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Jackson Putting Defenses In a Bind

Lamar Jackson photo edit.
by Brandon Portney
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The list of records Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson broke Monday night is a long one. He became the first ever NFL QB to complete 85% of his passes or higher in a 400-yard game. He had the highest completion rate in a 40-pass game in history. He threw for a Ravens record 442 yards, and overcame the largest deficit of his career.

There’s no way around it. He was absolutely dialed in and enjoyed his best game ever as a passer.

And the Colts let him do it.

The narrative through the entirety of Jackson’s career has been to keep him from running by containing him in the pocket and forcing him to beat you with his arm. What did the Colts do? Contained Jackson and kept him in the pocket. What did Jackson do? Beat them with his arm. It’s not supposed to work like that, at least according to the naysayers.

The first good example of this came on one of the first plays of the drive that ended with a long touchdown to Marquise Brown, the first of four straight touchdown drives. You’ll notice that the Colts only send four rushers, and none of them look interested in actually getting to the quarterback. This will be a common theme from this point in the game forward.

Instead, the goal is to maintain presence in all of the possible rush lanes and be able to quickly disengage to bring Jackson down if he bolts. Unfortunately for the Colts, he did something they clearly didn’t expect him to: remain calm and patient and wait for his receivers to do their jobs, which they did well.

This next one was the first play from scrimmage of the second touchdown drive. Similarly to the first, the Colts only bring four. They did a good job of filling the run lane when they realized Jackson had about 15 yards of space between him and the nearest second level defender if he chose to run. But he doesn’t run. He finds an out-breaking Mark Andrews who makes a spectacular one-handed grab to move the chains.

Later in the same possession, the Ravens have marched down to the goal line and are about to make it a one score game. At this point, you know what happens. Colts send four, Jackson scans the field and completes the pass yada yada yada.

Another thing to point out from every example, but this one in particular, is Jackson’s footwork in the pocket. Simply put, it’s textbook. It’s what high school and college coaches everywhere are showing to their QBs. He maintains perfect balance, never getting too heavy one on foot or the other (which he sometimes does). He stays in a good, strong stance that allows him to deliver a strike to Andrews for the score.

This one was the rare occasion Jackson couldn’t find either Andrews, Brown or any other receiver and instead dumped it off to Devonta Freeman, who had a nice game as a pass catcher. It’s a good example of Jackson’s maturity and growth in recent years. First- or second-year Jackson would likely take his eyes down and scramble if his first or second option isn’t there, whereas current Jackson dumps it off and watches Freeman take it for a big gain.

This example may be the funniest. Unlike the others, the Colts only send three to contain Jackson, who has other plans. It’s the rare occasion that no receiver found separation and Jackson was able to break the contain, almost picking up a first down with his legs. It shows that, no matter how hard you try, he can still escape and run if he really wants to.

These last two are the touchdowns that set up the game-tying two-point conversion and the game winner in overtime. Like the earlier touchdown throw to Andrews, Jackson stays patient and maintains a perfect base that allows him to throw with power and accuracy.

All told, Jackson put his growth as a passer on display Monday night. He answered the cries of the critics and won with his arm from the pocket. His footwork, poise and patience was of the level of the great QBs throughout the league, and it won the Ravens a game they had no business doing so.

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