The Baltimore Ravens'
23-17 wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers
magnified many of the questions about the sustainability of the offense the Ravens ran down the stretch, and former Baltimore head coach Brian Billick expressed reservations about quarterback Lamar Jackson's long-term prospects as a passer.
Jackson threw for 194 yards and two touchdowns Jan. 6, but much of that production came in the fourth quarter after the Chargers had built a three-score lead. During the first half, Jackson threw for 17 yards and an interception on 2-of-8 passing and fumbled twice, neither of which was recovered by the Chargers.
Jackson completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 1,201 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions during the regular season. Billick, who coached the Ravens from 1999-2007, raised concerns about whether Jackson can develop into the pocket passer necessary for the Ravens' offense to grow.
"I'm never going to say a guy can't develop. You never know," Billick said on
Glenn Clark Radio
Jan. 7. "… Based on the last six to seven weeks that I've seen, I have concerns about that, just his throwing action and the lack of accuracy. But that doesn't mean he can't evolve."
"It's the old, do you have an athlete that can throw or do you have a quarterback that's an athlete?" asked Billick. "Right now, I think Lamar Jackson's just a phenomenal athlete that can kind of throw."
When the Ravens and Chargers faced off in Los Angeles Dec. 22, Baltimore had more success moving the ball than it did Jan. 6. The Ravens ran for 159 yards on 35 carries and set the tone for the game with a 43-yard run up the middle by running back Gus Edwards on the team's first play from scrimmage. Jackson threw for a season-best 202 yards on the night, a chunk of which came on a 68-yard touchdown throw to tight end Mark Andrews.
The second time around, the Chargers adjusted to the Ravens' running game by
playing seven defensive backs
on nearly every snap. The injection of speed -- the Chargers used safeties on the second level instead of linebackers -- helped Los Angeles contain the dynamic Jackson on the perimeter when he kept the ball on the read option, and the Chargers' defensive linemen controlled the line of scrimmage.
The Ravens ran for just 90 yards on the day, 54 of which came courtesy of Jackson. It was easily the Ravens' lowest output on the ground since Jackson was inserted as the starter ahead of Baltimore's game against the Cincinnati Bengals Nov. 18. The Ravens averaged 226.9 rushing yards per game during the seven regular-season games with Jackson as the starter -- but that's not necessarily sustainable long term, according to Billick.
"Do we think there is growth for Lamar Jackson to evolve from the pocket, because clearly that has to happen," Billick said. "They're not going to, in my opinion, be able to duplicate these last six or seven or eight games. Let's keep in mind, with the exception of the Chargers, it was also against defenses that were in the bottom fourth of the league."
"The challenge for the Ravens is, 'What we started here in the last six, seven weeks, can that build? Do we have our guy in Lamar Jackson, or do we think he's going to mature and be a guy that can eventually win from the pocket?'" Billick added.
Billick said it's important for Harbaugh, team owner Steve Bisciotti and new general manager Eric DeCosta to be on the same page with regard to Jackson.
"The cleanest world [is], 'John, we love you, here's a four- or five-year extension. We all agree that Lamar Jackson's the guy and we're all in on continuing to develop him,'" Billick said. "OK, then that's cool. That's great. It's full guns ahead. Now the next step back is if there's a contingent that is not so sure that Lamar is the guy and where is John in that equation, what's his view of it versus Eric's versus Steve's?"
"There's a lot of moving parts here, and that's something that obviously they're going to have to sort through," Billick added, "but not the least of which is how it relates to what is their collective opinion about Lamar Jackson going forward."
For more from Billick, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox