Give Lamar Jackson the credit he deserves, and surprising Week 1 storylines that will prove true in 2019

Lamar Jackson’s ridiculous, explosive and, frankly, near-perfect outing in his first ever Week 1 start won’t be enough to convince the haters and skeptics and non-believers.

“It was against the woeful Dolphins.” “He was back in his hometown.” “The Ravens got to sneak up on everyone with their new offense.” “The league will adjust.” “Jackson will get exposed.” “He’s just a running quarterback; an injury waiting to happen.”

Nothing he does will be enough for some, for reasons I staunchly maintain go well beyond just football. But the simple fact is, all this 22-year-old has done since entering the league is charm his teammates, win over his coaches, make spectacular plays, get better by the week and, oh yeah, win football games (now 7-2 in starts, including the playoffs). He has been a beacon in the community, with a natural joy about him and a positive energy you can see in the clips of his interactions with young fans at training camp.

Yet people want to ridicule him. You don’t find him getting the hype of arguably inferior young quarterbacks like Mitch Trubisky or Josh Allen, yet he is far better protecting the football, has shown a far great big-play potential in the passing game, and his running ability and speed may be the best of anyone to ever play his position. Makes you wonder.

But those inclined to demean him as lesser-than are going to run out of straw-man arguments to make. And, unlike a year ago when he was the only quick-twitch athlete on an offense he was thrust into at midseason with the Ravens sagging, now he is surrounded by them. With each cool, collected decision he made in the pocket Sunday, with every ball fake, feigning a pitch in an RPO before unleashing a perfect 50-yard bomb, with each acrobatic throw from an unusual arm angle to compensate for his relative lack of size, it becomes harder and harder to ignore or suppress his talent.

Jackson dominated against the Dolphins from the first snap on, never had to run the ball or take any abuse, and went 17 for 20 for 324 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He threw crisp, in-stride slants that rookie Marquise Brown took to the house, and also he threw spot-on sideline bombs and perfect seam throws. Of his 20 attempts, seven went for 20 yards or more, including TD strikes of 83, 47, and 33 yards.

He completed passes to eight teammates and was a terror throwing to his tight ends (14 of 15 for 175 yards and a TD), which I would pay particular attention to. No one uses more three-TE sets than Baltimore (a weapon in the run and pass game). Mark Andrews was his favorite target a year ago, 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst is finally healthy, and the Ravens made Nick Boyle the highest-paid blocking TE ever for a reason.

In his eight regular season starts Jackson is 109 for 178 (61.2%) for 1,438 yards (8.08 yards per attempt) with 10 TDs, three INTs and a 98.5 rating. Oh, and he’s rushed for 562 yards, too.

Yeah, Miami stinks. It won’t always (ever?) be this easy. But the kid still made plays and made them under duress. He’s building confidence (not that he ever lacked it). And the reality is, this is still probably the best running team in the NFL; their intricate run scheme demand bodies in the box, and Brown and Myles Boykin and Hurst and Andrews on the field at the same time is going to be a problem for opposing defenses. The play-action game is going to be a killer, and Jackson is going to be a highly-prolific passer.

Accept it, if you haven’t already for some reason. The kid can play, and he’s only just getting started.

More Week 1 observations

We call it overreaction Sunday, but a lot happened this opening week that caught my attention. There were a lot of trends and tendencies I have been tracking this summer, and a lot positions I held coming into the regular season were reaffirmed, for better or worse. I won’t call them definitive proclamations just yet — we need to see a larger sample size — but I will be watching this closely in the coming weeks.

The Falcons are still longing for Kyle Shanahan. Putting Matt Ryan back with Dirk Koetter sounds great and all, but it never inspired much excitement with me. This offense was downright brutal all game when it matters, albeit against a tough Vikings defense, and the pressure is going to be in the ATL from the jump. Better get that going, quickly.

Mitch Trubisky will struggle to meet raised expectations. Will he read the entire field and make downfield plays consistently? Can he deliver the ball accurately to all quadrants? Can he play from behind? We’re gonna find out.

Todd Gurley’s role is going to be reduced and he will be on a pitch count. Certainly seemed that way in Week 1. Had just five carries for eight yards (and only one target) in the first half, and looked tentative. He also didn’t feature around the goal line. Then he was unleashed in the fourth quarter to help put the game away. I am sure things will change a bit by the week, but the days of 25-30 touches on a regular basis might be behind him.

The Bills might have the best defense in the NFL. Despite getting undermined by their offense for three quarters and constantly turning the ball over (Josh Allen’s nemesis) the defense allowed just six points off four turnovers to stay in the game, allowing the Bills to beat the Jets.

The Browns‘ problem isn’t talking too much, it’s the offensive line. This, if anything, will be their downfall. Sunday was an absolute mess. Greg Robinson got ejected, and was struggling before that. Baker Mayfield got hit way too much, sometimes because he held the ball too long. GM John Dorsey is a wheeler-dealer; says here he’ll upgrade this line before the deadline.

Josh Rosen is screwed again. The Dolphins’ line is atrocious, and they are going to crushed most weeks. Entering a game down 52-10 is hardly ideal. Brian Flores wants to stick with Ryan Fitzpatrick next week, which means another week with few reps and probably another ill-fated mop-up role when New England trounces the Fins next week.

Vikings are the best team in the NFC North. They certainly out-classed the Falcons on all fronts and looked like an opportunistic defense again. Yeah, most weeks Kirk Cousins is going to have to attempt more than 10 passes. But this is a nice start for them, and it seems like some of the pressure from a year ago has dissipated. This one’s a little more under the radar.

Kliff Kingsbury’s staff is going to take their lumps this season. Its not just all about Kliff and Kyler — they gotta play defense, too. And Vance Joseph’s ability to steer that unit could be a problem. Not a lot of deep experience on this staff and some steep odds against them. Better learn fast.

The Jags missed their best window to be a real factor. Decent chance that by the time Nick Foles come back, perhaps in a few months, their season is effectively over. Discipline and, to be blunt, stupid, selfish antics continue to be in their DNA, and keeping this entire cast around again in 2020, well, good luck with that. Yeah, it’s early, but more ejections and antics and some key stars still unsigned and some key stars on the wrong side of 30. These guys can’t seem to get out of their own way.

I will come to deeply regret one of these Week 1 statements. Book it. But I’ll be right on more of them than you might think.

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