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Going Deep: ‘Truss’ and confidence make the difference

An in depth look at what’s made Lamar Jackson so great.

NFL: Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

In a nutshell, all NFL quarterbacks are capable of delivering the football where it needs to go. With a few exceptions, they can get the job done in terms of arm talent. Some are more accurate, some are more mobile. Undoubtedly, two traits separate capable quarterbacks from great ones:

• Trust

• Confidence

The two are imperative to being the best quarterback version of yourself. If you don’t trust your receivers, you will lose. If you aren’t confident that you can make all the throws, then you won’t try the tough ones. If you can’t make the tough throws, you won’t be great.

So far in 2019, Lamar Jackson has only shown the confidence and trust required to be great. The entire Baltimore Ravens offense is rooted in Jackson’s abilities to make the right decision.

The Ravens are a power pistol play-action, option offense. Every read option or RPO will ask Jackson to make the right decision within the first three steps of the play. Most passing plays gives Jackson about three seconds, then the play asks, “Lamar, do you trust your receivers or your legs here?”

His response seems to simply be, “Yes.”

If Jackson tucks, he will then ask himself what his coaches have drilled into his head, “Can you score here? If not, get down or go out of bounds.”

The decisions that the 22 year old passer has made have resulted in six straight wins, including four straight games scoring 30 or more points. The Ravens have the best offense in the NFL, all due to one of their youngest players’ ability to analyze the field and distinguish good from bad, right from wrong. He does it in the blink of an eye.

Orchestrating an offense predicated upon resetting formations, motions, options, and play actions can be difficult for any quarterback, let alone a 22 year old passer with eight starts under his belt prior to this season.

Jackson has executed 105 RPO plays, 19 more than the next closest quarterback, Kyler Murray.

No. 8 leads the NFL in total yardage from RPO’s with 849, while ranking first in rushing yards and third in passing yards from such plays.

Jackson has attempted the sixth most play action passes, while the Ravens have run the ball the second most in the league. The threat of the run never goes away. With so many moving parts, it’s easy to see why the Ravens offense is rolling at a historic pace in multiple facets.

Amidst the chaos that these RPO’ and play action fakes create, Jackson has now recorded eight turnover free games. Jackson has done so while carrying the ball 101 times (excluding kneel downs) and throwing the ball 279 times. That equates to 38 rushes/passes thrown per game. Considering the complexity of the Ravens offense and how aggressive Jackson is, only turning the ball over in two games is Jackson’s most impressive feat thus far.

Speaking of Jackson’s aggressiveness, let’s quantify how gutsy No. 8 has been:

  • Intended air yards/throw: 9.1, 7th in the NFL.
    Intended air yards take the total distance of all passes thrown and divide it by attempts. Simply put, how far does a passer throw the ball on average? Jackson trails Matthew Stafford, Jameis Winston, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott and Ryan Tannehill. He ranks just ahead of Josh Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Phillip Rivers and DeShaun Watson. That listed is essentially the who’s who of ‘gunslingers’ in the league, and Jackson is right in the mix.
  • Aggressiveness %: 15.8, 17th in the NFL.
    Aggressiveness measures what percentage of throws are made into a ‘tight window’ with a defender within one yard at the catch point. Jackson attempts more of these throws than Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins, and many of the leagues passing leaders.
  • Air Yards to the Sticks: 0.1, 7th in the NFL.
    AYTS measures the amount of air yards ahead or behind the first down marker on all attempts for a passer. The metric indicates if the passer is attempting his passes past the 1st down marker, or if he is relying on his skill position players to make yards after catch.

Translation, Jackson attacks downfield at a rate higher than all but 6 qualified passers.

Taking this context into consideration, Jackson has thrown five interceptions. Only six passers have started 10 or more games and thrown five interceptions or less.

Pushing the ball downfield + avoiding turnovers = points.

From that equation, it’s no wonder that Lamar Jackson is No. 1 in the football analytics community’s favorite statistic; estimated points added.

In summary, Jackson’s confidence and ‘truss’ are at Mt. Fuji level heights. He’s confident in his ability to make tough throws and he trusts his receivers to make the play. In game-defining moments, Jackson’s aggressiveness, trust and confidence have resulted in wins.

The trust and confidence have grown exponentially over, particularly during the Ravens win streak. The big time throws have occurred more regularly, which culminated in Jackson thrashing the Houston Texans from the pocket.

Jackson’s worst performance of the 2019 regular season thus far was in Pittsburgh. Jackson was hesitant to pull the trigger. He sailed a potential game winning touchdown throw over Seth Roberts head because he hesitated to get the ball out. Jackson ran into sacks that weren’t there. He still made enough plays to win the game, despite throwing three interceptions. That shaky performance started the Ravens current six game win streak.

The definitive play that seemingly propelled the Ravens into their current tear was the “Hell yeah, Coach, let’s go for it!”

Since then, every throw has had rhythm. Jackson hasn’t favored any one receiver, spreading the ball around to the likes of Andrews, Hurst, Boyle, Snead, Brown, Roberts, Boykin, Ingram... just whoever the hell is open. Jackson’s decisiveness has reached new heights, and every throw seems to be treated as “the big moment.”

Speaking of Jackson’s decisiveness, ESPN’s Next Gen Stat’s listed the defining statistic regarding each of the seven MVP frontrunners. For Jackson, NGS listed his prowess as a passer against the blitz.

Lamar Jackson has taken the league by storm in his sophomore season, making his doubters from the 2018 draft process eat crow. Anyone who still thinks Jackson can’t be a superstar NFL QB can go see Mark Ingram. Jackson has been explosive and efficient on the ground, reaching 15+ mph on 55 runs (trailing only Dalvin Cook, who has 63 runs of 15+ mph and 99 more carries than Jackson). The threat of the QB run in the Ravens’ option-based offense has made edge rushers more hesitant. Opposing edge rushers average 0.94 seconds to cross the line of scrimmage vs. the Ravens, the slowest pass rush get-off faced by any offense. This, combined with his pocket awareness and elusiveness, has given him the fifth-lowest pressure rate in the NFL (21.1%). Jackson has also shown great blitz recognition, throwing a TD on 13.8% of his attempts vs. the blitz (the only QB over 11%).

When a defense blitzes, it forces passers to make a ‘hot read’. In other words, who is coming open because the defense is blitzing? Jackson’s doing that better than any other QB in the league. Because of Jackson’s elusiveness and escapability, defenses aren’t firing off the ball as quickly, as NGS stated. If they do, Jackson will tuck and do just as much damage with his legs. In fact, Jackson is averaging an otherworldly 18.7 yards per carry when his opposition blitzes.

Jackson and the Ravens will have their work cut out for them on offense tonight. The Rams allow only 3.3 yards per carry, they haven’t surrendered more than 20 points in their past five games, and Aaron Donald is getting hot.

The Rams run defense has only allowed five rushes of 10+ yards in their past five games. Three of which came via Joe Mixon and Giovanni Bernard. The Rams front seven attacks downhill and blows up plays in the backfield. Aaron Donald leads the NFL in tackles for loss (16) , and Dante Fowler ranks 16th (10). Clay Matthews is only two behind Fowler (8), despite missing three games due to a broken jaw.

The Rams have the ability to blow run plays up in the backfield, resulting in a lot of second a long situations for the Ravens offense.

The Ravens will be forced to rely on Jackson’s decision making to lead them to victory. They will truss’ Lamar to play confidently.