Inside Lamar Jackson's historic 2019 season that defies conventional quantification
Jackson was ridiculously efficient during the regular season; let's try to figure out exactly how it happened
OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Lamar Jackson's historic 2019 season defies conventional quantification.
He led the Ravens to the most rushing yards in NFL history and the most productive offense in football, as the most impactful player in the entire league, all while taking an individualized approach to the quarterback position. He led the NFL in touchdown passes (36), at age 22, despite sitting out the equivalent of at least three games due to watching from the sidelines during blowout victories and resting in Week 17 with the top playoff seed already secured.
Jackson, who turned 23 on Tuesday, had the highest passer rating among anyone with at least 400 attempts (113.3), and the third-highest overall behind Ryan Tannehill and Drew Brees, yet also led the league with the most runs over 10 yards (47, five more than anyone else) ... and the most rushes of 20 yards or more, as well (tied with Browns running back Nick Chubb at 11). He set the single-season mark for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,206) and placed sixth overall in the NFL in rushing, despite averaging less than 12 carries per game.
And he was at his very best in the most challenging situation in football – in the red zone – where his genius fully flourished. It fueled his MVP campaign and it has the Ravens as Super Bowl favorites ahead of Saturday night's divisional playoff game with upstart Tennessee. No one was better inside the 20-yard line than Jackson, where he used his preternatural play-making ability to change arm angles on pass attempts, avoid blitzers, improvise lob and jump passes and simply confound defenses week after week.
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Jackson, somehow, threw 40 percent of his red zone passing attempts for touchdowns (24 touchdowns on 60 passes) without throwing an interception, for a rating of 112.7. The Ravens, consistently, mauled teams with a multiple and uniquely diverse run game between the 20s, an array of body blows, before cutting their throats in the red zone via Jackson's uncanny passing. He claimed the red zone as his, made magic amid the constricted spaces and tightest windows, with highlight-reel play after highlight-reel play from all manner of throwing angles and contorted body positions.
"That's not something that's coached," said backup quarterback and fellow Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. "That's not a coach saying, 'Hey, take your arm and put it there.' But he is saying, 'Find a way to get it done.' And whatever way you find to do it, they're okay with that.
"Part of that is trial and error, and you have to try things to see if you can get it done in that manner. And that's the great thing about the coaches we've had - through the whole offseason, and practice, they give you that freedom to understand that I need to try to make this throw right now, so that when game time comes I know what I can and can't do. So that adds to the get-it-done factor."
It is that blend of coachability, and eagerness to learn and get better every day, coupled with his ridiculous physical talent, that has Jackson now perhaps just a few weeks of fulfilling his Lombardi dreams less than two years after being sitting in the green room at the draft until the 32nd and final pick of the first night. His natural leadership, disinterest in individual accolades and all-ball approach (there is not a single billboard of him promoting any product or company or anything at all anywhere in Maryland, not a single advertisement or endorsement by him on television) is infectious. All of that earned immediate trust from teammates (or Big Truss, as it's referred to in this locker room).
And never is that manifest more than in the red zone, where he routinely allows tight end Mark Andrews (all seven of his red zone catches are touchdowns) to flourish by putting the ball where only he can high-point it. Or darting one way, to only zigzag back the other, knowing that speedy receiver Hollywood Brown would be following him in the back of the end zone. In all, eight Ravens caught red zone passes from him, with five catching three or more.
"He's part of this new era that were in in the NFL," said safety Earl Thomas, who went from practicing against red zone whiz Russell Wilson in Seattle his entire career to facing Jackson in practice now. "He knows his matchups, he uses the big tight ends to where only they can catch the ball, and we all know what he can do once he starts to run. You're seeing it more and more around the league. I saw Deshaun Watsons pull some magician stuff out of his hat at the end of that (wild-card) game. The QBs that can do that are elite."
Jackson's chemistry with Andrews in this part of the field is particularly acute (he tied for third in the NFL in red zone touchdown receptions), each sensing where the play will go and being willing to allow the other to make a play even amid a haze of defenders.
"Big Truss!" Andrews said of their growing connection. "It all starts in training camp and OTAs. That stuff doesn't just come; we've repped it a thousand times and I think you see that chemistry and that's a credit to how hard we work in practice."
Jackson provided his own interpretation.
"We overemphasize that in practice," Jackson said. "We make it a key point. Last year, we used to drive the ball down the field and wouldn't score any points in the red zone. We had Tuck (kicker Justin Tucker) coming on the field a lot. Same thing at the beginning of the season, besides the Miami game. We started doing the same thing from last year, but we got in practice and we were like, 'We have to score in the red zone. We're doing a great job driving the ball down the field, but we have to finish.' And our goal was to finish, and we've just been having a lot of success."
Jackson's red zone production forged the heart of his unprecedented passing season. He became just the third player in NFL history to throw 9% of his passing attempts for a touchdown in a full season, and he did so while also protecting the football (just 1.5 of his passes were intercepted). The difference between those two metrics, something I'm dubbing THE JAMEIS (in honor of Jameis Winston's 30/30 season), is also historic.
In the history of the NFL, as best I could research, there are only three men to ever complete a full season in which the difference between their TD percentage and INT percentage was 7.5 or more. Here are the only times in NFL history a QB had a JAMEIS of 6.5 or above:
|TD %||INT %||JAMEIS|
Peyton Manning (2004)
Nick Foles (2013)**
Aaron Rodgers (2011)*
Lamar Jackson (2019)
Peyton Manning (2013)
Russell Wilson (2018)
Tom Brady (2010)
Aaron Rodgers (2014)
** started only 10 games *only player of group with fewer than 400 attempts
This is independent of Jackson's game-changing runs, and the dramatic impact they have. This has nothing to do with mesh points or RPOs. This is about a quarterback having a historically significant, largely unprecedented season for the ages THROWING the football. And, yes, Jackson is also the primary reason the Ravens ran for over 1,000 yards more than any other team and why they had 34 more runs of 10 yards or more than any other team, and why they averaged a staggering 5.32 yards on first-down rushes this season.
And he was also the league's third-best passer in the NFL on first down (completing 66 percent of his passes in the process) and the third-best on third down (110.4 rating) and fourth-best against the blitz, where so many "pundits" predicted he'd fail (69/111 for 973 yards with 24 TDs, 2 INTs and a 122.5 rating).
"Get the ball out where my receiver can get it or no one can," Jackson said of his philosophy against the blitz.
Whatever he is going, in the facility or at home in his preparation, all of it is working (Jackson planned to celebrate his birthday home chilling with his family). And with only one full offseason of starter's work behind him, the Ravens know there is ample room for him to grow and evolve beyond even these exploits.
There is Big Truss in what this young man can become, and respect all around for how hard he has worked to compile this MVP campaign. His trust in himself, and his receivers, is total and complete, as well. Especially when inside the 20s, when Jackson does his best work.
"A great thing we have in our group is that trust that when the ball is in the air, it's our ball, or nobody's ball," Griffin said. "And we're trying to make plays. We're not trying to be passive aggressive and hope we win because (the other team) messed up.
"We're going out and trying to dominate and make you like it and just take the game from you. I think that's kind of the attitude we all play with, and that starts with Lamar."
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