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Glenn Clark: Ravens Should Start Joe Flacco, Unless ...

November 26, 2018
I am not so obtuse as to think my opinion about the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback conundrum actually matters. This is the definitive list of whose opinions on the subject actually matter: 

- Head coach John Harbaugh
- (His staff, I guess)
- (Maybe the front office but also … why?)
- (Probably the owner, but it shouldn't)
- (OK, I think that's it)
- (Oh wait, also Lil B The BasedGod because the Ravens already have enough Juju issues, particularly in the division)

But yeah, I have an opinion. And since this is what we're going to be talking about until kickoff in Atlanta Dec. 2, I guess I'll share it. And since I don't understand Common Core at all, I'll choose to show my math. Here's how I came about making my decision.

And obviously all of this is predicated on the idea that Joe Flacco is going to be healthy and available against the Falcons, which seems possible based on Harbaugh's comments and various media reports. If that ends up not being the case, PressBox has my permission to burn this column permanently from the internet. But I request they do it with some sort of cheeky public display.

Step 1: What do my preconceived notions tell me? 

They tell me Anquan Boldin should probably friggin' STILL be a Raven and that Stefon Diggs should've been picked instead of Breshad Perriman and wait, what were we talking about again?

Look, my preconceived notions are as follows: 

- The Ravens shouldn't have spent a first-round pick on ANY quarterback this year. (Or two second-round picks, which they traded to get back into the first round -- however you want to say it.)
- I was a supporter of Jackson during the pre-draft process, believing the talk of him playing a different position was pure poppycock.
- Once the Ravens took Jackson, I believed he should immediately become the starting quarterback.

I think those are the only ones that are relevant to this particular debate. I present them because I'm going to do my best to dismiss them. As relevant or irrelevant as my opinions about these things may have been (or might still be), I want to make a fair decision based on the most relevant current evidence. 

This is important because a lot of us who are screaming the loudest about the Flacco-Jackson debate are really only regurgitating our preexisting opinions. It's sort of like trying to discuss a political debate the morning after. The conversation tends to not actually be about the debate at all, but rather all of the other things we like or dislike about the candidates. 

Most of the people that are yelling loudly about either Flacco or Jackson are people who felt the same strong opinion before they ever saw Jackson operate as a starting quarterback. 

If you decided before the season that you didn't like Flacco anymore or that Jackson wasn't good enough to play the position in the NFL, you probably feel the same way today. The truth is that the last two weeks have been … fine. Jackson has played somewhere between decent and fairly well against two terrible defenses. There has been good; there has been bad. Nothing has been significant enough to drastically change a reasonable observer's thought process.

Step 2: Which quarterback gives the Ravens the best chance to win in Atlanta?

This really is the only part that actually should matter to Harbaugh and company. If their jobs are legitimately at stake should they miss the playoffs, we have to operate with the idea that each game is pretty close to "must win." (Particularly considering the upcoming Kansas City game is more like "rather unlikely to win.") 

So we need to put aside our interest in getting a better look at Jackson … or our belief that there's value in the rookie getting more game experience … or any loyalty to Flacco and the idea that a pro athlete isn't supposed to lose his job because of an injury. None of that matters. 

Plain and simple, the Ravens have to determine which quarterback gives them the best chance to win a particular football game. And for what it's worth, as disappointing as the Falcons have been, their offense remains capable enough that we likely need to assume the Ravens will need to score a fair amount of points in order to win it. 

The best argument for Jackson is the team's run game as a whole. The Ravens averaged just 3.6 yards per carry during their first nine games with Flacco as their starting quarterback, a number that is even somewhat buoyed by successful run plays with Jackson on the field. They're averaging more than 5.0 yards per rush during their last two games with the former Heisman Trophy winner starting. 

And while yes, those numbers have come against the porous run defenses of the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders, the Falcons also have a terrible unit when it comes to stopping the run. Atlanta has allowed opponents to rush for more than 5.0 yards per carry this season. 

But the trade-off in this argument is that one quarterback has played just two career games as a starter, both at home. The other has a career's worth of big games under his belt, including a number of massive wins. Even in recent years when the Ravens have lost big games -- like their season-defining losses in Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017 and their loss to the New Orleans Saints just a few weeks ago -- those losses have happened despite solid to high-level performances from their former Super Bowl MVP. 

As exciting as Jackson is and as hopeful as we might be about what we've seen so far, I just think it might be a bridge too far to think that he definitively gives them a better chance than Flacco to win on the road against a desperate team with the season potentially on the line.

So yeah, the answer is Flacco. Look, this isn't how any of this is supposed to be done. Organizations are supposed to make quarterback and coaching changes at the same time. If they knew who their coach was going to be, it would be much easier to just turn things over to Jackson right now and not look back. 

Instead, Harbaugh can choose (with his job at stake) to either go with the guy who has been his only starting quarterback in more than 10 years as a head coach and has won him a Super Bowl, two division titles and 10 playoff games (and who might have beat the best team in football just a couple weeks ago had it not been for his kicker), OR he can choose a guy who has played decently in two home games against bad defenses. 

It kinda seems like this shouldn't even be a debate, no? The answer has to be Flacco. 

So we're done here, right? Not exactly. 

Step 3: But are there any mitigating circumstances?

Oh right, yeah. That. 

I guess one question would be, "If your starter struggles in the first half against the Falcons, is there one quarterback you'd be more willing to turn to in relief than the other?" In other terms, if you bench one of these guys, are you concerned you might "lose" them mentally or emotionally? 

I don't think that's an issue here. Jackson is still super young and knows this was Flacco's team from the beginning, and Flacco will need a new contract at the end of the season. If either has to come off the bench, they'll be ready to play. 

But the other mitigating circumstance is that incessantly stupid need the Ravens felt to put Jackson on the field when Flacco was their starter that just never seemed to work the way they wanted it to. It certainly worked for a handful of plays, but more of them were minimal gains and they seemed to disrupt the rhythm of the offense significantly. 

Considering Harbaugh committed to the idea of using "more" of Jackson even before Flacco was hurt, it seems as though that would be likely to continue. This is sheer opinion, but I don't believe in the Ravens' ability to win consistently using two quarterbacks. 

So finally, Step 4: Who should play in Atlanta?

Honestly? I have no idea. 

But since I don't want this to have been a giant waste, I'll say it this way. If the Ravens are willing to only play one quarterback, it should be Flacco. 

Since I believe they probably aren't, it should be Jackson. 

But I'll understand what they do either way. It's not my job that's at stake. At least I hope not. 

Follow Glenn Clark on Twitter @GlennClarkRadio

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox