New to 2019: I’ll be writing an article that drops each Tuesday detailing the ONE play I think affected the game the most. Whether the play turned the tides, sealed a loss, or iced a victory, I’ll be here at 12:30 to break down the most important play of every week.
Well, week one couldn’t have gone much better for the Baltimore Ravens. It’s hard to find anything to complain about after a 59-10 thrashing, then throw in a loss for each of our rivals in the North and you have a perfect start to the 2019 season. The Ravens will begin the season 1-0 in what feels like a yearly tradition in the Harbaugh era.
On the subject of perfection, QB Lamar Jackson achieved just that; he now holds the franchise record for single-game passing record with a perfect 158.3 after bursting onto the scene with over 300 yards and 5 touchdowns. Mark Ingram added a pair of scores on the ground as well as a 100 yd game of his own, and the offense thoroughly dominated in a game that was never close.
For the most part, the NFL is a league with great parity. Many games have a play, a drive, or simply a moment that defines the whole game while changing or securing its outcome. That’s kind of the whole point of this weekly series. This week was different, as the Dolphins lost the game the second the Ravens’ plane landed safely in Miami.
But one play did more than change a game, it changed the fans’ and media’s perception en masse. Lamar Jackson’s 2nd TD pass to Hollywood Brown, a perfectly placed 83 yard bomb, highlighted the 2nd year QB’s improvement as a passer and put the league on notice.
Jackson had looked sharp prior to this moment, including a pinpoint accurate ball in good coverage on a slant route for his first TD of the night. His mechanics looked noticeably better, the ball had a tight spiral, and there was more zip on each pass than we had seen a year ago. Much was made of Lamar’s work ethic in the offseason, and all reports were that he had made a giant leap in his development, but I doubt even the most optimistic of fans would’ve predicted a day like this.
First things first: yes, Lamar had all day to throw. If you haven’t heard, the Dolphins aren’t exactly loaded on talent, and their pass rush may be one of the weaker parts of their team. That said, their defense wasn’t focused on disrupting the pocket on this play. Miami rushes only 3 after throwing a 5 man front. That means Jackson has to account for 2 more defenders in coverage than the initial look would’ve led him to believe while having generally more time in the pocket. The idea is that more players in coverage will make it more difficult for our receivers to get open. To this point, teams have generally played us the exact opposite way on defense, sending more pressure to “force” Jackson to beat them with his arm. On this play, Lamar is able to stay calm and diagnose the defense easily, noticing a single high safety and his new favorite WR in 1-on-1 coverage.
Marquise Brown was coming off of foot surgery during the combine and was unable to run the 40, so there isn’t a set metric to measure just how fast he is. That said, he was always the fastest man on the field in college, and I’d expect that to be the case more often than not in the NFL. If he gets a step on you, he’s going to blow right by.
On this play, he’s matched up against Miami’s best player, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Minkah looks to be a future superstar who’s coming off of a fantastic rookie season. I point this out just to say: this isn’t just some guy the Dolphins are throwing out there while they tank, Fitzpatrick is one of the league’s better safeties.
Brown runs a crisp route and Fitz knows he’s in trouble flatfooted around the 28-yard line. He actually gets away with a little contact to try to slow Brown down and give himself a chance to recover. He does an admirable job keeping the coverage close, and forces Jackson to throw a perfect ball. If he floats this pass or throws it a little behind Brown, Fitzpatrick will have a chance for a break-up. Instead, Lamar launches the ball about 50 yards through the air and hits Hollywood in stride.
It’s a clean pocket and Brown does a great job in creating separation, but only a perfect throw gives this play a chance to score points. Lamar Jackson delivered exactly that.
By this point, the game already seemed out of control, and Jackson would eventually go on to have a historic day throwing the football; but this may have been the moment critics began to doubt themselves and those on the fence began to truly believe. We may not get many more 5 TD outings this season (though I welcome them), but if Jackson can continue to throw the ball like he did in Miami, the Ravens may have one of the dangerous offenses in the NFL.
This throw, and this game in total, just changed everything about how the Ravens will be perceived.