'No definitive formula': Ravens face decision at QB if Lamar Jackson not at full strength

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh has faced some of the most hand-wringing decisions of any NFL head coach over the past few weeks, when games have come down to his last-minute choices on 2-point conversions.

Decisions might not get any easier for him this week.

Heading into the most critical game of the season, Harbaugh could have a quarterback quandary if Lamar Jackson hasn't fully recovered from his right ankle injury.

Do the Ravens stick with impressive backup Tyler Huntley against the first-place Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS)? Or does Baltimore go back to a less-than-full strength Jackson?

"It’s a good question, but it’s hard to answer,” Harbaugh said Monday. "There’s no definitive formula there. You have to take everything into account and see where you feel best going forward, practice time and health-wise. That’s really all you can do is just go with what you feel like is best and how the guys are doing.”

There’s no quarterback controversy in Baltimore. If Jackson can fully participate in practice, the Ravens will give the ball to the 2019 NFL MVP who has a 37-12 (.755) record. Jackson remains one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game, even though he is mired in the worst slump of his four-year career.

The decision gets tougher when the situation isn’t clear-cut. What if Jackson is only at 70%? What if Jackson is limited in practice or can’t get on the practice field until the end of the week?

Jackson is the future of the Ravens who could sign one of the richest deals in NFL history in a few months. But the Ravens (8-6) have to think about the present, where they have lost three straight games and lost sole possession of first place in the AFC North.

Harbaugh said he’s “hopeful” that Jackson will practice Wednesday.

"We’ll see how the ankle responds and continues to respond,” Harbaugh said. "It is getting better.”

In Jackson's absence, Huntley has proven to be a more-than-capable fill-in. Over the past two games, Huntley has produced 603 total yards, which trails only Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers. In Sunday’s 31-30 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Huntley became the first Ravens player to throw and run for multiple touchdowns in the same game.

Huntley impressed coaches and teammates by how quickly he got rid of the ball and scrambled when no one was open, turning a potential sack into positive yards. He showed a lot of poise in going where his reads took him, and he made sure the offense moved in and out of the huddle at a brisk pace.

Harbaugh said this represented “a big step” for Huntley. Tight end Mark Andrews described Huntley as “a special player."

"I think everybody who was on that field feels a connection with him,” Andrews said. "I think that, obviously, being behind a guy like Lamar, you learn a ton, and he’s been able to absorb all these different things. I think he’s going to be a superstar in this league for a long, long time.”

Whether it’s Jackson or Huntley, the Ravens understand the importance of Sunday’s game at Cincinnati (8-6). Over the past four weeks, Baltimore’s chances of reaching the playoffs have plummeted from 91% to 54%.

“This game is going to go a long way in terms of determining who wins the division,” Harbaugh said.