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Lamar Jackson is pushing the ball downfield at a historic rate

The fourth-year passer wants to make defenses pay overtop. His receivers need to oblige.

Lamar Jackson has been off to a blazing start pushing the ball downfield.
Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson has made one intention clear through three weeks of the 2021 NFL season — he wants to push the ball downfield.

After three games, Jackson’s average distance of target is a shocking 12.3 yards per attempt, per Next Gen Stats. Jackson leads the NFL in distance per target by a large margin— 2.6 yards further than the next passer (Josh Allen at 9.7 yard average distance of target). For reference, that’s the same distance (2.6 yards per attempt) that separate Allen and the 25th ranked passer (Justin Herbert).

The record for highest air yards per attempt in an NFL season dating back to 2016 (when Next Gen Stats started tracking the metric) is 11.2 yards, which Deshaun Watson posted in 2017. Jackson’s intended air yards per attempt in Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions was an absurd 19.3 yards per attempt. That was the highest single game average distance of target posted since Next Gen Stats started recording the metric.

Jackson attempted 12 passes over 20 yards in Week 3, connecting on five of them, while there were drops or incompletions of accurate passes on an additional four. Jackson currently leads the NFL in yards per completion (14.4), completed air yards per attempt (9.1) and is on pace to throw for over 4,300 yards through four games, despite only ranking 23rd in attempts. Jalen Hurts is likely to move him to 26th after playing on Monday Night Football to conclude Week 3.

Jackson’s will to push the ball downfield can be accounted for situationally in a metric that Next Gen Stats calls Air Yards to the Sticks (AYTS). According to Next Gen Stats, “Air Yards to the Sticks shows 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 first down marker, or if he is relying on his skill position players to make yards after catch.”

Jackson leads the NFL in this metric as well, averaging 2.6 yards pas the 1st down marker per throw. Only 10 quarterbacks average throws past the first down marker, and Jackson is the only one who’s tally starts with a “2.”

While Jackson’s receivers have yet to bail him out of any questionable decisions pushing the ball downfield, he’s continued to consistently push the ball regardless. He’s adopted a true “gunslinger” mentality, while displaying poise in the pocket.

Lamar Jackson spray chart vs. Detroit Lions

Jackson’s calm aggression was on display when the Ravens had their backs against the wall most. Jackson faced 3rd-&-18 as well as 4th-&-19 in this game. The results? Two completions (both well past the line to gain) for 55 yards and a touchdown.

Jackson’s aggression downfield, paired with the lethal ability he possesses when he decides to scramble, puts defenses in a conundrum. If Jackson’s receivers can elevate and start to “make him right” when he needs it, the Ravens offense could lead the NFL in scoring for the second time in three years.

With Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh announcing that both Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin would resume practicing following their mandatory three-week stint on the injured reserve, the Ravens will have even more options to put defenses in a bind. If Bateman can be the vertical threat with a big catch radius that Jackson has so desperately in trouble, Jackson will find himself vying for a second NFL MVP.