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For Ravens to make playoff push, Lamar Jackson must trust his eyes

Jackson doesn’t struggle with accuracy, but does with timing

Dallas Cowboys v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

To prelude: let’s establish the following. . .

  1. Lamar Jackson was the unanimous MVP (second in NFL history) and second youngest MVP ever (Jim Brown) in 2019. He’s endlessly talented.
  2. He’s 23-years-old and the improvements he’s made since entering the league in 2018 need to be considered; they’re tremendous. Jackson struggled to throw screens with consistency in 2018.
  3. He can make every throw, anywhere on the football field, at any time.
  4. Against the Cowboys, Jackson had missed practice with COVID-19, stating that he had a fever, chills and flu-like symptoms. He was without Willie Snead IV, Mark Andrews and Dez Bryant. Nick Boyle and Ronnie Stanley, two pillars of the offense, are also out. Jackson’s tight end group consisted of Luke Willson and Sean Caulkin.
  5. COVID-19 prevented the Ravens from spending much time getting reps together and certainly affected his ability to get on the same page with his receivers.

Now that we’ve gotten these facts out of the way, let’s examine the one aspect that has held Jackson back in 2020, thus limiting the Ravens offense at times: timing and/or anticipation.

The general theme of Jackson’s misses is displayed in the play above — Jackson’s eyes find the eventual target, he locks in. The receiver is open or about to uncover. Jackson, for reasons I can only speculate upon, doesn’t pull the trigger. The receiver then gets to an area where Jackson has two options:

  1. Reset by moving his feet and re-squaring his shoulders to the new throwing area.
  2. Don’t reset, try to compensate with a whip like arm motion, which allows the ball to come out quicker than resetting, but forgoes accuracy which is constituted from the lower half. The angle of the throw becomes much more difficult this way, but negates the risk that defensive backs can recover to take the window away in the amount of time it takes to reset.

Both of these options are worse than simply anticipating, trusting and pulling the trigger.

The logical reasons that come to mind as to why Jackson consistently chooses to wait are some combination of the following:

  1. He’s unsure and untrusting of exactly how his receivers are going to break or where they’re going to be.
  2. Jackson is turnover cautious, wanting to make sure that there won’t be a late defender unseen. However, when this happens against man coverage or in deep zone throws, this shouldn’t be an issue.
  3. A never ending shuffling of the offensive line makes Jackson weary, causing him to be late.

Let’s look at a few more examples.

Again, Jackson’s eyes are there, the receiver is open, but he waited too long. Made it a high difficulty catch instead of an easy first down.

This throw also lacked anticipation. Jackson had ample time and space to throw the ball, then chose to wait. Duvernay forced a speed turn from the DB with his cut, and Jackson appeared unsure of how Duvernay was going to break his route. If Jackson throws this ball more flat and to the sideline, it results in a big gain. I don’t know who was more at fault, those conversations are kept in house, but Jackson is late here regardless.

Two more big time throws left on the table against Tennessee. On the Andrews crosser, Jackson sees it, raises his arm to throw it, and doesn’t have confidence in it momentarily. That causes a pause, the angle is then flattened, and Jackson’s feet and shoulders simply aren’t square to his target, which causes inaccuracy in throwing anything, including the ole’ pig skin.

Jackson has also made throws with outstanding anticipation throughout his young career. It’s typically one of his strongest traits as a player. His spatial awareness and competency of reading leverage as a passer have combined to make him the weapon that he is. Right now Jackson is gun-shy at times, which has stunted this offense in some key situations. There are logical reasons as to why, as mentioned previously. That’s the difference when trying to look at the big picture between passers like DeShaun Watson and Carson Wentz.

I feel strongly that Jackson is undergoing a similar growing pain that DeShaun Watson struggled with until the past month or two. Watson has tried to be too perfect, playing superhero ball. Holding the ball and not trusting his receivers to be where he wants them. Watson has played with a calm, confident decisiveness as of late despite his weapons being traded away, hurt and suspended. Wentz, who has regressed in many more ways than Watson had, is a different story. He isn’t seeing the field, his eyes aren’t in the right place, he gives up on his reads easily. Not easy fixes. In the NFL, you must be able to rely on your teammates to make plays in crucial situations. Hero ball doesn’t work against playoff caliber teams. Jackson is capable of truly elite play when he throws in rhythm with confidence and anticipation.

Ultimately, this issue is entirely fixable, much like Watson has shown. Can it be fixed today? This week? Now? That, I’m not as confident in. This feels like the type of problem that just takes an offseason with some tweaks and simply time to get Jackson firing on all cylinders with more consistency. Consistency is the key word, as Jackson has thrown with great anticipation at times.

Jackson is a spectacular young talent. The thing is, young doesn’t apply anymore when a quarterback enters their fourth season. Next year there will be no excuses for Jackson to not be functioning with better consistency in all aspects of his game, particularly as he reaches the end of his rookie contact.

The Ravens fate in 2020 has yet to be decided, but Jackson letting it rip when he sees it will take them as far as they’re capable of going.