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Windy City Gridiron picks Bears-Ravens

After a bye, the Bears are back. Sort of. Lamar Jackson’s Ravens prove a tough test.

NFL: Pro Hall of Fame Game-Chicago Bears at Baltimore Ravens Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the floundering Bears, the Ravens are the perfect mirror. They are what any self-respecting franchise should aspire to.

With rampant talk of what Justin Fields needs, of what support systems have to be in place long-term, Baltimore seems to be the ideal in one respect: the head coach-quarterback relationship. There is arguably no closer connection in the NFL between an offensive signal-caller and the head coach than John Harbaugh and Lamar Jackson. Anyone with a young quarterback like the Bears should view this dynamic with envy and diagram everything possible to replicate its excellence and charm.

The Ravens would not nearly be as successful in Jackson’s time as a starter (38-13 since 2018) if he and Harbaugh didn’t have impeccable trust in one another. Jackson excels and elevates the Ravens into a contender not only because he’s a one-of-a-kind generational talent but because Harbaugh knows that if all else fails, he should get out of the way of a great player. Simplicity goes a long way.

Many football coaches, particularly the offensive-minded ilk, are obsessed with accounting for every outcome imaginable. They want a piece of the action. They want to be involved in every aspect of a game. Whether their omnipresence is positive or harmful is irrelevant. They are the head coach, and they must be the ones to pave the way for their players first and foremost, and that's all there is to it.

Harbaugh doesn’t operate that way with Jackson. Harbaugh lets Jackson thrive first off by helping shift toward a run-heavy offensive scheme that accentuates his unique talents. To be exact, Jackson can play hero-ball, MVP-caliber ball because the Ravens are specifically designed for him. When the time comes for Jackson to make a play in the clutch or to simply keep a critical drive rolling along, there’s no doubt in Harbaugh’s mind to let his quarterback lead the way and make the proper decision.

By now, you’ve certainly seen the below viral clip, where Harbaugh is captured on film asking Jackson if he wants to attempt a key game-clinching fourth down against the Chiefs earlier this season. If the Ravens had failed, they would’ve likely lost the game.

Jackson, of course, responds with an affirmative. And there’s no second-guessing on Harbaugh’s part. The Ravens convert the fourth down and salt away their first crucial victory over, coincidentally, another strong head coach-quarterback duo in Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes.

That’s a level of trust that only a few coaches would afford their quarterbacks. The Ravens are fortunate that Harbaugh — undoubtedly one of pro football’s premier leaders —understands his place. When it comes down to it, his job is to make sure his players are in an optimal position to succeed. Once they’re in that position or feel they are there, he takes a measured step back because it’s not about him. He’s a delegator and communicator first and last. Players, particularly greats like Jackson, will always respond in kind to that sort of faith.

Whatever happens to Fields over the rest of his Bears career, the model for his next head coach is out in the open. Watch the Ravens’ sideline dynamics closely this Sunday. Note how Harbaugh and Jackson collaborate. And hope that the Bears can strike gold with their next head coach in a similar fashion: where he’ll believe in Fields and appropriately let him take control, as the Bears ascend to a consistent contender.

Windy City Gridiron picks Bears-Ravens and every other NFL game in Week 11.

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