Can Ravens win and develop Lamar Jackson? Schedule suggests yes

Saturday says Jackson made the most of his opportunity (1:06)

Jeff Saturday expresses his thoughts on Lamar Jackson's performance vs. the Raiders and how the Ravens allowed him to play in rhythm. (1:06)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Critics say Lamar Jackson beat some of the NFL's worst defenses in his first two NFL starts.

That shouldn't necessarily be a deterrent for Jackson to stay as the starting quarterback during the playoff stretch run.

In the final five games, Jackson and the Ravens face four of the six lowest-ranked defenses in the league. The only defense ranked better than No. 28 is the Los Angeles Chargers, who are No. 9.

There are no guarantees that Jackson will keep the starting job, because Joe Flacco could be cleared as early as this week. Flacco hasn't practiced since injuring his right hip on Nov. 4.

Can Baltimore develop Jackson and remain a playoff contender? The schedule suggests a perfect storm for the rookie first-round pick and a team seeking to end a three-year postseason drought.

Here are the Ravens' opposing defenses in the final five weeks:

  • The Atlanta Falcons' defense ranks No. 28 after being decimated by injuries. It starts with first down, where teams are gashing Atlanta for an average 6.7 yards (worst in the league). The Falcons have also allowed 205 rushing yards to quarterbacks this season, including 52 yards on Thanksgiving by Taysom Hill, who is the Saints' version of Jackson.

  • The Kansas City Chiefs are 30th in the NFL in defense because they've struggled to stop the run. Teams are averaging 5 yards per carry against Kansas City, and the Chiefs have allowed 42 runs of 10 or more yards (fifth worst).

  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are allowing 30.7 points per game, which is second worst in the league. The Buccaneers will come to Baltimore after failing to hold any team under 34 points this year away from home.

  • The Chargers are the best defense left on the schedule. Last Sunday, the Chargers spotted the Arizona Cardinals to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and then held them to 41 yards the rest of the game.

  • The Cleveland Browns are giving up the fifth-most rushing yards this season (131.8), and they can't keep runners out of the end zone. Cleveland has allowed 15 rushing touchdowns.

There's no debate that Flacco is the more proven downfield passer and the more experienced quarterback, with playoff wins in New England, Pittsburgh and Kansas City. But Jackson's athleticism and unpredictability pose bigger challenges to defenses game-planning against him.

"If you’re a defense preparing for him, you basically just have to pick and choose what you think is going to happen, and you never really know," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "You’re guessing all game."

The Ravens are in a situation unlike any other team in the NFL. Baltimore is in must-win mode while trying to groom a potential franchise quarterback.

The other four quarterbacks taken in the first round -- Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen -- are on teams focused on rebuilding. They're getting the growing pains out of their systems for teams that are a combined 13-30-1.

The acclimation of Jackson, the last pick in this year's first round, comes with the added pressure of Harbaugh needing to win. If the Ravens don't make the playoffs, the 11-year Harbaugh era could be over.

Jackson has been electrifying and inconsistent during the same quarter or series. He's been a thrilling playmaker who generates big plays and an overzealous rookie who turns the ball over.

"You’re talking about two weeks the guy has been playing," wide receiver Michael Crabtree said. "Come on man, he’s only 22 years old. He’s got room to grow. You’ve got to let him grow. You can’t put too much on him now, you have to let him grow. It takes a lot to play football in this league."

Over the past two weeks, Jackson has completed 61.3 percent of his passes, throwing one touchdown and three interceptions. His 63.4 passer rating in this span only ranks above Nick Mullens, Mitchell Trubisky and the now-benched Blake Bortles.

What isn't factored into that is Jackson's impact on the ground. His 190 yards rushing are the most by a quarterback in his first two starts in the Super Bowl era.

The next mark for Jackson is to become the first Ravens rookie quarterback to win his first three starts. That would significantly increase Baltimore's playoff odds and likely continue his run as the team's starting quarterback of the present.

“Lamar [Jackson] is definitely fun to watch," running back Ty Montgomery said. "He’s great to be around, real loose, and when he’s on the field, there’s a great energy. That’s what I love about him. He plays fast, trusts his instincts, and it’s definitely fun to be a part of."