Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is an amazing athlete, but can he win enough to be an elite player from the pocket?
Heading into Week 5, the AFC appears to be a two-horse race. The New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs sit atop of the conference, and the rest of the AFC is fighting for playoff spots for the chance to upset these two goliaths. However, the one team that may have a chance against the Patriots and the Chiefs is the Baltimore Ravens.
In past seasons, the Ravens could compete with the best teams in the league by playing outstanding defense and making plays on special teams. But through four weeks, one thing is clear; the Ravens don’t have an elite defense. Over the last three weeks, they’ve allowed 90 points and nearly 1,300 yards of total offense. Outside of their Week 1 win over the Dolphins, they’ve struggled with takeaways and don’t have a consistent enough pass-rush.
If the Ravens are going to compete with elite teams this season, they will have to do it in another way. They are going to need to rely on Lamar Jackson’s arm to win them games. Specifically, they will need him to make plays in the pocket to stay competitive.
Everyone knows how dynamic Jackson is with his legs and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The Ravens’ offense is always going to feature him running the ball because that’s what makes this offense so unique. But in order for this team to take the next step, Jackson has to prove that he can be a reliable passer from the pocket. Through four weeks, Jackson has shown significant improvement in that area.
Last season, Jackson threw a total of 121 passes from the pocket. This year, he is already at 115 through just four weeks, according to 360radar.com. He has seen his passer rating rise from 99 to 115 inside the pocket as his completion percentage, yards per attempt and touchdown to interception ratio have all improved as well.
Jackson has become a much more comfortable passer in the middle of the field, which helps put more “air” into the defense. Hitting passes in the middle of the field is typically harder for young quarterbacks as there are fewer throwing windows and more defenders around the ball. Take a look at Jackson’s passing chart in 2019 compared to what it looked like in 2018 and you will see that he is far more comfortable and accurate throwing the ball down the seams this season:
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) October 1, 2019
One thing that is clear is Jackson is far more comfortable (and accurate) throwing the ball down the field in his sophomore year. Is it possible he’s improving or are the added weapons (Marquise Brown, Mark Andrew, Miles Boykin) allowing him to take more chances? Either way, it’s evident that Jackson is more willing to throw the ball down the field and over the middle.
Week 5 will be a great test for Jackson as the Ravens will take on the Steelers in Pittsburgh in a monster AFC North matchup. With a win, the Ravens can bury the Steelers in the division and look to surpass the Browns. But with a loss, they would be in danger of falling behind both the Steelers and the Browns in the division with tough games such as the Seahawks, Patriots, and Rams still on the schedule.
Pittsburgh has one of the best pass-rushes in the NFL and is going to dare Jackson to beat them from the pocket. They will blitz him from all different angles and force him to make throws from the pocket with defenders around his feet.
If Jackson can hold up to this challenge against one of the most aggressive defenses in the NFL, then the sky is the limit for him and this Ravens’ offense. He’s already one of the most difficult players in the NFL to defend and with continued growth and patience from the pocket, he could develop into one of the league’s very best quarterbacks. Sunday is going to be quite the measuring stick for Jackson and the Ravens’ offense.