Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson finished with a season-high 43 passes in Sunday’s overtime win over the Los Angeles Rams. His most impressive throw might’ve been the one that isn’t added to the stat sheet, the one after the 41st attempt and before the 42nd.

After a go-ahead 21-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers late in the fourth quarter, Jackson and the offense lined up for a 2-point conversion, looking for a 31-28 lead. At the snap, Jackson rolled out to his right from the 2-yard line, hoping to find tight end Isaiah Likely open in the flat for a quick hitter. But Likely was well covered, and now linebacker Ernest Jones was bearing down on Jackson.

So he improvised. Jackson hopped away from one urgent problem, the onrushing Jones, and into another, landing within range of defensive lineman Jonah Williams. With his feet parallel to the goal line and splayed out like a surfer’s — not exactly teach tape for quarterbacks — Jackson reached back and, as Williams threw himself at his lower body, effectively shot-putted a ball to Flowers, open near the right sideline. The end-zone catch was easy; everything before it was not.

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“I think Lamar played one of the best quarterback games yesterday that you can play, all in all, and he did it kind of in the way he plays,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday.

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For as much as Jackson’s performance in the 37-31 victory highlighted his evolution as a drop-back passer, it was perhaps just as notable for his contributions out of the structure of the offense. The duality of one of the NFL’s best-ever dual-threat quarterbacks was on display throughout.

On passes attempted between 2.5 and four seconds after the snap — what the NFL’s Next Gen Stats considers “in rhythm” throws — Jackson went 14-for-21 for 243 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Only the San Francisco 49ers’ Brock Purdy finished with more passing yards on in-rhythm throws in Week 14.

On scrambles, though, no one was more prolific or productive. Of Jackson’s 70 rushing yards Sunday, 68 came on scrambles, 22 yards more than the Week 14 runner-up (the Chicago Bears’ Justin Fields), according to TruMedia. Jackson’s eight scrambles were the second most of his career, behind only a 2021 win over the Minnesota Vikings in which he scrambled 10 times.

“Your offense reflects the quarterback, and you build it around that,” Harbaugh said Monday. “There are going to be times, we’ve seen in the past, where he’ll try to do that [scramble], and they might get him — sometimes they do — and everybody is like, ‘Oh, that’s a bad play.’ And it happens; it’s the NFL.”

But Jackson, Harbaugh added, played “very within the structure initially and throughout, but also with his flair outside of the structure, and did it in a safe way. He kept the ball protected, and on a [rainy] day like that … that was a really big deal.”

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With Jackson again playing himself into NFL Most Valuable Player consideration ahead of Sunday night’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, his season has taken on a curious shape. Jackson’s command of the Ravens’ offense under first-year coordinator Todd Monken grows with each week. He’s 194 yards away from surpassing a career high in passing yards (3,127, set in 2019). Yet he remains willing to create for himself as a runner. Maybe more willing than ever.

Entering Week 15, Jackson’s 12.5% scramble rate not only leads the NFL but would also mark a career high for a season, according to TruMedia. In 2019, during his MVP year, Jackson scrambled on 8.7% of his drop-backs. Last season, he scrambled just 6.9% of the time, a career low.

Jackson remains an effective scrambler — just not a lethal one. His yards per scramble (6) and expected points added per scramble (0.14) would be career lows.

SeasonScramble rateTotal scramblesYards per scrambleEPA per scramble
20198.7%4010.40.79
202011.5%527.10.43
202110.9%517.90.26
20226.9%267.90.48
202312.5%586.00.14

Improved pocket management explains Jackson’s spike in scrambles somewhat. According to Pro Football Focus, he has been sacked on just 18% of his pressures this season, down from 20.9% last season, 21.8% in 2021 and 19.1% in 2020. (Jackson’s most elusive year as a starter came in 2019, when just 16.4% of pressures were converted into sacks.) The more takedowns a quarterback avoids, the more opportunities he has to scramble.

But with the Ravens embracing a pass-first philosophy this season — according to the analytics site RBSDM.com, their early-down pass rate in competitive games (58%) is the NFL’s seventh highest — Monken might have also fostered a more scramble-friendly environment. It’s not like Jackson has been running for his life; his pressure rate (6.7%) is only the 18th highest among the 40 quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts this season, according to TruMedia.

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“It’s hard to consistently stay in the pocket and distribute the ball unless you’re really elite on the outside,” Monken said last month. “You need the ability to extend plays and allow the guys on the outside to uncover. The No. 1 pass play that we’ve had every year that I’ve been in coaching, when you have quarterbacks like Lamar, is scramble. There’s not one other pass play [more effective] that we’re going to call — not curl-flat, not four verticals; it’s going to be scramble.”

“So we have to continue to be elite at our scramble rules because, when you have athletic quarterbacks, when you see them making plays off-schedule, all the guys you mentioned, the guys that are elite — you’re talking about the Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar — those off-schedule plays are hard to defend.”

Just ask Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald. He recorded eight pressures Sunday, according to NGS, but no sacks. On one pressure, Jackson broke away for an 11-yard gain and first down. On another, Jackson turned a would-be sack and 40-plus-yard field goal attempt for kicker Justin Tucker into a 5-yard scramble and more manageable kick.

In the second quarter, Donald grabbed Jackson’s jersey in the backfield long enough to keep him from scrambling. Jackson, undeterred, spun around, keeping the ball out of Donald’s reach. Keeping his eyes downfield as a future Hall of Famer tugged at his side, Jackson reoriented himself long enough to fling a pass to Flowers, whose drop spoiled another bit of improvisational magic.

“Just elusive, man,” Donald said. “He’s so hard to get to. He just did a good job.”

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Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring. 

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