The myth of Lamar Jackson
The Baltimore Ravens are 4-1 since naming Lamar Jackson the starting quarterback this season. He has won the hearts of many a Ravens fan with his tremendous athleticism and the fact that if the NFL playoffs started today, the Ravens would be in as the sixth seed. Despite pressure from Flacco’s huge contract, for John Harbaugh and company, the decision was easy to bench the former Superb Bowl MVP. He has yet to play at the same level he did when he led the team to hoist the Lombardi trophy.
It cannot be argued that Lamar Jackson does have the most long term potential of any other quarterback on the roster. Nonetheless, the Ravens are currently in a neck and neck race for a spot in the 2018 playoffs. A berth in this years playoffs would be important for this proud franchise. As such, it is vital the most important position on the field be filled with the best player possible.
While it is true, through Lamar Jackson’s first five games as a starter he is averaging a much better winning percentage than Joe Flacco, it would be foolish to give all the credit to the 2018 first-round pick. By looking at Lamar Jackson’s starts through a microscope, it can be seen that the current overreaction is brought about because of facing easy defenses, having a slightly better supporting cast and a league wide obsession for big play ability.
In Joe Flacco’s last four games as a starter, he’s face the Titans, Saints, Panthers and Steelers. According the NFL.com, each one of those defenses has been above average since week one, with the Titans and Saints placed in the top 10. Lamar Jackson has faced the Bengals, Raiders, Falcons, Chiefs and Buccaneers in his five starts. Each one of those teams rank in the bottom five in points allowed.
Lamar should not be punished for winning against easier competition, but his hot start needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson have averaged an almost identical passer rating. However, Lamar has already overtaken Joe in the amount of turnovers (10) compared to Flacco (9) in about half the amount of starts.
You’re probably thinking Lamar wasn’t drafted for his throwing ability. That is definitely true. Unsurprisingly, Jackson’s rushing numbers are some of the best in the league for a quarterback. Most people think his ability to make plays with his feet cushion his poor throwing numbers. But actually, if each rush attempt from Jackson and Flacco was a throw for the same distance, Flacco would still have a slightly higher average yards per attempt (5.92) than Lamar (5.85).
In simple terms this means, even though Flacco faced tougher opposition, he was still more efficient than Jackson.
In recent years injuries have ravaged Ravens’ rosters and caused a 16 game season to feel like a wintertime nightmare. With the exception of Alex Collins, this year has been a little different.
Although Alex Collins is a talented running back, he has been fighting injuries for most of the season. He was visibly not the same aggressive back he was last year. Joe Flacco was often pressured to pick apart defenses by himself with little help from his backfield. After struggling to suit up against the Bengals, Collins was ruled out for the season and Gus “The Bus” Edwards completely took advantage of the opportunity. The Bus is averaging an amazing 5.0 YPC since getting consistent carries five weeks ago. Watching him, it is obvious how he got his nickname as he gets the ball, runs right between the tackles, and straight downhill almost always for positive yardage. Lamar Jackson’s ability has definitely helped with Gus’s outstanding start. But in the same way, Gus’s start has helped defenses hesitate to chase Lamar Jackson during play-actions.
Secondly, the Baltimore defense has played great all season. But in the last five games it has taken a next step by forcing great offenses to struggle. In this span, the defense has held three of the top five passing offenses to average under 200 passing yards. Baltimore also has a current five game streak of holding teams to under 100 yards rushing.
Sometimes defensive chemistry just starts to click in the middle of the season. Sometimes players respond to a quarterback change with an increase in intensity. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Either way, Lamar Jackson definitely cannot take complete credit for the 4-1 record he has produced.
Big Play Ability
The former 2017 Heisman winner was drafted because he flashed big play potential each time he held the ball. Going back to his college days, during a game against Syracuse, he threw for 400 yards and rushed for 175 more. It looked like a faster and stronger teen brother picking on his little brother and his friends (not like that has ever happened to me 10 years ago or anything…). Each time Lamar is snapped the ball, Ravens’ fans remember the highlights they watched on draft night and the “don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it” swagger Lamar Jackson carried.
While Jackson was certainly drafted for his big play ability, he has not quite lived up to the hype. According to NFL.com, Joe Flacco actually has a far better percentage of plays that go for 20+ and 40+ yards when he starts.
There are some big play statistics where Lamar Jackson is leading Joe Flacco. Per game, Lamar can claim he has a higher interception percentage, fumble percentage, sack percentage and average sack distance than Joe Flacco this year.
As the ABC News writer, Josh Hermsmeyer, claims in his sports blog fivethirtyeight, the NFL is slowly becoming a passing league, as it is the most efficient play throughout the league. In the modern era, throwing quarterbacks have dominated. Unfortunately for the Ravens, with Lamar Jackson receiving the snaps, they have the worst throwing quarterback out of every playoff contender.