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Lamar Jackson and the NFL MVP Race, the Challenge for the Rams’ Future

Also, how to fix the NFL’s officiating problems, teams that could possibly see head coaching changes and more in this week’s NFL mailbag.
Lamar Jackson

For the rest of the NFL season, we’ll be publishing the mailbag from Albert Breer’s Game Plan as a separate piece. Questions or feedback? Let us know at Questions for next week’s mailbag? Tweet at Breer.

From Clancy (@cole_clancy): Who is your MVP through the season so far?

It was Russell Wilson until Monday night, and now it’s Lamar Jackson. That’s not to take away from Wilson whatsoever. He’s been incredible this year and has consistently lifted up players like Metcalf and Jacob Hollister, who weren’t on the roster a year ago. Making the whole greater than its parts is the essence of quarterbacking to me.

But what Jackson did on Monday night checks every single box imaginable. He was spectacularly efficient in the passing game. His decision-making was spotless. And he was an absolute menace in the option game. Watching the Ravens, it seriously looks like Jackson is single-handedly putting really good defensive players and really good defensive coaches in a constant state of panic.

Here’s the crazy thing: He “only” had 264 yards from scrimmage against the Rams. He went 15-of-20 for 169 yards (and five touchdowns) and ran eight times for 95 yards. But he had an absolutely massive, unmistakable impact on everything out there.

From RolloR (@m_niller): How long before QBs that can’t/won’t/don’t run are completely phased out of the league?

Rollo, I don’t think that’ll happen. But I do think the open-mindedness of evaluators to look at each quarterback for who he is coming into the league—and not for how he might fit into one system—and the open-mindedness of coaches to adjust what they do to accommodate players is at the crux of this.

That’s widened the net that teams throw into the draft waters every year in search of quarterbacking talent. And since there are only 32 starting jobs out there, that necessarily means there’ll be fewer for traditional dropback guys. But I think that this change isn’t about the league shifting from one type of quarterback to another. I think it’s about taking a more pragmatic approach to finding a quarterback, which takes more players into account, rather than focusing on a single group.

That, by the way, is why we’ve had two six-feet-or-shorter QBs go first overall the last two years.

From MMMX_R (@MMMX_R): Explain the Ravens offense to me, it looks unstoppable but also feels like college. Why is it so effective? Is their offensive line the real MVP?

It’s effective for a number of reasons.

First, the offensive line is fantastic. Second, the Ravens ability to play with two and three tight ends, and to put a fullback on the field, is antithetical to how defenses are built (with smaller, more athletic players) in 2019, and creates constant run/pass conflict for defenses from a personnel standpoint. Third, Lamar Jackson is special running it. And fourth, the Ravens have continued to evolve it.

On that last point, I can use last year’s playoff loss as an example. The Chargers combatted Jackson by putting six and seven DBs on the field at a time, which helped negate the speed issue he creates. So what did the Ravens do? They signed Mark Ingram, basically daring anyone else is try and turn their safeties into linebackers against them ever again, and now it’s like Baltimore gets to play with its downhill hammer and change-of-pace burner at once.

There’s lots of credit to go around here. Jackson deserves it. John Harbaugh and Greg Roman deserve it. GM Eric DeCosta deserves it. This has all been incredibly well-conceived and executed.

Aaron Donald, Marcus Peters

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From Wendell Ferreira (@wendellfp): Can the Rams change their all-in approach considering the lack of quality on the roster, future cap space and draft picks?

Wendell, the Rams have created a scenario where they won’t have a first-round draft pick (barring a trade for one) over a five-year period (2017-21), and that shortens their margin for error. They have five players (Jared Goff, Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks and Jalen Ramsey) on the books for $108.8 million for 2020, which should be about 55% of their cap. And the 13 top cap numbers for 2020 add to $157.6 million, which means that about a quarter of the roster will be taking up almost 80% of the cap.

Being that top-heavy can eat away at a team’s depth, so the team has to find a way to get cheap labor on the roster, which means hitting on draft picks consistently. Not having first-rounders makes it harder to do that. And where the bottom can fall out is if the core ages or isn’t performing to standards.

That’s the Rams’ challenge—keeping their young core performing and continuing to hit on non-first-round picks. The good news is that GM Les Snead’s done a good job in that area (Cooper Kupp, Gerald Everett, John Johnson, Samson Ebukam, etc.) The bad news is it’s hard to keep that up.

From Bolter (@wombatnation99): Want can possibly be done to fix the egregious officiating this year? It’s systemic and obvious.

Bolter, I’m beginning to believe a change in leadership is the only fix. I could take you through each misstep, call-by-call, but I think the systemic issue here is the breakdown in trust between the officials and the coaches, which creates a divide between the league office and teams, and makes the issue that much worse. It’s to the point where some coaches think the refs playing hardball on pass-interference reviews is retaliation for the coaches organizing in pursuit of instituting a Sky Judge last March.

I’m not real big on calling for people’s jobs, but at its core, this problem feels to me like an Al Riveron problem. Part the role of officiating czar—and Mike Pereira and Dean Bladino were good in this area—is being a liaison for the league with the coaches on how the game is governed on the field. Having relationships is important there. And given the amount of coaches that don’t trust Riveron right now (apparent in postgame news conferences every week), it sure seems like the NFL could use a fresh face in that role.

From IHATEJOHNMARA (@Jordigone): Any word on what coaching/GM changes the Giants might make in the offseason? And is the rumor on them being interested in Garrett true?

That’s an aggressive handle you have there, IHATE. Yes, I think a change could be in play. And yes, I believe Jason Garrett would be one name that John Mara would consider as the next coach of the Giants, and I can tell you for a fact he loves Garrett personally. Baylor coach Matt Rhule is another name to watch. Both have the familiarity with the franchise that Mara usually favors (the hires of Dave Gettleman, Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin were other examples) in hiring.

That said, there’s still some season to go. I’m not closing the book on Pat Shurmur quite yet, but I do think he’ll need Daniel Jones to play really well down the stretch.

From Shedrick Carter (@shedrickcarter2): If Atlanta loses to New Orleans on Thursday night, does Arthur Blank pull the plug on Friday or wait for season’s end?

As I’ve heard it, Shedrick, Blank’s doing his best to be more measured with Dan Quinn than he was at the end of the Mike Smith Era, when the last few weeks of the season seemed like a death march for that staff. And the team is playing hard for Quinn, which erases one concern you’d have with a coach in that position—that a toxic environment could infect your young players.

So why would he consider moving earlier than the end of the season then? To me, the big reason would be to gain the ability start vetting candidates openly, and signal to them that you’d be interested. Which could come into play with some of the big-name college coaches, like Rhule and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, that figure to get NFL overtures a month from now.

From michael keane (@michaelkeane56): Are you over your Cowboys loss yet?

Some Patriots fans didn’t like how I crushed the officials for the bogus tripping calls on TV the other day. Maybe they thought I was taking away from the Patriots’ win (which I wasn’t). Maybe they just don’t like me, which would be a difficult reality for me to swallow.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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