 5.0 yards a carry is better than any running back -- but he said the running game, which has struggled to gain traction all season, has been better with Jackson on the field.
The threat of Jackson as a ball carrier on a read-option at times has frozen a defender just long enough to create extra room for Alex Collins or one of other Ravens running backs. Jackson also draws a defender with him in motion, creating space.
"The stats say in the running game, when he's out there we're over twice as effective running the ball," Harbaugh said. "The numbers don't lie there, either. So it's been effective for us."
Harbaugh, though, suggested that any talk of Jackson supplanting Flacco as the starter is premature.
"Joe's played well," Harbaugh said. "We're rolling right now with what we got."
PLAYERS ON THE MEND DURING BYE: Harbaugh said he expects players who have been sidelined recently to return after the bye week, which would help bolster an offensive line that has been hit hard by injuries recently. Starting right tackle James Hurst (back) has missed three straight games, and starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) missed the Steelers game. Starting left guard Alex Lewis (neck) had missed two games but returned to action against the Steelers.
In addition, linebacker Tim Williams (ankle) missed the Steelers game, and linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman (calf), running back Alex Collins (foot), safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) and wide receiver Jordan Lasley (hamstring) were all listed as questionable last week and have been playing through various injuries.
Harbaugh said coaches and players will hold meetings over the next two days but won't practice, and then the players will get a four-day period off, which is mandatory during the bye week per the collective bargaining agreement.