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Tale of the Tape: Risk-Averse Jackson Took What Tampa D Gave

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After a few rewatches, I feel like Lamar Jackson really had an interesting game against the Buccaneers. He really showed us who he is as a passer, or rather, who he will be as a passer with Rashod Bateman out for the season.

He has become somewhat risk-averse, especially throwing to anyone that isn’t Mark Andrews, Bateman or Devin Duvernay, which makes sense considering they’re his three best targets! He even ripped a few to Isaiah Likely, James Proche and Demarcus Robinson when he needed to. He’ll have to do that even more, with Bateman out for the season and Andrews working back to 100%.

As usual, Jackson missed a routine throw or two, but came up with a few moments of brilliance that few others could repeat.

He took a few more passes to his running backs in the flat and outside the numbers generally. That’s important to open up the spacing for the Ravens’ passing game, as will be more use of spread formations. Even if that means Likely and Andrews in the slot, spread it out!

Overall, I’m cautiously encouraged. After all, this performance did come against a depleted Tampa Bay secondary. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take this show on the road to New Orleans and beyond, even without Bateman, or Andrews for the time being.

I outlined last week how Greg Roman and the Ravens rushing offense can carry the team to the playoffs. And that’s somewhat true, but Jackson will need to move the ball through the air to whoever he’s got out there before and during the postseason. His arm, his legs, and importantly, his brain, have game-breaking potential, but only when used in perfect concert.

He’s got all the ingredients; does he have the recipe?

Consistency, Not Capability

Jackson is perfectly capable of making pretty much every throw that is asked of him. We’ve seen him operate like a polished QB: hitting timing routes in rhythm, finding second windows, extending plays and making off-schedule throws. He did all of those things in Tampa Bay, but also made multiple unforced errors that slimmer margins won’t allow without Bateman and against better opponents.

On this play, Robinson wins his route and just needs a clean ball to the sideline for an easy seven yards on 2nd and 10. Jackson has plenty of protection and a clear angle, and just doesn’t make the throw.

Then, on the Ravens last drive of the first half, the offense takes an eon to get up to the ball for a simple spike with the clock under 20 seconds and rolling. We’ve seen this happen too many times, and while Roman needs to have his offense ready for these moments, Jackson should also step up. He’s a fifth-year QB, and he certainly knows what needs to be done in those situations.

But on the next play, the same thing happens as the Robinson incompletion. With plenty of protection and space to throw, Jackson just doesn’t put the ball on target. I know that going down inbounds would prevent them from kicking a field goal, but at least throw a ball to the sidelines where it either falls incomplete or Proche either makes the catch or goes out of bounds. Otherwise, you’re just counting on a 61-yard field goal.

Moving faster on the previous play would have given him more time to get set and make a good throw, too!

Off Schedule, On The Run

Here’s the flip side of some of those frustrating throws Jackson doesn’t make. He makes plays that very few, if any, other quarterbacks can make. Take this one, for instance.

He could try to rip a risky throw into Robinson or Likely, but he instead uses his legs to buy him extra time. Again, Jackson is more confident using his legs to bail him out of trouble than to fire a pass into traffic.

He gets out of the pocket and breaks containment so easily that he never really has to take his eyes off his targets. Then he picks the right throwing angle and sends a strike right into Likely’s hands.

Now go to the second-half touchdown to Likely. Again, he breaks contain with his eyes upfield and fires a tough sidearm throw to a closing window in the back of the end zone.

These are really hard plays to make, and he does it with ease. So with the routine throws that he misses, you also get these moments of singular brilliance that can change games.

Credit to Likely, too. His chemistry with Jackson is already showing up on the field by knowing where to go on these broken/extended plays.

Okay, one more Jackson on-the-run strike to Likely., but this time it’s designed.

I have been critical of Roman’s sprint out calls in the red zone, but with more space to work, this works so well. It’s partially because it looks less like a pure sprint out pass than a QB power or speed option, sucking in defenders and opening up space for Likely downfield.

Likely even looks like he’s a blocker trying to get to the second level and then blows by 45 and 22, taking his route to the sideline as soon as he finds open space. Jackson again makes a sneaky tough throw look easy, finding the right throwing lane with plenty of defenders between him and his target.

Minimizing Risk

One thing that Jackson is acutely aware of at this point is the importance of taking care of the football. The Ravens offense is built around controlling the ball and dominating possession, something that obviously can’t happen if he’s turning the ball over.

That really stood out in some of Baltimore’s losses this season, with Jackson forcing ill-advised throws at the worst of times. So he’s basically sworn not to let it happen again, refusing to rip tight passes downfield unless they are targeting Andrews. Even when he gives Bateman or Devin Duvernay a 1-on-1 shot down the sideline, it’s typically in a spot where only the receiver can get to it; otherwise it’s incomplete.

So it’s no surprise or disappointment that Jackson doesn’t rip a shot to Josh Oliver, or even a second read to Duvernay.

That being said, once Jackson decides he isn’t taking a deep shot, he has to find a better underneath option. In this case, it’s Likely with no one between him and the line to gain. The pass protection is excellent, so it really comes down to Jackson going through his progressions and finding the open man. He has the patience to let plays develop from the pocket, but he needs the vision to get the most out of those plays. Odds are, if the quarterback has a lot of time in his pocket and doesn’t throw the ball, his first and second reads are covered, so he needs to look elsewhere.

On the second play above, Jackson senses the pressure early and quickly breaks contain. He keeps his eyes downfield and could probably rip a pass to either Likely in the front corner of the end zone or Robinson in the back. But it has to be a perfect strike, and probably lands incomplete anyway.

Again, when challenged with a risky throw on the run, Jackson chooses to take the sure, lower-risk yards with his legs and goes out of bounds just a yard shy of the sticks. It’s hard to argue with that approach given the state of the Ravens offense. Jackson will push the ball downfield and take more risks when he has to – look at last year’s comebacks against the Colts – but this offense is built to keep him out of those situations.

An interesting byproduct of Jackson becoming risk-averse is his growing patience in finding secondary throwing windows. He doesn’t want to put the ball in danger, so he pulls down risky throws. But instead of taking off by default, he navigates the pocket and looks for his second and third reads.

Here’s the key fourth down in the first half, one that would have been endlessly discussed and debated had the Ravens not emerged victorious. Jackson almost hits James Proche at the 5, but sees 22 lurking and potential LOS beatdowns and pulls it down. He knows that opens up a second window, but he can’t reset all the way. It’s not a perfect throw, but it gives Robinson a decent chance at a contested TD, which he can’t quite reel in. I know it’s an incompletion, but it’s pretty solid QB play!

The second window patience comes to fruition on the next drive. The Ravens spread it out and the Bucs send a blitz. Lavonte David covers Isaiah Likely in the flat, so Jackson pulls off a no-look strike to Proche, who makes a leaping grab. Who says Jackson doesn’t trust his other receivers???

This kind of processing is a major development from Jackson’s early years. He knows that he can draw David to cover the flat, opening up a window further downfield for Proche. If David doesn’t cover the flat, great! Easy throw and let Likely rack up yards after the catch. But if you can trick him, you can take a 10+ yard shot, even trusting James Proche to make a tough grab. That’s advanced QB stuff, against a very good veteran linebacker at that.

Without Bateman in the long-term, and a 100% Andrews in the short-term, the Ravens’ receiving targets will be getting less separation. So Roman will need to find ways to scheme for that, while Jackson can help his receivers out by subtly manipulating defenders to open up throwing windows.

Jackson has to keep taking easy throws when he can and yes, pull something out of his ass every now and then. Don’t worry, that’s what he’s here for. And that’s the kind of money he’s asking for. To make the plays that no one else can. All we can do is sit back and watch.

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