Start Lamar Jackson? Ravens rolling with Joe Flacco for now

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh raised some eyebrows when he indicated that he wants more playing time for first-round pick Lamar Jackson.

With the Ravens stumbling into their bye, would Harbaugh consider starting Jackson over Joe Flacco?

"Joe has played well, so I don’t want to get into all of that. We’re rolling right now with what we got," Harbaugh said. "Of course, at some point in time, this guy [Jackson] is a quarterback. We’ve said that from the beginning. Anybody who wants to dispute that, come to practice. He’s improving all the time. He’s getting better as an NFL quarterback all the time."

That certainly wasn't a ringing endorsement of Flacco. Harbaugh is essentially sticking with Flacco for now, but he has left an opening for Jackson.

Flacco's numbers have declined during Baltimore's three-game losing streak. He has thrown 12 touchdowns and six interceptions this season. His 84.2 passer rating ranks No. 25 and behind the likes of Ryan Tannehill and Eli Manning. What has hurt Flacco is playing behind a banged-up offensive line and throwing to receivers who've dropped the second-most passes in the NFL.

The popular line of thinking is the Ravens (4-5) would think about switching to Jackson if they're out of playoff contention. Baltimore's chances of reaching the postseason would plummet to about 10 percent if the Ravens lose next week to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Even if the Ravens' season doesn't reach that point, Harbaugh made it clear that Jackson should be on the field more. The No. 32 overall pick in this year's draft, Jackson is averaging nine snaps per game. All the other quarterbacks drafted in this year's first round -- Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen -- have started this season.

Harbaugh acknowledged it's a possibility that Jackson could receive an entire series to line up at quarterback instead of sparsely playing that position.

“I would like to see him out there more and find ways to get him on the field more, if we can," Harbaugh said. "He’s a good player.”

The problem with how the Ravens use Flacco and Jackson is that it has become extremely predictable. When Flacco lines up at quarterback, the Ravens throw the ball. When Jackson takes over at quarterback, Baltimore runs it.

In Sunday's 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens passed 75 percent of the time with Flacco at quarterback and ran the ball 84 percent of the time with Jackson on the field. Baltimore has struggled to find that same excitement that is produced when the New Orleans Saints use Drew Brees and Taysom Hill.

"That’s really a challenge," Harbaugh said. "You want to keep your offense in a rhythm. You want to keep your quarterback on the field. But you have a playmaker. You don’t want to have him run the ball all the time. He’s not a running back. He’s a quarterback. How many throws can you get him? How many throws can you get him with Joe not being a legitimate receiver out there?"

The only time Baltimore has had a consistent running game is when Jackson is doing the read-option. The Ravens have been twice as effective running the ball with Jackson on the field, according to Harbaugh.

"The numbers don’t lie there, either," Harbaugh said. "It’s been effective for us."

The timing of putting Jackson into games has been peculiar. On Sunday, Flacco completed passes of 13 and 30 yards to move Baltimore to the Pittsburgh 25-yard line. The Ravens inserted Jackson for a 9-yard run, but Flacco couldn't regain his rhythm and threw two incomplete passes to end the drive.

Flacco appears to have grown tired of the questions surrounding the two-quarterback packages.

"Whatever we decide to call, that’s what we decide to call, and I’m all for it," he said.

The biggest misconnection between Flacco and Jackson occurred in the first quarter and cost the team a touchdown.

On third-and-5 at the Steelers' 5, Jackson lined up at wide receiver and went in motion to the other side of the field, where he was uncovered. Jackson threw his hand in the air to get Flacco's attention, but Flacco threw the ball into double coverage into the end zone, drawing a gasp from the M&T Bank Stadium crowd.

"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 guys out there anyways. It’s one of those where maybe you wish you had extended the play and ended up seeing it late."

Jackson has proved to be an effective runner, ranking second on the team with 139 yards rushing and leading the team with a 5-yard average per carry. He needs to find consistency as a passer, completing 7-of-12 (58.3 percent) for 87 yards and one touchdown.

Upon hearing that the Ravens want to give him more opportunities, Jackson said, "That’s pretty cool, but I just want my team to get together and we just have to win. We’re just going to get better, regroup, come together and just stay focused."