CLEVELAND — Shortly after the Baltimore Ravens’ 28-3 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers talked about what it’s like to play with quarterback Lamar Jackson when they’re inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
"You never know what you’re going to get," Flowers said. "He can run it, [or] he can throw it. He can do whatever you need him to do to get in the end zone. So, when we’re down there, it’s kind of like automatic.”
Jackson and the Ravens have been nearly automatic inside the 20, leading the NFL in red zone offense through four weeks. Baltimore has scored touchdowns on 12 of 15 trips in the red zone for a league-best 80% success rate.
On Sunday, Jackson was as unpredictable as ever, running and throwing for multiple touchdowns in the same game for the first time of his six-year career. He went untouched on touchdown runs of 10 and 2 yards before hitting tight end Mark Andrews for scoring passes of 7 and 18 yards.
"He's able to do so many other things that other quarterbacks can’t do," Andrews said. "That’s a beautiful thing. Lamar Jackson’s second to none.”
In the second quarter, Jackson showed his confidence level in Andrews, tossing a pass over two Browns defenders and into the hands of his leaping tight end. That 7-yard touchdown pass had a 17% completion probability, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That’s the second most improbable touchdown pass of Jackson’s NFL career.
"That’s as good a throw that you’re ever going to see,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh said Jackson is a very good red zone quarterback because of what he can do when space is reduced. He’s accurate with his arm and he can spread out defenses with his legs by extending plays or running it into the end zone.
Jackson is only the fourth quarterback over the last 10 seasons with at least four rushing and four passing touchdowns in the first four weeks of the regular season. His four touchdown runs in the red zone are already double his total from all of last season.
Baltimore’s efficiency in the red zone has been the biggest change under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Over the previous three seasons, the Ravens ranked 19th inside the 20-yard line, scoring touchdowns 56.6% of the time (99-of-175). Justin Tucker’s 55 red-zone field goals were the second-highest in the NFL during that span.
"You’d have to go back to a few years ago; we were getting into the red zone and not scoring,” Jackson said. "I believe a lot of that came with [lack of] focus, and as we get into the red zone – or the black zone, as Coach [Monken] calls it – we have to focus harder just because we got all the way down here, [so] we have to finish the drive instead of having ‘Tuck’ come on the field and kick field goals like usual.”
The Ravens (3-1) are atop the AFC North because Jackson was able to solve the Browns and their top-ranked defense. Baltimore scored three touchdowns in the first half against a defense that had given up just one offensive touchdown in the first three games.
Jackson reached the end zone repeatedly despite his starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) and two of his top wide receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle) and Rashod Bateman (hamstring) being absent. He then lost his starting right tackle Morgan Moses (shoulder) for the entire second half.
"He was running the show out there,” Harbaugh said of Jackson. "He was the point guard; he was the general. He was making the calls, making the changes, [and] handling the shot clock. I just thought he played a fantastic football game.”