The 2021 season was bizarre for both Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. While they entered the season with high expectations, the season crashed and burned in the latter stages of December. When the dust settled, the Ravens lost six games in a row to fall from the No.1 seed in the conference to out of the playoffs entirely. While part of the fall should be blamed on Jackson, some of the collapses were out of his control.
Let’s see how the 2019 NFL MVP can bounce back in 2022.
No.1: Progression to the Mean when Under Pressure
Year after year, the most consistent metric for quarterbacks is performance when kept clean. While performance while under pressure can vary wildly, most quarterbacks are generally in line with how they perform while clean. For example, checking PFF passing grades while under pressure will yield a variety of leaders from year to year.
Performance while under pressure is generally volatile, and few quarterbacks can even maintain a competent level of play over a full season. However, quarterbacks often have solid levels of play when kept clean. Jackson is no different.
From 2020 to 2021, Jackson’s passing grade while kept clean was practically identical. His 2020 grade was slightly higher because he had more pass attempts, but with a correction for volume, Jackson was the same passer when not under pressure. Jackson began to struggle while under pressure, routinely grading below 50 in the second half of the season.
The point to note here is that Jackson was one of the better passers in the league when kept clean. This is a much larger sample size over time, and the data is much more stable from year to year. As long as Jackson is competent when kept clean, he and the Ravens should be successful often.
For 2022, an uptick in performance while under pressure would be a benefit to Jackson and the Ravens.
No.2: Established Receiving Options
The Ravens have the strongest receiving corps in franchise history. They have an All-Pro tight end in Mark Andrews, a 1,000-yard receiver in Marquise Brown, and a promising soon-to-be sophomore receiver in Rashod Bateman. Beyond these main three, they have solid depth options such as Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, and James Proche.
While the six collectively are not a top-five unit, they are the best the Ravens have ever had. Andrews is the best weapon in Ravens history, and Brown has abilities that few in Ravens history have been able to match. If Bateman continues to improve, the Ravens could have a top-half group of receivers with a viable passing offense to follow.
The important thing moving into 2022 is the continuity of the group. In Jackson’s tenure as Ravens quarterback, his top-three targets have changed dramatically. In each of the last four seasons, at least one of the main three in the receiving corps has changed. For example, drafting Brown and Bateman shook up the order of targets.
Heading into 2022, the Ravens will have three for-sure options for Jackson to gain confidence in throughout the offseason and into the regular season.
Perhaps the best part about this motley crew of receivers is their versatility. Andrews is a reliable middle-of-the-field threat. Bateman is a prototypical contested-catch player on the perimeter. Brown is exceptionally quick, and he should be able to take the top off of most defenses. Even the secondary group of receivers have certain abilities that can be useful including Duvernay‘s speed and Proche’s vice-like hands.
No.3: Healthier Offensive Line
This point works in tandem with the first point, but more continuity on the offensive line will help Jackson and the passing offense succeed. Even if Ronnie Stanley does not return to his 2019 All-Pro form, he will be better than Alejandro Villanueva.
The middle three of the offensive line should be solid assuming the Ravens opt to re-sign Bradley Bozeman. The starting right tackle position will be up in the air for the next seven months, but either Patrick Mekari or Ja’Wuan James should be a competent offensive lineman.
They may not be an elite unit like the Cleveland Browns or Dallas Cowboys, but having five solid pieces is more than enough to have a good offensive line in a modern context. The worst lines are a result of one or two problems spots that drag down the entire performance of the offense.
At the very least, the Ravens should have a top-20 option at all five positions, giving them immense upside.
In particular, continuity should help the Ravens get back into the top 10 as a pass-blocking unit. According to PFF, the 2019 Ravens ranked first in pass-blocking grades while the 2020 Ravens ranked fourth. The 2021 Ravens stumbled to 13th.
Putting 2021 Behind
For all of the negatives that can be taken away from the 2021 season, Jackson did make several key strides. While his final touchdown-to-interception totals may not reflect his advancement, he had a hot start to the season that was as polished as he has been as a passer in the league. Even MVP Jackson would not have been able to hit many of the throws he had against the Detroit Lions, Denver Broncos, and Indianapolis Colts.
Even as rough as a couple of his starts later in the season were, Jackson still gives the Ravens an excellent chance to win every game they play. Despite having back-to-back passing grades of 35, Jackson led the Ravens to a win over the Browns and a one-point loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Despite the ups and downs, Jackson led the Ravens to a 7-4 record when he played at least a half of football. This is an incredible floor for a roster that was decimated with injuries even before the season began.
It will be a long off-season in Baltimore, but with an easier schedule coming in 2022, expect the Ravens to be right back in playoff contention next season with an energized Jackson.