A thrown-away ball impacted Jackson’s final line on Sunday and might have kept him from having a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He very well could have forced the ball downfield and into the end zone, giving the Ravens a 14-0 lead at the time rather than the 10-0 lead they actually got. But it wasn’t necessary and the more-likely alternative was an interception that would have wiped points off the board entirely. Instead, Jackson remained cool as a cucumber all game long and the end result was as close to perfect as a quarterback can get in real life. Being a more mature quarterback might not end in an MVP award this season but it’s the difference between watching the Super Bowl and being in it. Since Jackson has said he’s gunning for a championship over personal accolades, I’m sure he’d be happy with the tradeoff.
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson showing early improvements over MVP season
After winning the NFL MVP award last season, there wasn’t a lot more Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson could do to improve. Yet, after one game in the 2020 regular season, it’s clear he’s done exactly that.
Jackson entered this offseason on a pretty clear mission. After back-to-back seasons in which he and the Ravens got eliminated from the playoffs early, Jackson knew he needed to step his game up once more to chase a championship. Much like we saw in his transition from a rookie to a second-year player, Jackson has made yet another transformation this offseason into an even better quarterback.
In talking to the media this offseason, Jackson said he’d focused his offseason training on improving his deep ball. Though he was already one of the better deep passers in the league last season, taking advantage of the speed Baltimore possesses at wide receiver in Marquise Brown and Devin Duvernay was an area of emphasis for Jackson.
“Down-the-field passes, outbreaking routes – I just feel we need to make a lot of plays,” Jackson said in July. “You’re in the league and it’s rare you’re going to see people catching deep passes in the NFL. When you have those opportunities, you’ve got to make the best of them, and that’s what I’ve been working on.”
Against the Cleveland Browns, Jackson made good on his hard work. He completed 20 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns in Week 1. His 11.0 yard-per-attempt average currently tops the NFL with two games remaining of opening week.
Next Gen Stats broke it down a little more thoroughly, however. Jackson hit Brown on four of five throws of 10-plus air yards, good enough for a 19.4 YPA average as a whole. Tight end Mark Andrews also got in on the deep game, catching four of five passes of 10-plus air yards, ending with an 11.6 yard-per-reception average and two touchdown catches of 10-plus yards.
What’s perhaps even more exciting than seeing those plays is the idea Baltimore could have been even more aggressive. They didn’t get Devin Duvernay or James Proche involved in the deep passing game this week but absolutely could in the future to attack defenses. With such a massive lead, there wasn’t a need to be that aggressive but it’s there if and when it is eventually needed. And as is the case with Jackson’s skill set, it’s just another tool in the toolbox for offensive coordinator Greg Roman to use.
One of the biggest and rightfully earned knocks against Jackson’s play last season was that a majority of his passes came inside the numbers. Those passes are typically easier to make and require less finesse, timing, and ability to read a defense than throws to the outside. They clearly still worked to the tune of 36 passing touchdowns and an MVP award but it was an area Jackson could and needed to improve upon this season.
According to Next Gen Stats, a good number of Jackson’s throws came outside the numbers. Looking at their pass chart, you can see a lot of passes toward the sideline and spread around the short, intermediate, and deep levels.
But one pass, in particular, stood out to me. In the middle of the third quarter in the red zone, Jackson read the Browns’ defense flawlessly and made an absolutely perfect throw to wide receiver Willie Snead. A well-run route hit with a touch pass over the cornerback at a spot where no one but Snead could catch the ball . . . outside the numbers.
This wasn’t a throw a lot of quarterbacks can make consistently but Jackson made it look easy, all with pressure coming up the middle. If these are the types of throws we’ll regularly see from Jackson this season, he and this passing attack are going to be even tougher to defend.
While this hasn’t been fully tested yet, I noticed something early in Sunday’s game against the Browns. On his second offensive drive, Jackson played it cautiously, throwing the ball away on third down and taking the easy field goal instead.
That one play might not seem like a lot but if you’ve listened to me or read anything I’ve written this offseason about Jackson, you’ll know I’ve been looking for him to become a more mature quarterback. I’m not talking about his leadership ability or earning the respect of his teammates. No, I mean slowing the game down, thinking about a decision, and knowing when you need to be Superman or when it’s better to play it safe and try again on another drive. With that one throw away, Jackson showed a glimpse that he’s doing exactly what I was hoping to see.
Too often last season, Jackson clearly felt the need to make every play on every drive. It didn’t matter if his decision was more likely to end in a two-yard run where he needlessly took a hit, or if he was trying to thread the needle for a big completion rather than take what the defense gave him elsewhere; Jackson tried to put the team on his back at times when he didn’t need to. The end result was that when the Ravens were behind and really needed Jackson to carry them, he was too hyped up and wasn’t as effective.
A thrown-away ball impacted Jackson’s final line on Sunday and might have kept him from having a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He very well could have forced the ball downfield and into the end zone, giving the Ravens a 14-0 lead at the time rather than the 10-0 lead they actually got. But it wasn’t necessary and the more-likely alternative was an interception that would have wiped points off the board entirely. Instead, Jackson remained cool as a cucumber all game long and the end result was as close to perfect as a quarterback can get in real life.
Being a more mature quarterback might not end in an MVP award this season but it’s the difference between watching the Super Bowl and being in it. Since Jackson has said he’s gunning for a championship over personal accolades, I’m sure he’d be happy with the tradeoff.