Late for Work 10/27: Assessing Lamar Jackson's Performance So Far This Season

102720-LFW

Observations About Lamar Jackson and the Ravens Through Six Games

Most quarterbacks who start the season 5-1, are in the top 10 in touchdown percentage, just outside the top five in interception percentage and on pace to rush for over 900 yards would be considered highly successful.

But Lamar Jackson isn't most quarterbacks. After a historic season, the reigning NFL MVP is held to a higher standard. That's not unfair, but the narrative that Jackson has gotten off to a tough start is overstated.

The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker put Jackson's performance into perspective in his takeaways from the Ravens' season through six games.

"We knew coming in that Jackson would have a hard time replicating his unprecedented combination of passing efficiency and running production from 2019," Walker wrote. "We saw Patrick Mahomes go through a similar 'regression' last season, coming off his 50-touchdown breakout.

"Call it a B+ start to a season that began with A+ expectations from the brigade of people who pick apart Jackson's game every weekend. He's 24-4 as a regular-season starter, so take any criticism with a mountain of salt."

If Jackson's final statistics this season end up being lower than those from last season, he'll be in good company. As Walker noted, Mahomes saw a decrease in his numbers the year after his MVP season, and so did every other quarterback who won the award since 2011. That list includes Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.

A deeper dive into the statistics shows Jackson is actually playing better this season than he was through six games last year. His passer rating, touchdown-to-interception ratio, touchdown percentage and yards per carry are higher, and the Ravens' record is one game better.

That said, it's not inaccurate to say Jackson hasn't been as crisp as he was during the second half of last season.

"Jackson's many admirers envisioned him becoming a more complete quarterback, with greater mastery of the pre-snap game and more confidence in his deep and outside throws," Walker wrote. "He devoted his offseason to these refinements and it seemed he might become a deadlier operator of Greg Roman's offense, even if his personal statistics slipped slightly. Through six games, Jackson has been very good but not mind blowing."

The fact that Ravens receivers have nine drops (compared to 14 all of last season) and are gaining fewer yards after the catch (4.2 per completed pass compared to 5.1 in 2019, according to Pro-Football-Reference) has been a factor.

"Jackson has still made plenty of terrific throws, and despite the critical chatter about his side-arming tendencies, he played well against an excellent Philadelphia Eagles defensive front in Week 6," Walker wrote. "Jackson remains historically dangerous with his legs; he's turned a pair of designed option runs into long touchdowns, and his 6.9 yards per carry match his efficiency from last season."

Here are some other things we've learned about the Ravens from the opening stretch of the season, according to Walker:

The Ravens have, mostly, achieved what they sought with their defensive overhaul.

"The Ravens have to prove they can get to the quarterback against better offensive lines than the ragtag groups they've faced the last two weeks," Walker wrote. "But their defense is one of the five best in the league and likely to get better with [Yannick] Ngakoue."

Marshal Yanda's retirement was the sharpest blow to the Ravens' championship aspirations.

"The Ravens have allowed more pressure on Jackson (15 sacks through six games this season compared to 23 all of last) and have struggled to create room for their running backs when opponents stack the box," Walker wrote. "Give rookie Tyre Phillips credit for winning Yanda's old job in an abbreviated training camp. He's a smart, ornery player who will probably provide good value in the long run. But he grades as one of the worst run-blocking guards in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, and has struggled to react quickly against bull rushers.

"Patrick Mekari hasn't played well enough to take Phillips' job, and Ben Powers is stuck behind both on the depth chart. So unless the Ravens find an outside option, they're working with imperfect solutions at right guard."

The Ravens can't afford another major injury in their secondary.

"The Ravens were the NFL's King Midas, bathing in a tub overflowing with secondary gold. When they re-signed veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith in the offseason, they seemed to be buying contingencies for their contingencies," Walker wrote. "How's that looking now?

"First, they released Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas III to preserve the equilibrium of their locker room. Next, they lost nickel cornerback Tavon Young to another heartbreaking knee injury. Now, cornerback Anthony Averett is out with a long-term (though not season-ending) shoulder injury. Bye-bye, depth."

The Ravens still have time to find the dominant form that's eluded them so far.

"[Head Coach John] Harbaugh has always excelled at nudging his teams to buy in over the long haul of a season, and his staff has demonstrated its facility for tactical adjustments," Walker wrote. "So no, the Ravens haven't quite picked up where they left off last November and December. They're not stringing together as many drives. Jackson isn't perfectly in sync with his receivers or entirely secure behind his offensive line. But this isn't a time to feel glum about their prospects."

What Does Future Hold for Ngakoue, Judon and Other OLBs?

The acquisition of Ngakue strengthened the Ravens' championship aspirations, but the move raises questions about the outside linebacker position beyond this season.

It seems likely the Ravens would want to sign Ngakoue to a long-term deal, but he's technically still playing under the franchise tag, so they aren't allowed to start contract negotiations with him until after the season. Fellow Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon also is playing under the tag.

"There's been much said already about how the Ngakoue addition pushes Judon closer to departing in free agency, and there's probably some truth to that," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "It's hard to fathom that the Ravens will be able to give out two significant long-term contracts to edge rushers this offseason, especially with so many other contracts to core players coming down the pike."

Three other outside linebackers — Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward — also are pending free agents. Jaylon Ferguson, a 2019 third-round pick, is the only notable outside linebacker signed beyond this season.

"The performance of the five pending free agents over the next two-plus months could determine whom the Ravens keep and whom they let go — or, better yet, whom they can afford under a reduced salary cap," Zrebiec wrote.

"The Ravens, though, will almost have to re-sign one, if not two, of their own or there will be significant pressure on team officials to sign a big-ticket pass rusher in free agency and to target one early in the draft. When you're consistently drafting late in the first round, finding Day 1 impact pass rushers isn't easy. And very few of the top edge guys are getting to free agency these days."

Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters Are NFL's Top CB Duo

Last month, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler tweeted that All-Pros Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters are the league's premier cornerback duo. After some fans (notably those in New England) took exception, Fowler asked NFL personnel people for their opinion and did some of his own research.

The results validated Fowler's original opinion that Humphrey and Peters are No. 1.

"Baltimore is way above everybody," one AFC exec said. "Those two guys might be top five right now."

Humphrey, who recently signed a five-year deal for a reported $98.75 million, is worth every penny, an NFC executive said, because "he can do everything. And he plays his ass off every play."

A veteran NFL quarterback told Fowler that Peters scares him more than any other corner because of his unpredictability. He's determined to get the ball, for better or worse.

"Humphrey is the steady corner who does everything, from playing over the top to covering in the slot and tackling at the line of scrimmage," Fowler wrote. "Peters is the ultimate gambler, which sometimes gets him into trouble, but it's hard to argue with 29 interceptions in five-plus seasons, more than many Pro Bowl corners get in a decade of play. Some evaluators consider him the best true ball hawk in the game."

Fowler also showed some love for Smith, "a Ravens staple who used to give Antonio Brown and others problems, now serving as a steady No. 3."

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