From picks to deep passes: Lamar Jackson's learning curve still steep

Clark not buying Ravens as SB contenders (1:59)

Ryan Clark hasn't seen enough from Lamar Jackson or the Ravens' defense in order to consider them Super Bowl contenders this season. (1:59)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Lamar Jackson beat the rival Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time in dramatic fashion and kept the Baltimore Ravens in the thick of the AFC North race.

But, in the words of the playmaking quarterback, Jackson was "ticked off."

"The offense did a great job. I just have to do better," he said. "Our offensive line, they worked their butt off. The running backs do what they do. The receivers did what they were supposed to do. I just have to do better."

In Sunday's 26-23 overtime win in Pittsburgh, Jackson produced a terrible trifecta, with career worsts in passer rating (54.9), interceptions (three) and times sacked (five). He forced throws, failed to hit anything deep and held the ball for too long at times.

Jackson did what he needed to do to win, especially on his final snap. On a broken play -- he turned to hand off, but running back Mark Ingram was on his other side -- Jackson raced to the outside to make it manageable range for Justin Tucker's 46-yard, winning field goal.

If anything, Jackson's recent struggles have reminded everyone that he hasn't started a full NFL season, and he's the fourth-youngest starting quarterback in the NFL (behind Kyler Murray, Josh Rosen and Daniel Jones).

Jackson cranked up expectations when he began the season looking like a Most Valuable Player candidate against two of the worst defenses. After defeating the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals, Jackson led the league in passer rating (145.2), having thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

His season has trended the other way since the defenses have gotten tougher. In facing the Cleveland Browns and Steelers, Jackson ranked 26th in passer rating (75.2), with four touchdowns and five interceptions.

"Lamar is going to tell you that he needs to play a lot better, and there are so many things that he can learn from that game," Harbaugh said. "He’s starting his 12th game. He’s in his first season. He’s learning leaps and bounds every single week because you see new things all the time. He’ll be doing that throughout his career. But I think now is when it’s the steepest, and he learns fast. That’s good for us."

Here are the things that should be atop Jackson's fix-it list on Sunday, when he goes against the Cincinnati Bengals and the league's No. 31 defense:

Interceptions: Jackson shattered the Ravens' record for consecutive passes without throwing an interception, with 248. That's why it was startling to see him get picked off three times in a span of four throws Sunday.

The Ravens believe two of those interceptions shouldn't have counted: Tight end Mark Andrews thinks a defender interfered with him on the first one, and Baltimore thought Steelers linebacker Devin Bush trapped the last one on the ground.

Still, Jackson has to get back to taking better care of the ball. According to NextGen Stats, Jackson threw 21.4% of his passes against the Steelers in tight windows, the eighth-highest rate of the week.

"It's all your fault because you all ask me about these interceptions," Jackson said with a smile, referring to the time when reporters brought up his streak of not getting picked off. "So now every week I throw one after that. We aren't talking about turnovers anymore. I just have to do better and move on."

Deep passes: One of Jackson's strengths to start the season was stretching the field. In his first two games, he hit eight of 14 throws that traveled at least 15 yards downfield.

Defenses such as the Chiefs' and Browns' adjusted and played their defensive backs deep, forcing Jackson to work methodically underneath. On Sunday, the Steelers mixed up their defense against Jackson, but Jackson didn't connect downfield.

He failed to complete on both of his throws of 15 or more yards. That marked the first time this season that he didn't complete a deep pass.

The Ravens are going to need Jackson to deliver big plays if they want to knock off the likes of the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots over the next four weeks.

Sacks: After watching the Ravens give up five sacks, Harbaugh was asked if it was the result of Jackson holding on to the ball, the Steelers' defensive line putting pressure up front or the Ravens' offensive line having lapses.

"All of the above," Harbaugh said. "I think our offensive line is blocking well. But there are times when we get beat. When you go against that front, you’re going to get beat one-on-one now and then. You just have to recognize that."

This hasn't traditionally been a formula for winning. Sunday was the first time since 2015 that Baltimore allowed at least five sacks and won.

Even though Jackson is enduring some growing pains, he is ahead of most of the projections. He is the only player in NFL history to total 1,100 yards passing and 200 rushing yards in the first four weeks of a season.

On Sunday, he tied teammate Robert Griffin III as the quickest quarterbacks to reach 1,000 yards rushing in a career (21 games). Jackson's 11 touchdown passes are tied for second in the NFL behind that of Russell Wilson.

"Lamar does not let outside distractions or outside circumstances get in his head. He’s concerned about himself," Harbaugh said. "He’s concerned about how he’s playing the whole time. He’s thinking 100 percent about the plays he could have made, should have made, thought he should have made, what the defense was, what the next playcall is going to be. And to me, as a quarterback, that’s a really good trait and one of the reasons that makes him who he is."