Which throws does Lamar Jackson need to improve on the most?
It’s clear that Lamar Jackson will need to improve on his 2018 season to be a long-term fixture for the Ravens. Jackson’s 58.2 percent completion rate was brutal, ranking ahead of only fellow 2018 rookie class members as far as quarterbacks with more than 200 passes.
But what does that look like on an empirical basis? What gains does Jackson need to make on each throw? I broke down every type of route that Jackson threw more than fifteen times this year per Sports Info Solutions’ data. What we’re looking at here isn’t all of Jackson’s throws, but the ones that are Baltimore’s bread-and-butter.
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Here’s where we’re at:
Slant Routes: 17-of-25, 232 yards, one touchdown, 40 percent Success Rate.
On slants, Jackson’s main problems were defensed passes and underthrown passes. This is a trend for him: Over the middle of the field, he’s more likely to underthrow a ball than he is to overthrow it.
Here’s one against the Bills in Week 1, with Mark Andrews coming across the middle with rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in coverage.
You can see that Jackson has a lot of open field to work with on this throw — it needs to go to the area. But the ball was almost guided directly to Andrews, and Edmunds was able to recover to make a play on it. The 2018 Jackson vintage was one where you’d want a linebacker playing shallow to read his eyes, because Jackson was liable to ignoring it. That has to improve.
Jackson’s ability to play from different platforms and make off-balance throws was exciting, but also contributed to the issues with underthrows. Look at where this side-armed ball to Chris Moore in Week 11 against the Bengals wound up being caught:
Not exactly leading the receiver very well there.
Curl Routes: 10-of-17, 80 yards, one interception, 64 percent Success Rate.
If you break these up into the target areas, you get some pretty clear trends. Jackson was 3-of-3 throwing to running backs on curls. Wideouts lined up outside were 4-of-8, and all four incompletions were overthrows: Here’s a throw to John Brown against the Chiefs that is emblematic of the issues:
These balls are just being loaded up on a bit too much. To be fair, this one could have been purposeful once Jackson saw the corner not moving up, but he had room to make this throw and simply didn’t.
Meanwhile, in the slot, both of Jackson’s incompletions were underthrown. His interception came on a tip from a zone defender that he apparently didn’t see.
As mentioned in slants, this was an area that Jackson can take major steps forward on in 2019. And, well, one that often goes without saying for rookie quarterbacks. Rarely do they come into the NFL and deal well with those “hidden” zone defenders.
Deep Crosses: 9-of-15, 194 yards, three touchdowns, 40 percent Success Rate
Three of the deep crosses were defensed, and the vast majority of these crosses came on play-action. That these plays were so successful in terms of yards per pass underscores how this was the primary deep throw for Baltimore with Jackson under center. (Unlike with Joe Flacco under center, since Flacco targeted John Brown on deep balls wherever he could find Brown.)
Here’s a good example in Week 8, with Hayden Hurst over the middle of the field.
Jackson sees the zone coverage, has picked the perfect spot to throw the ball, and the ball is thrown with good velocity. This was the sort of pass he excelled at this season.
The big picture is that Jackson is able to excel out of the structure so much, and he helps the run game so much, that he can make throws like this and still take the Ravens somewhere. But if he improves on these staples of the offense, then Baltimore will be living on easy street.
Rivers McCown is a writer and editor who has written for ESPN.com, Bleacher Report, USA Today, and Deadspin, among other places. He’s edited for Football Outsiders, Rookie Scouting Portfolio, and Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue.