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Can the return of Lamar Jackson save the Ravens’ struggling offense?

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Can the return of Lamar Jackson save the Ravens’ struggling offense?

CLEVELAND — When quarterback Lamar Jackson resumes his contract talks with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason, Saturday’s 13-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns could help his cause in negotiations.

The struggling Ravens offense hit rock bottom with Jackson sidelined with a knee injury and backup Tyler Huntley unable to make plays in the passing game. Baltimore scored its fewest points in a regular-season game in 14 years and failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2018 (before Jackson became the starting quarterback).

The realistic return date for Jackson is Saturday against the Atlanta Falcons (1 p.m. ET, M&T Bank Stadium, Fox), league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. It remains to be seen whether increased scoring will return with him.

“Lamar is a heck of a player. He can do things that no one else can do,” Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler said. “He is definitely part of the puzzle, but we believe in Tyler. Last year, we were able to score a bunch with him back there, too. We did some things well [Saturday] but we were not able to put it all together. We have to get it figured out.”

Since Jackson’s injury — which occurred in the first quarter of Baltimore’s 10-9 win over the Denver Broncos in Week 13 — the Ravens have totaled two touchdowns in three games. The last time the Ravens recorded a touchdown pass was Nov. 27, when Jackson hit tight end Josh Oliver in Jacksonville. Without Jackson, Baltimore has been held to 16 points or fewer in three straight games for the first time since 2000.

But it wasn’t like Jackson was tearing up the league like he was during his 2019 NFL MVP season. Over his last nine games, Jackson threw seven touchdown passes and five interceptions. There were still issues with scoring in the red zone and stretching the field in the passing game. There’s also the question about whether Jackson will be limited while dealing with this knee injury.

Asked if Jackson’s return will fix the passing game, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, “We’ll see (about) all that. We have a quarterback sitting here [Huntley]. This guy knows what he’s doing. He’s very much capable of doing all the things that we need to do in the passing game. It’s not that; it’s everything else. We have to improve on all those things.”

Here are issues that are out of Jackson’s control when he gets back:

  • Baltimore doesn’t have a No. 1 wide receiver with Rashod Bateman out for the season with a foot injury. Demarcus Robinson, the team’s most productive wide receiver, fumbled twice Saturday. The Ravens haven’t had a wide receiver catch a touchdown pass since Week 3.

  • Running back J.K. Dobbins has shown he has the same vision and balance since coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him all of last year. But he has acknowledged he doesn’t have the breakaway speed, which is why his 37-yard run in the third quarter wasn’t a 91-yard touchdown.

  • And offensive coordinator Greg Roman has made some head-shaking decisions in playcalling. After Baltimore averaged 7.2 yards per carry (194 yards total) in the first three quarters Saturday, Roman abandoned the run when trailing by 10 points. In the fourth quarter, the Ravens ran the ball once and Dobbins didn’t get one touch.

“We are frustrated for sure,” said Dobbins, who ran for 125 yards on 13 carries. “It is on us, though. It is not on any of the coaches. We are not making the plays. We are not scoring touchdowns, and somebody has to score them. I take ownership in that, too, because I am not scoring the long ones whenever they are there. I have to do that. It is on me. I have to do that, and I have to be a sparkplug.”

The Ravens (9-5) dropped to second place in the AFC North after their loss at the Browns and the Bengals’ win in Tampa Bay. It marks the first time all season that Baltimore isn’t atop the division or at least own a share of first place.

“We’re kind of pissed off right now about what happened [Saturday],” Zeitler said, before adding, “Any time [the defense] only gives up 13 points, there should be no team in the league that we lose to. You should not rush for over 200 yards and have three points.”

With the postseason quickly approaching, the Ravens need Jackson, along with their confidence on offense, to return as soon as possible.

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