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The Tape Tells All - Gus Edwards and Lamar Jackson's Week 11 Performances


It's a double-header this week! The Baltimore Ravens came out with a really interesting and run heavy offense this weekend, as Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards each rushed for over 100 yards. It was a pretty surprising development.

While there's no guarantee that Joe Flacco won't soon take back over and change things again, Jackson will probably at least earn another start against the Raiders in Week 12.

Let's look at tape from this week's game and figure out how to value the duo in that matchup.

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Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards: The Tape Tells All

Background Information

When the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson this year to be their quarterback of the future, it came with the assumption that it would take a year or two for Jackson to get his passing up to an NFL level. So far, that's been a fairly accurate assessment.

Jackson has been on the field a good amount to run keepers and to create confusion down in the red zone, but he came into Sunday just 7-for-12 as a passer with 87 yards and a touchdown pass late in Baltimore's loss to Carolina. His speed made him an important player to have on the field, but developing him from the Heisman winning, electrifying quarterback he was at Louisville into an NFL quarterback.

Meanwhile, there's undrafted rookie running back Gus Edwards, who'd barely made an impact until Sunday's game, when he rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown after amassing just 64 rushing yards all season before that game. There was something about the Jackson/Edwards pairing that worked perfectly for the run-first offense that the Ravens employed on Sunday, something that worked well enough that the team's established starter, Alex Collins, was virtually erased from the game plan. What was it?

 

The Game Tape

I'll get to what Jackson can do a passer in a minute, but let's start with the run game. Jackson and Edwards each had over 100 rushing yards, a feat that hasn't happened since Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore did it back when the two were paired in San Francisco. In the pass happy NFL, you don't get a game as run heavy as this one.

But you don't get a runner as dynamic as Jackson every day either.

Here is Jackson's first run of the day. Alex Collins is still in the backfield at this point as the team hasn't switched to the Edwards/Jackson pairing. It's a good run to set the scene for the Ravens. Jackson fakes the inside give to Collins, which freezes the Bengals defense long enough for Jackson to get some open space on the left side and run for the first down.

Normally, I post a lot of GIFs here, but I want to take things more holistically this week. Below is the video of all of Jackson's runs and passes. Below that will be video of all of Gus Edwards' runs.

So, with Jackson -- there are two ways that a Lamar Jackson run goes. One way is with these option plays, where he can either keep it or hand it to the running back. I'll talk more about that in the Edwards part below, specifically when it comes to how having the two on the field creates confusion.

But the other is when Jackson either scrambles or runs a draw play. With 11:00 minutes left in the first, Jackson gets the snap in the gun on third and four. With an empty backfield, this play reads as an obvious pass play to the defense with most quarterbacks, and Cincinnati defends it that way, as all the linebackers go out in coverage. That leaves the middle of the field open since there's not a spy there, and Jackson quickly recognizes that, pulls the ball down, and runs for the first down.

With five minutes to go in the first, the Ravens go with an empty set and then motion Alex Collins back into the backfield. But that's just another layer of misdirection, and this ends up being a designed pass play for Jackson, who rolls out to the right. But when there's not an open receiver on that side, he tucks it in and runs for another first down.

As for Jackson as a passer, it was a mixed bag. There's a play with about 3:20 left in the first where Jackson uses his legs to avoid a sack and extend the play, but he winds up tossing a ball that gets knocked down by a Bengals linebacker and almost picked. Whereas some other young quarterbacks -- Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes -- maybe take a play like that and use the extra time as an excuse/reason to throw it deep, Jackson isn't yet there with this offense.

Jackson makes a lot of safe passes behind the first down marker, checking down to Nick Boyle, throwing short to Willie Snead, etc. These safe plays are good because there's a low chance that he turns the ball over while also it forces the defense to do more than just defend against the run.

With about 6:50 to go in the second, Jackson does another good job of escaping pressure and extending the play, just to ultimately throw it deep and incomplete to Michael Crabtree. Jackson needs to improve his ball placement still, though he's got the arm strength already.

There's a really good play at the end of the first half, where Jackson once again buys a ton of time before finding John Brown on a long play to get the Ravens in field goal range. Jackson holds the ball so long that the Bengals defense ends up losing track of Brown, who is open over the middle.

Finally, let's talk about his interception, because it shows the downside of holding the ball too long. Jackson has a fairly open Nick Boyle on a play that probably nets you four or five yards. Instead, he keeps it longer, and when he does throw it that direction, Boyle has reached where the defenders are, turning an easy short play into a turnover. It's a bad decision by Jackson, and one that he'll have to move past if he wants to be effective. Don't throw to tight ends in tight coverage when your tight ends aren't that good.

Okay, on to Gus Edwards:

Every run for Edwards comes out of either the pistol or the shotgun, and he takes them right into the heart of the Bengals defense. Ordinarily, a running back who essentially runs the same play over and over -- hand-off on a slight delay from the quarterback and then runs right into the defense -- winds up failing at some point, and there were a few times in the fourth quarter where Edwards was stopped almost immediately.

But as long as Lamar Jackson is there and as long as the Ravens are running these delayed hand-offs with a quarterback who is highly capable of pulling the ball down and running, there will be a lighter defensive front for the opposing team as they devote energy to guarding against Jackson on the outside. It's almost like you have two players occupying the role of one player here -- Edwards for inside runs, Jackson for outside runs, and by putting that one player in two separate bodies you demand that the defense split up how they defend that player. So the linebackers can't collapse towards the line to defend against an Edwards run, because Jackson can keep it and go outside. You can't blitz from the edges as much, because he can hand it to Edwards and the middle of field is likely to be softer. It's a catch-22 for the Bengals defense here as they have to pick their poison. On Sunday, though, both poisons piled up the yardage.

I want to talk specifically real quick about Edwards' touchdown run, starting at 1:29 in the video. You get another layer of misdirection here by running Willie Snead across the formation pre-snap, because you create another running lane (or, I guess, a passing lane since one of those forward flipping jet sweeps is technically a passing play. So what you do is here is force the defense to defend all three areas of the field where a run play can go -- against Jackson heading left, Snead heading right, and Edwards going up the middle. That opens up lanes for all three players, and Edwards takes advantage with the touchdown run.

 

The Fantasy Impact

So, again -- everything hinges on Jackson actually being the starter against the Raiders in Week 12.

If he is, the Ravens face a pretty bad Raiders defense. Oakland has allowed more rushing yards to running backs than any other team this season and it's gotten worse since the bye week. While Jackson's run-first play from Week 11 likely isn't sustainable without a little more threat as a thrower, the Raiders are an incredibly good matchup -- a team that hemorrhages yards to running backs and is essentially facing an offense with two running backs in the backfield.

Jackson seeing 15 or more carries wouldn't be a shock at all, and neither would him taking to the air a little more. Meanwhile, Edwards feels like more of a risk to me, especially if the Ravens use Ty Montgomery more out of the backfield to provide another receiving option.

But think about how effective this offensive scheme was this week, and about how bad the Raiders defense has been. Why not run things mostly the same, with a few variations thrown in? That leaves Edwards as the lead back again (and also has him taking more of Alex Collins' carries, as Collins doesn't quite fit this style of play as well as Baltimore would like), and puts another strong game in his sights.

Jackson would be a good bye week replacement for Patrick Mahomes or Jared Goff, while Edwards has flex value in standard scoring leagues. There's risk with both, especially if Oakland can figure out a way to stop this rushing attack...but let's be real here: no one is confident the Raiders can actually do that.

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