BALTIMORE -- Quarterback Lamar Jackson was the complementary piece to the NFL's top-ranked defense in the Baltimore Ravens’ AFC North championship season last season.
If the Ravens want to capture that title again, Jackson has to put this team on his back.
Asked if there is increased pressure to score because of the Ravens' reeling defense, Jackson said after Sunday's 40-25 loss to the Cleveland Browns, "We’re not relying on our defense to [make] that stop, every one. It’s us. Our offense, we score points. We rely on our defense. Our defense gets motivated by us. If we’re not scoring points, I would be down, too."
While everyone can agree that defense is the Ravens' biggest problem, the same can be said of Jackson being the team's barometer.
The Ravens looked like Super Bowl contenders when Jackson recorded a perfect passer rating against the Miami Dolphins and ran for a career-high 120 yards against the Arizona Cardinals. Baltimore failed to prove that it belongs among the likes of the Kansas City Chiefs when Jackson sputtered early in games.
In the loss to the Chiefs, Jackson's biggest problem was accuracy. He was 11-of-24 for 119 yards through three quarters and entered the fourth quarter trailing 30-13. In falling to Cleveland, Jackson took too many sacks (four) before scrambling and didn't push the ball downfield until Baltimore entered the fourth trailing 24-10. He attempted a season-low six throws that traveled more than 10 yards downfield, completing just three.
Jackson acknowledged that the Browns took away the deep passes like the Chiefs did a week ago.
"But we still have to execute, whichever play we get, whatever we’re doing, get down the field," Jackson said. "Keep the job going. We’re not trying to put our defense out there with no points. That’s our job, and we didn’t do it [Sunday]."
The key for Jackson and the Ravens is stretching the field. In two wins, Jackson completed 58% of his passes of more than 10 yards, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions. In two losses, he has connected on 30% of those throws, recording no touchdowns and one interception.
Jackson had chances to make big plays and extend drives against the Browns. In the third quarter, he one-hopped a pass to Marquise Brown on third down, forcing the Ravens to settle for a field goal. In the fourth quarter, Jackson miscommunicated with Mark Andrews, throwing an out route when the tight end was running downfield.
The margin for error has decreased for Jackson and the Ravens' offense. With the defense giving up 500 yards (which has happened the past two games), Jackson has the mindset of getting points every time he touches the ball.
"We’re pissed right now," Jackson said. "We’d rather come out on top. But we didn’t. We fell short. We’ll get better next week, come out with a victory."
Next up for Jackson and the Ravens are the winless Pittsburgh Steelers, who've given up the fourth-most points in the NFL this season (28.3). But with Baltimore's defense struggling like it has few times before and with games ahead against teams such as the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, the Ravens’ fate rests on Jackson’s arms and legs.