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Elite Passing Lamar Jackson Has Arrived

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After Baltimore seemingly stole a game in Detroit, there was one prevailing storyline. Justin Tucker had achieved his final form and was well on his way to the Hall of Fame. What many did not realize was that this was a coming-out party for a different Raven: Lamar Jackson.

Jackson, of course, has an MVP on his mantle at home. He has led the NFL in passing touchdowns. He has a career passer rating above 100. Jackson is one of the most accomplished young quarterbacks in league history. However, against the Lions, Jackson was able to have one of the best quarterback performances in recent memory.

The stat line itself was not particularly special. Jackson ended the game with just one more completion than incompletion. He only had one touchdown, a passing touchdown to Devin Duvernay. He even threw an interception.

So, what’s the big deal?

Despite the questionable stat sheet, Jackson had the most prolific deep passing performance since he became a starter. Not only was it Jackson’s best performance, but it was the best performance by any quarterback since the middle of 2018. Since Jackson became the starter, quarterbacks have combined for six games with at least 12 deep passing attempts. Jackson has three of these, Josh Allen has one, Aaron Rodgers has one, and Daniel Jones has one. Jackson has the last two, with one coming in the divisional playoff round against the Tennessee Titans in 2019 and one coming against the Lions. Jackson’s other game was Week 3 of 2019 against the Chiefs.

So what?

Jackson posted a sterling 95.4 PFF grade on his 12 deep passing attempts against the Lions. He launched six big-time throws and just one turnover-worthy play. Notably, two of his big-time throws were dropped by Marquise Brown. With Brown’s speed and the placement of the football, either play could’ve ended in a touchdown. This would’ve solved some of the issues with Jackson’s stat line, and it likely would’ve prevented his interception at the end because Baltimore would have had a more run-heavy game script. Jackson had tremendous success down the field, but it did not translate to the stat sheet because Brown had two drops.

Two other quarterbacks have had six big-time throws at least 20 yards down the field since Jackson became the starter. In Week 2 of 2019, Patrick Mahomes had six big-time throws on 11 deep attempts. To open the 2020 season, Aaron Rodgers had six big-time throws on 10 deep attempts. These are both impressive, but Jackson did add an extra attempt over Mahomes and two extra attempts over Rodgers. He even finished with a similar grade. Mahomes and Rodgers cracked the 96.0 mark while Jackson settled for a 95.4 mark.

Explaining the Grade

Jackson completed five of 12 deep passes, a 42% completion rate. He tossed one touchdown, threw one interception, and suffered the two aforementioned drops. In total, the 12 attempts totaled 162 yards, 13.5 yards per pass attempt. PFF does not grade results, they grade the throw itself.

Among those with 12 deep pass attempts, Jackson now has the top two grades and the worst grade since he became the starter in 2018. His contemporaries all fell well below the 90.0 mark with Allen leading the way with a 77.1 grade. Jones posted a 63.8 grade, and Rodgers had a 53.5 grade. In Jackson’s first foray into deep passing, his 12 deep attempts against the Kansas City Chiefs resulted in a 29.9 grade. While he did only have one turnover-worthy play out of the group, many of his deep passes had no chance of being completed. Against the Titans in the playoffs, Jackson launched 13 deep balls for a 90.6 grade. He had five big-time throws, the most in Jackson’s career before Week 3 against Detroit. Expanding to any depth, this was the only game that Jackson had five or more big-time throws before Detroit.

MIAMI, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 08: Marquise Brown #15 of the Baltimore Ravens catches a pass for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Context

Perhaps the most poignant thing about Jackson’s performance was that Greg Roman specifically called these plays in generally neutral or run-leaning game scripts. Of Jackson’s 12 deep pass attempts, only one came while the Ravens trailed. Naturally, Jackson completed his lone attempt for a big-time throw to Sammy Watkins to set up Tucker’s field goal. Jackson had 11 deep pass attempts while the game was tied or while the Ravens were leading. This represents a shift in the mindset of Baltimore as they let Jackson push the ball down the field. In Jackson’s first two games with at least 12 deep balls, the Ravens trailed for most of the game. Against the Chiefs, the Ravens were down double digits for most of the second half. The Ravens trailed for the final 44 minutes of regulation, forcing Jackson to take more shots down the field and forcing Roman to switch up the game plan. Against the Titans in the playoffs, Jackson and the Ravens faced a similar predicament. Jackson and the Ravens never led in the game, and they trailed by at least 11 points for 36 of the final 45 minutes. As with the Chiefs game, the Ravens were forced to throw the football down the field to trim the deficit. While they did not end up trimming the deficit, Jackson did play a clean game in a deep-passing sense with the five big-time throws in zero turnover-worthy plays.

But he threw an interception?

Yes, Jackson did loft an interception to the Detroit defense in the fourth quarter. However, this does not undermine the rest of his performance. Even if Jackson and the Ravens lost, he still would’ve had five big-time throws to his name before that interception. Jackson is not a finished product, but this was a step in the right direction. In Jackson’s career, the main criticisms have been his inability to win in the playoffs, his inability to beat Mahomes, and his inability to hit deep passes outside of the numbers. In his first three seasons, Jackson had three, 10, and nine big-time throws that went 20 yards and outside of the numbers. Jackson had six in one game against Detroit.

But it’s Detroit?

Yes, the Lions do not have a good defense. They have a terrible secondary. However, big-time throws are often harder to achieve against bad coverage. For instance, Jackson did not get a big-time throw on his jump pass to Brown against the Chiefs in Week 2. This was a deep throw, but Brown was sufficiently open. Against Detroit, Jackson took advantage of good coverage, not poor coverage. Yes, he will need to apply this to better defenses such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, but this is unequivocal evidence that he can hit the throws. The next order of business is for Brown to catch them.

As a whole, this is just one more step in the progression of Jackson as a quarterback. He will not have this many deep passing attempts in every game, but it was encouraging to see that Jackson could throw down the field accurately. This may be a once-in-a-career performance, but it does give hope that the Ravens can have a strong passing attack when Brown catches the football, and when Rashod Bateman is healthy.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 03: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens scores a first quarter touchdown against the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)

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Ryan Potts is an avid football and baseball fan. He covers the NFL and Major League Baseball, focusing on the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Braves.