The Baltimore Ravens sunk even further on Sunday, losing their third straight game, this time to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a costly divisional game that has people questioning whether or not John Harbaugh’s job is safe and if Baltimore should blow it all up after this season.
Maybe the game could have been closer had the Ravens not settled for an early field goal, which happened in large part because Joe Flacco completely missed a wide-open Lamar Jackson on a potential touchdown pass.
On the play in question, a third-and-goal situation, the Ravens motioned Jackson, lined up as a wide receiver, from the left to the right side of the formation. No one on the Steelers followed him, but that didn’t stop Joe Flacco from ignoring him and whipping a ball high and out of behinds, behind John Brown, who was double covered.
It’s easy to sit here and second guess Flacco’s decision making with the benefit of hindsight, but even in the moment, NFL on CBS announcers Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts seemed borderline stunned that Flacco missed Jackson on the play.
“Nobody was following Jackson after the movement,” Eagle remarked.
“Yeah it certainly looked like once he was down the sidelines, he had a shot — in fact I think everybody in the stands saw him,” Fouts replied. “Only guy that didn’t was Flacco, but Flacco’s read took him to the middle of the field, nothing there and he threw it away.”
It’s difficult to overstate just how open Jackson was on this play — the All-22 on the coaches’ tape really shows just how much space the backup quarterback had to work with here. Flacco could have flipped him the ball for a VERY easy touchdown.
So did Flacco just completely whiff on this play? Look at the reads to the middle of the field — there was nothing sitting out there that was going to imminently develop for him. In fact, with the Steelers rushing four and all those guys in the middle of the field, Jackson should have been the immediate option.
Or was there something more SINISTER at play? Could Flacco, who has made no secret about not being thrilled the Ravens drafted Jackson in the first round this year as a way of signaling Flacco’s end in Baltimore, have purposely ignored his backup? That seems far-fetched, because winning matters a lot more than “not giving Jackson a touchdown catch.”
Flacco confirmed that Jackson was “the last guy” out of roughly five options on the field, via BaltimoreRavens.com.
“If you remember, we were kind of rushing around there,” Flacco said. “It didn’t get off perfect, and he’s the last guy out of probably five [options] out there anyways.
“It’s one of those where maybe you wish you had extended the play and ended up seeing it late.”
And Jackson added he was a “late option” and “last resort” on the play, so Flacco shouldn’t be blamed for missing him.
“It wasn’t designed for me,” Jackson said. “Can’t blame that on him. He was going through his reads. I was a late option. Last resort.”
Maybe the finger needs to be pointed at the play design: if no one is following a receiver — whether it’s Jackson or Michael Crabtree or John Brown or even Joe Flacco — across the formation, that guy should become the primary target on the play.
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