With Baltimore being offensively challenged for much of the year, finding a way to open things up and get another talented athlete on the field seems like a no-brainer.
Coach John Harbaugh has repeatedly said the team would like to use Taylor more, but the question has always been how. It’s a bit risky since the Ravens have just two quarterbacks on the roster, even though Joe Flacco has never missed a game in his career.
But Sunday’s game against the Jets couldn’t have been more important at this stage of the season, so it wasn’t the time to be cautious. And the Ravens weren’t.
Baltimore used Taylor plenty throughout the game, sliding Flacco over to wide receiver - although he often barely budged from where he lined up. Taylor might have gone just 0-for-1 passing and gained seven yards on four rushes, but the tactic certainly kept the Jets’ No. 1 run defense off-balance and wondering what to expect.
“We’ve talked about getting Tyrod more involved. It’s a challenge,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve got a great athlete. He’s a special athlete. He happens to play quarterback. He’s a quarterback - I want to emphasize that. But he’s also got other skills that he can help us with. We’ve been working it in. We worked on it in training camp, as you know. We didn’t do much of it throughout the course of the season, but we felt like it was something that could really help our run game, especially against this defense, and that’s how we used it.”
Taylor was glad the team used him more than it usually does - both as a quarterback and in other ways.
“I know my role on the team, and I challenge our defense each and every week with the scout team, but I’m a competitor so that’s the natural feeling I have,” Taylor said. “But to get out there today and to play is definitely a great feeling, but like I said, maybe we can build on that in the future. ...
“Of course I love to throw the ball, but we’ve got a great quarterback here, as well. But any time I can get out there and make a play, throw the defense off - that was the main thing, just not knowing where me and Joe were going to line up - that can definitely throw them off, or different calls, things like that.”
Whether using Taylor was the main reason or not, it seemed to help the Ravens open up the deep-passing game.
It afforded Flacco more time in the pocket and kept the Jets from committing to extra men up front or more help in coverage.
“It made them a little bit softer and they weren’t rushing at us as aggressively as they had,” tight end Ed Dickson said after making three catches for a season-high 55 receiving yards.
Flacco finished the day 16-for-27 for 273 yards, a touchdown and an interception. But 126 yards of that came on just two completions - a 66-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones and a 60-yard pass to Torrey Smith.
Jones finished with four catches for 103 yards. It was the second 100-yard receiving day of his career and first with the Ravens. Smith made two grabs for 74 yards and now has a career-high 859 receiving yards this season.
Because of those two deep throws, Flacco averaged 16.1 yards per completion Sunday and he now has 24 career passes of at least 50 yards.
“I think it says a lot about Joe’s arm strength,” Smith said of the deep passing. “We were able to connect on a couple of those today. That was huge for our offense. It’s not that we’re depending on it, but it always helps to get chunks of yardage like that. When we get those kinds of days going, it’s usually good for our offense.”
Flacco’s game-long 66-yard touchdown to Jones couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Ravens were dominating the Jets but led just 12-3. With five seconds remaining in the third quarter, Flacco felt good about his first read and went for it.
“We just had a little run-action with Jacoby going up on Ed (Reed) and then getting behind everybody. He did a great job,” Flacco said. “I thought of just staying on his path and tracking that ball well. Anytime you throw a ball decently far in a game with that much wind, it can be tough to track it. I thought he did a great job.”
Said Harbaugh: “It was probably the play of the game for us. The ball got up there and got caught in the wind. If you saw it, it was being pushed that way. I thought once it got up in the air and the wind got it, I didn’t think Jacoby was going to be able to get it. He shifted into another gear and he went and got that ball - just an amazing play. And then for him to reach out and catch it and keep his balance, just a tremendous, athletic play.”
As Harbaugh said, Jones had to go and get it because of the tricky wind.
“It was crazy; even in punts it was shifting on us, too. I came at the ball, and I looked up and, at first, it sailed, and I thought it would go past Ed’s head, and I looked, and it started drifting to the left,” Jones said. “So that’s when I cut over. The nose of the ball was sticking straight up like a punt. I just stuck my hand out, and when it stuck to my hand. I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to this pylon so I can dance.’ “
Following rough games against the Bears and Bengals, where Flacco combined to pass for just 302 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions, Harbaugh saw his quarterback get back on track with the help of the deep ball.
“I thought Joe was sharp,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, he threw the ball really well. The one interception was really a route that wasn’t run exactly right, so that was more of a miscommunication I guess you’d say than anything. But he made a lot of good throws into the wind. He was really sharp running the offense, getting us into plays. We did a really good job with where we ran, what part of the defense we ran at. We did a good job with that.”
Note: Former Ravens safety Ed Reed recorded five tackles and one pass defensed in his second return to Baltimore this season, this time with the Jets.