Run, Lamar, run: Ravens consider injury concern 'overrated'

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was asked about the times last season when quarterback Lamar Jackson would try to get an extra two or three yards instead of going out of bounds.

Are those yards worth the hit?

"Does it get us a first down?" Roman asked.

This sums up the mindset of the Ravens' coaching staff. Jackson's running ability is a weapon that can extend drives and get Baltimore in the end zone. It's not a point of consternation.

When it comes to Jackson darting around defenders in the open field, there's more concern about him getting injured from those outside the Ravens' facility than those inside. Roman and coach John Harbaugh each said this offseason that the risk isn't heightened for running quarterbacks compared to pocket passers.

"It’s a little overrated, the whole danger thing," Roman said. "Why? Because, and this is empirical data here, over the years you kind of realize that when a quarterback decides to run, he’s in control. So now [if] he wants to slide, he can slide. If he wants to dive, he can dive, get out of bounds -- all of those different things. He can get down, declare himself down. A lot of the time, the situations that [have] more danger are when he doesn’t see what’s coming -- my eyes are downfield, I’m standing stationary from the pocket, somebody is hitting me from the blindside."

Jackson didn't simply run the ball more than any quarterback last season. His 147 rush attempts set the record for most attempts by a quarterback in a single season since the 1970 merger, and the rookie didn't start a game until Week 11.

Many of his runs were designed plays and didn't occur from him taking off out of the pocket. Jackson's running was such a big part of the game plan because he was Baltimore's top playmaker.

In his seven regular-season starts, Jackson led the Ravens in runs of 10 yards or longer (16) and 20 yards or longer (seven). He accounted for half of Baltimore's eight rushing touchdowns during that stretch.

"Every player is one play away from being hurt, and every quarterback standing in the pocket is one hit away from being hurt, too," Harbaugh said. "But the fact that he gets out and runs and scrambles ... I get it; I think it’s fair to consider that, but you can’t live your life in fear. I think there’s just as much fear on the other side that he’s going to take the thing to the house if he gets out and runs, too. So, we’ll live in that world as opposed to the other world."

The Ravens know firsthand the horror stories of quarterbacks suffering significant injuries when on the run. In 2003, Michael Vick's leg was broken by Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas while Vick scrambled downfield. In 2012, Robert Griffin III suffered a career-altering knee injury on a nasty collision outside the pocket with Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

Baltimore had two injury scares with Jackson last season. On Dec. 2, he missed an eight-minute series in Atlanta after being accidentally hit in the head by left tackle Ronnie Stanley's foot at the end of a run. On Dec. 9, Jackson was knocked out of the game's final two plays in Kansas City after injuring an ankle on a sack outside the pocket. But he never missed any games.

This isn't to say Jackson would be safer if he became more of a pure dropback passer. Jackson's opportunity to start last season came when Joe Flacco suffered an injured hip while getting hit inside the pocket. Last season's most gruesome quarterback injury happened when Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibula in his right leg on a sack that was also inside the pocket.

The Ravens aren't wearing blinders on the subject of Jackson's runs. If he takes more hits, the chances of him getting injured go up. That's why Roman met with Jackson each Friday to go over film and break down his decision-making on runs. The goal was to lessen the unnecessary hits.

"My experience, and I kind of learned this, is that when the quarterback takes the ball and starts to run, there’s not a lot of danger involved in that relative to other situations," Roman said. "Now, how does he handle those situations, to your point? Yes, last year, for example, was a learning curve for him on how he would handle a situation. Do we really want to take those hits? Why would I cut back against the grain when I could take it out the front door into space? All of those things started last year."

Going forward, Jackson's rushing attempts could get reduced by circumstance more than a coaching decision. He won't be bursting downfield as much if he throws the ball more in his second season and if the Ravens add an explosive running back in free agency or the draft.

But, when Jackson takes off, Harbaugh and Roman won't be wringing their hands.

"Lamar is just a heck of a player," Harbaugh said. "He’s a threat every time he touches the ball -- run and pass. You certainly, as a coach, are excited to have a guy like that playing quarterback for you."