Kurt Warner: Ravens Will Struggle If Jackson Tries to Keep Up With Mahomes Throwing the Ball
In yesterday's Late for Work, we looked at how ESPN's Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback, thinks the Ravens could "door stomp" the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football. Today, it's another former quarterback turned NFL analyst, Kurt Warner, who believes the Ravens could be in danger if they try to get into a shootout.
Despite Lamar Jackson's improvement as a passer a year after leading the NFL in touchdown throws, NFL Network's Warner said it would be a mistake for the Ravens if they attempt to have Jackson keep up with Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in regard to throwing the ball.
"The key in this game is don't get away from what you do," Warner said. "When they played last year, it felt to me like [the Ravens] were always looking at Patrick Mahomes on the other sideline. It felt like they had to keep up with Patrick Mahomes, so they got away from the run game and the play action and what they did, and they started to throw the ball and spread out and ask Lamar Jackson to do something that didn't fit his comfort level.
"And so, to me, it's play your game and believe that your team as a whole is good enough to beat this Kansas City Chiefs team. But if you get away from what makes you you, I think they probably will struggle again and Patrick Mahomes will have his way."
Warner's representation of the Ravens' 33-28 loss to the Chiefs last year isn't entirely accurate. While Jackson did throw a season-high 43 passes in the game, it's not as if the Ravens didn't run the ball — they rushed 32 times for 203 yards.
Plus, the majority of Jackson's passes came in the second half. The Ravens trailed, 23-7, at halftime and 30-13 after three quarters.
It sounds as if Warner isn't taking into account how far Jackson has come as a passer, or the fact that the Ravens have shown that their offense isn't one dimensional. Look no further than Week 1, when the Cleveland Browns limited the Ravens to 3.7 yards per carry, but Jackson threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns in the 38-6 victory.
Jackson Named Best Pocket Passer by ESPN
Though Warner has questions about Jackson throwing too much Monday night, Jackson continues to receive well-deserved praise for the passing skills he has displayed thus far in 2020.
He was named the league's best pocket passer by ESPN's Kevin Seifert in his early-season QB awards.
"Yes, I mean that literally," Seifert wrote. "Jackson, who won the 2019 MVP in part because of the electrifying runs he made en route to 1,206-yard rushing season, has the NFL's best Total QBR on passes thrown from the pocket in 2020. To be fair, Jackson has left the pocket before throwing on nearly half of his attempts. But when he has remained inside the pocket, Jackson has completed 30 of 36 passes for 369 yards, four touchdowns and a QBR of 97.
"This is not to make any dramatic conclusions about Jackson's stylistic trajectory. He still has the second-most rushing attempts by a quarterback (23) and the third-most QB rushing yards (99) in the league. And we should also note that his pocket QBR last season (78.9) ranked No. 2. But if you needed any reminder of Jackson's well-rounded game, we've gotten it in the first two weeks of the 2020 season."
Jackson also has been incredibly accurate through two games. After completing 66.1 percent of his passes last season, Jackson ranks second in the NFL in completion percentage (77.6 percent) and completion percentage above expectation, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
"Advanced data suggest the uptick in completion percentage represents more than a happenstance or a concocted statistical milestone," Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "Rather, there's hard proof to believe the 23-year-old Jackson is a significantly more accurate passer in his third NFL season than he was in his second, an improvement that could transform an already mighty offense."
Jackson has thrown 16.3 percent of his passes into tight coverage through two games, up from 14.7 percent last year, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, and his 9.4 intended air yards per pass ranks seventh among quarterbacks in the NFL with two starts this season, up from 8.8 air yards per pass attempt last season.
"In other words, he's thrown the ball deeper and into tighter coverage on average than he did last season and has still seen a significant uptick in completion percentage," Kasinitz wrote.
Moreover, how little time it's taken Jackson to become such an accurate passer is remarkable.
"Even some of the NFL's most decorated passers didn't find a groove as quickly as he has," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote. "Jackson's accuracy through his first 24 starts (65%) trumps that of Tom Brady (64.8%), Aaron Rodgers (63.4%), Russell Wilson (63%) and Drew Brees (59.7%)."
Justin Tucker Versus Harrison Butker Is 'Kicking Battle for the Ages'
Monday night's showdown will feature two elite players at their position doing battle, and how well they perform could very well decide the game.
In this specific instance, we're not talking about Jackson and Mahomes. Which team gets a leg up in the competition for supremacy in the AFC might come down to kickers Justin Tucker and the Chiefs' Harrison Butker.
Tucker and Butker are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in all-time field-goal percentage. They are the only two kickers since 1938 with career field-goal percentages above 90 percent, per NBC Sports Washington's Ryan Wormeli.
"This kicking matchup deserves its due," Wormeli wrote. "How often are fans treated to a matchup of statistically the two best ever at the same position in the same game?"
Tucker and Butker's amazing accuracy is accentuated by the early season struggles of their peers. There were 19 missed field-goal attempts in Week 1, the most in one week since 2011, according to CBS Sports. There also were five missed extra-point kicks in Week 1.
Tucker and Butker are each 5-for-5 in field-goal attempts through the first two weeks of this season.
Last Sunday, they again showed again why they are anomalies. Tucker converted all four field-goal attempts in the Ravens' 33-16 win over the Houston Texans. Butker booted a 58-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Chiefs to a 23-20 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. It was Butker's second 58-yarder in the game.
At this point in their careers, the edge goes to Tucker, who is arguably the greatest kicker in the history of the sport. As outstanding as Butker has been in his four-year career, Tucker's body of work over nine seasons is more impressive.
Tucker has a slight edge in field-goal accuracy (90.9 percent to 90.2 percent), and his sample size is significantly larger. He has 185 more field-goal tries than Butker.
"Tucker has the seventh-most total field goals made of any active player — and has been in the NFL for five fewer seasons than anybody ahead of him," Wormeli wrote. "Butker has 101 made field goals since entering the NFL in 2017, more than 20 more than any other kicker to join since then. Of course, in that same time span, Justin Tucker has made 102.
"Tucker is also the greatest kicker in NFL history when it comes to extra points – an even more impressive feat when you consider the distance for extra points was lengthened midway through his career. He ranks No. 1 all-time at 99.03%, while Butker falls all the way to 22nd, with 94.67%."
So while there are any number of compelling storylines in Monday's matchup of Super Bowl favorites, Tucker versus Butker definitely deserves to be in the conversation.
"This is a game for the ages that features a kicking battle for the ages, too, "Wormeli wrote. "For Jackson and Mahomes, and also for Tucker and Butker, Monday night can't get here fast enough."
Ravens Are NFL's Best at Using Analytics
Head Coach John Harbaugh has been lauded as the 'prince' of analytics, so it's no surprise the Ravens placed No. 1 in the league when it comes to analytics in ESPN's survey of 26 people who are current NFL analytics staffers or have been in the past year.
The panel voted the Ravens as the NFL's most analytically advanced team and the team that most incorporates analytics into its decision-making.
"You saw how aggressive the Ravens were on fourth down last year. It's because Harbaugh trusts the numbers, he trusts the analytics there," one staffer said. "What Harbaugh has done is truly amazing. He has changed the culture of the team to believe in this stuff."
Wrote ESPN's Seth Walder: "Getting Harbaugh's buy-in was huge. Because as many staffers pointed out, quantitative analysis only works when the decision-makers are willing to use it. The ratio of Ravens win probability gains to win probability losses stemming from fourth-down decision-making was substantially higher than that of any other team in the league last season, according to ESPN's model. The abridged version: They made better fourth-down decisions than anyone else."