OWINGS MILLS — Three days before the Baltimore Ravens come out of their bye against the 5-4 Cincinnati Bengals, we still don’t know who will be starting at quarterback come Sunday.
Joe Flacco hurt his hip on the first drive of the Ravens’ 23-16 loss to the Steelers 11 days ago. He has yet to practice this week and was spotted on crutches over the weekend, but according to Kyle Andrews of 105.7 The Fan, Flacco was seen in the locker room on Thursday without crutches.
As expected, Flacco’s absence from the practice field has stirred up rumors about Lamar Jackson, the 32nd overall pick of the 2018 draft, starting his first NFL game on Sunday. Jackson has just 12 pass attempts so far on the year.
So far this season, the Ravens have carried Robert Griffin III on the 53-man roster as an insurance policy in the event that Flacco went down with an injury. Jackson struggled with his accuracy throughout training camp. He’s needed some time to develop as a pocket passer. Jackson has reportedly improved since the summer, but the coaches may still feel some reluctancy to throw Jackson into the fire.
Adding to this week’s drama, Jackson missed Thursday’s practice with a stomach issue. Flacco missed practice too, meaning that Griffin was the only Ravens quarterback on the field Thursday.
The good news is Jackson’s not injured. The bad news is that with Flacco’s status for Sunday up in the air, Jackson can’t afford to be missing practice time with the first team. You can’t attach a timetable to a stomach problem, but one would expect the issue to be resolved by Sunday. But will Jackson be fatigued? Will he be a few steps slow?
Does any of this even matter if Flacco feels good enough to play on Sunday? Not to mention that Flacco hasn’t practiced in over a week. Quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady can miss a week of practice without it hurting their play. But could Flacco do the same? Considering how poorly Flacco has played over the last nine quarters, it’s fair to be skeptical.
With Flacco’s hip preventing the 11th-year quarterback’s ability to practice, and additionally given Jackson’s stomach problem, who should start at quarterback for the Ravens on Sunday?
Option 1: Roll with Joe
If Flacco starts on Sunday, he starts because he’s healthy enough to play. Pretty simple. If his hip is hindering him from moving around at all in the pocket, it’s smart to sit him. Flacco already doesn’t have the best mobility in the pocket, and he’s played poorly in previous instances when he’s competed with an injury.
With the Ravens being a game below .500 in a ‘playoffs or else’ season, John Harbaugh and company will roll with Joe if he is able to play on Sunday. It’s already rumored that Jackson is not developing as quickly as the coaching staff would like him to, so Harbaugh probably feels that Flacco still gives the Ravens their best chance to win.
Even though Flacco has historically struggled against Cincinnati, the plan has been for Flacco to start until the Ravens are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. And if he’s capable of playing on Sunday, he will get the chance to lift the Ravens back to .500 and lead the Ravens back to the postseason for the first time since 2014.
Option 2: Lamar Jackson starts his first NFL game
For Jackson to start on Sunday, two things need to happen: Flacco’s hip injury is severe enough to keep him out of Sunday’s game, and Jackson fully recovers from the stomach issue that kept him out of Thursday’s practice. If Flacco in inactive and Jackson starts, the Ravens activate RGIII to serve as Lamar’s backup.
Even if the coaching staff isn’t convinced that Jackson is ready to start, the Ravens drafted him in the first round for a reason and they need to see what they have in their investment. It’s very likely that Flacco will be a cap casualty in the upcoming offseason, and if there’s a chance to get Jackson some live reps, the Ravens need to take it.
If Jackson starts on Sunday, the quarterback rumors surrounding the Ravens won’t stop. If anything, they’ll intensify. If Jackson starts and leads the Ravens to a win, Harbaugh (potentially coaching his last stretch of games in Baltimore) will likely go with what wins games. Flacco and the Ravens were on a three-game losing streak before their bye. If Jackson snaps that streak, the Ravens may elect to stick with him.
If Jackson starts and the Ravens lose, then they’re 4-6 and slip even further down the list of teams in the hunt for the #6 seed in the AFC. At that point, sticking with Jackson makes the most sense anyway. It also depends on how long Flacco’s hip injury keeps him out of games. Even at 4-6 the Ravens still wouldn’t be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, so starting Flacco could remain in the cards.
Option 3: RGIII makes his first NFL start since 2016
This is the last resort for the Ravens. If Flacco can’t play through his injury and Jackson’s still under the weather, the Ravens have no choice but to start RGIII. RGIII played well in the preseason and has done everything the Ravens have asked him to do, but he hasn’t started a game since Jan. 1, 2017 as a member of the Cleveland Browns.
In five 2016 starts, Griffin threw two touchdowns and three interceptions with a rating of 72.5. Since his 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, he’s left a lot to be desired on the field with his play.
There could also be a situation where Jackson suits up but does not start, under either Flacco or Griffin. If Jackson is not 100% and Flacco or Griffin starts, they could continue to use Jackson in certain packages as they’ve done all season. It’s even possible that with two nicked up quarterbacks, all three men dress up against the Bengals. The Ravens have not listed three active quarterbacks yet this season, but given the circumstances it could happen on Sunday.
As of now, it’s impossible to tell who’s going to be starting at quarterback for the Ravens on Sunday. But, there are a number of different circumstances that could emerge, and there are reasons for starting each guy. The injury report comes out tomorrow, which could narrow the options down. Ravens fans (and even the Bengals) may not know who starts for the Ravens until hours before kickoff, but whatever the Ravens decide could alter the franchise’s plans at quarterback for years to come.
Featured Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens