Week 15 Film Review - Lamar Jackson, Most Valuable Player
There are two weeks left in the NFL regular season and the Baltimore Ravens have clinched the AFC North, by the way of an emphatic victory against the New York Jets – 42-21. The other thing that was clinched on Thursday Night Football, in my opinion, was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. All hail Lamar Jackson.
The Ravens quarterback started in the second-half of last year and he ran rings around people – emphasis on the word ran. He was a tough guy to keep accounted for in the run game and if he scrambled, but at least you knew he wouldn’t beat you with the pass.
Well, it was nice while it lasted.
It’s 2019 now, and things have changed – in a way that was impossible to predict – Lamar Jackson has stepped up to become one of the most effective and efficient passers in the league, and he’s continued to be amazing when he runs the ball too. He has become the gold-standard for dual-threat QB’s.
Through 14 games he has thrown 2,889 yards [17th in the NFL], which isn’t too crazy, but his efficiency has been outrageous – he’s thrown 33 touchdowns [1st in the NFL] and just six interceptions, with 8.9% of his passes have resulted in scores [1st in the NFL].
A player who has the second highest passer rating in the entire NFL (112.8) and who has thrown more TD’s than anybody else, has also rushed for more yards than any quarterback in the history of the NFL, with 1,103 yards.
If you want some context, Lamar Jackson – one of the best passers in the NFL – is fifth in the league for rushing yards, behind only Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook.
Lamar Jackson is the most dangerous player in the NFL.
In Week 15, he put up an absolutely dominant performance, with his final line at 212 yards on 15 completions and 5 TD’s, for the 134.4, as well as 85 rushing yards.
Whenever I watch the Ravens play, I am amazed by his pure efficiency. The defense is good and the run game is great, so he doesn’t put up as many yards as you’d expect for someone who is leading in TD passes, but it’s almost like he doesn’t need yards. As you can tell from the 15 completions (on 23 attempts), the passing game doesn’t have to produce yards, it just has to get the job done when they get to scoring.
And, oh boy, did he do just that this week.
Throwing five TD scores should be a rarity but Lamar Jackson has now done it three times in a season, and we’re going to take a look at them.
My favourite stat from this week’s performance by the MVP-favourite? He threw all five TD’s to different people.
The first of the touchdown passes came near the end of the first quarter, and perfectly shows how Jackson’s feet don’t only work when he’s rushing beyond the line of scrimmage.
They came out in heavy personnel with Lamar in the pistol formation with Gus Edwards behind him, and then there is one receiver, Miles Boykin, split out to the boundary side. Beyond those three, it’s a blocking bonanza of their five O-linemen and then three tight ends (including a fullback in a three-point which I enjoyed).
Of course, out of this 31-personnel with Miles Boykin as the sole receiver, they passed the ball. As you’d expect, I’m sure.
Jackson wheels out to his right, toward the field side, where all of the routes are headed. There are three main routes (the fullback leaked out as a backside option) that are heading over to the right, where Lamar is moving, all at different depths and with different timings.
Jackson has to check his rollout and he smartly steps up when he realises that Nick Boyle’s blocking was having to push the rusher downfield. This would have been absolute cake walk of a TD if the rush didn’t force Jackson to stop rolling, but that didn’t faze him, and this play is significantly more impressive for it.
Look where Miles Boykin (number 80, the wide receiver in the middle depth of the three players toward the right side of the end zone) is when Lamar starts his throwing motion.
Not only are there two defenders running straight towards him, Boykin is being covered, and is about five feet from the next window where he might get open, once the cornerback following an off-script Gus Edwards clear out of his way.
Watch the play again if you want to appreciate it more, and really focus on when Jackson throws the ball and where he puts it.
This is an impressively timed and weighted anticipation throw, where only Boykin can make the catch, and one that was overlooked on the broadcast and probably by most people who saw the game live. When Boykin actually made the catch, he was wide open with nobody even near him, but at the moment that Jackson actually started throwing this ball, he was covered and not even close to the location that he caught it. This is a serious NFL throw.
The second TD pass he threw was a pretty standard 2019 Ravens score, with some play action that capitalised on the running threat and went for a touchdown to one of Jackson’s favourite targets. What made this really funny to me is that they had to score it twice.
After a pass interference call on Hollywood Brown, the Ravens were down to the one-yard line and they came out in an even heavier set than before. This is the heaviest set you can actually run, in fact, with 32 personnel. Depending on how good your math is, you will realise that 32 personnel means that you can’t even put a receiver on the field.
Five linemen, three tight ends, a full back and a half back in a heavy I-Form formation.
Yeah, a play from this formation results in a passing touchdown, well kinda.
Mark Andrews has a punch and go quick route in behind the super-aggressive defense, and Jackson fakes the run then pops it over to his open tight end.
If you watch basketball, this is like a ‘pick and pop’. Lamar Jackson is a running threat in himself, the formation suggests run, and the fact that Andrews is attempting to block you also makes it pretty clear as a defender you want to get off him and go after the runner. That’s when he breaks off and is open for a pretty straight forward pass.
But wait, there was a penalty.
They gave a penalty for illegal formation and it nullified the score.
And then, moments later, they did almost the exact same thing again.
Play action. Mark Andrews leaks out. Touchdown.
They scored a TD, it got called back, and so they did it again, just with a different play call. This is quintessential ‘you can’t stop me’ football from John Harbaugh and I love it.
In the second-half, the TD passes started coming from slightly further from the endzone, which allows us to take a look at Jackson’s arm talent a bit more and the vertical threat posed by the Baltimore offense that is so easy to forget, when you’re talking about the running game and play action.
The third passing touchdown of the game came from a much more conventional passing formation than the previous two.
They’re in 21-personnel, but Nick Boyle is actually stood out as a wideout. They’re lined up with a standard spread look to the left, and Mark Andrews is lined up in his three-point as the tight end, with his positional colleague masquerading a wide receiver to the right side.
The two wide receiver side is to the field, and the defense is man-aligned with their free safety up close and personal, just nine yards off the ball. The outside cornerbacks are also off the ball, and facing inwards, this means that despite the man-alignment in terms of where the defenders are, their body language and depth suggests a Cover 3 defense. If it isn’t a Cover 3, it will be a Cover 1 man.
The Ravens run a mirrored smash concept, which is a route combination with a corner route behind a hitch/curl route. To the left, Seth Roberts is running the hitch and then Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown is in the slot with a deep corner. To the right, Andrews and Boyle run the same concept but not as deep.
Brown, who is proving to be more than just a speedster, but also a genuinely solid route runner, does a fantastic job on his route by giving a step’s worth of a fake to the post – just enough for his defender to hand him off – and then breaks to his corner, where Jackson finds him at the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
This route from the rookie wide receiver is phenomenal, and like I mentioned before, the defender who carried him up the seam actually hands him off to the single-high safety when he breaks [pretending to run a post route which would be useless against this coverage] before he then smoothly turns back to the corner, wide open.
The defense appears to be in Cover 1 (I think the linebackers are on mixed duties between playing robber to help in coverage and playing QB spy on Lamar), and the player on Brown didn’t have outside leverage, so the fake to the post was instrumental in getting open, because although he’s fast enough to outrun a defender, Jackson wouldn’t have had a real window if his man stayed on him and he broke straight to the outside. While it is obviously a mistake that Brown got palmed off to the safety when he was actually running a corner route, this was a mistake that he himself caused to happen through a great route.
The pass got there – although Jackson definitely could have been a bit more conservative once his receiver got that open – and a fantastic catch secured the six points, and the MVP frontrunner had his third TD pass. It is clear that Brown is the player who earned this score, but this type of throw is one that an MVP needs to be able to make, whether it requires a toe drag to secure or not.
The next TD pass was from further out again, and came on a 2nd and 20 pass from an empty backfield. The five-wide formation spread out the Jets D and once again they showed a man-alignment pre-snap and had a single-high safety, although he’s 16-yards deep this time to try and take away the deep ball.
I’ll let you guys guess what concept they decided to run against another Cover 1 look.
Bingo. They ran the same concept that they scored on their last drive against the same defense.
Yes, they came out five-wide; and no, they didn’t have the same people in the same places, but they ran smash again and it worked again.
John Harbaugh’s playcalling is everything I love about football.
If you can’t stop it, I won’t stop doing it.
This time the corner route is run by Seth Roberts, who doesn’t create the same kind of separation as Brown did, but still does another great job on the route. He gets his DB to completely flip his hips, which gets him wide open on the break.
After watching the play a couple of times I actually realise that when Roberts got open he was expecting the ball to the sideline, and he slightly slowed down, but Jackson saw an opportunity to lead him deeper and threw the ball into the end zone where – although the defender was able to catch up and attempt to make a play – Roberts made a great contested catch for the score.
Lamar Jackson’s confidence is truly on display here, and it paid off, resulting in his fourth passing TD of the night.
By the time that Jackson threw his fifth touchdown, I could barely believe that he was still in the game. Some people thought that he shouldn’t have played in Week 15 at all after experiencing a minor injury within the last week, and with an opponent that they should be able to beat.
Logical as that may be, it doesn’t take into account the personality of Lamar Jackson. He’s a gamer.
After taking a designed QB run for 20-odd yards on the previous play, he was set up on the 10-yard line for this play, and they dialled up a pass off of some jet motion that sprung Mark Ingram into the flats.
Yet another passing play from a heavy set. The Ravens’ bread and butter.
Not many teams can dedicate this much playbook real estate to plays where they come out with seven or eight people lined up in three-point stances that ends in a naked rollout for their QB. The reason that Harbaugh can do this is because he has Lamar Jackson.
If you overcommit to stopping a HB run, Jackson can run it.
If you overcommit to stopping Jackson running, he can pass it.
No matter what happens on any given play – if the man wearing the #8 jersey has the ball in his hands, it’s going to go wrong for you. He doesn’t need to stay in the pocket. He doesn’t need a blocker to escort him when he rolls out. He just needs to watch you make a mistake and punish you for it.
As you can see, the jet motion drew the defender who was guarding the sole right-side receiver out of the way and confirmed that they were in man coverage, and then once Jackson rolled out, he had the easiest pass he could ask for to Ingram.
You have to feel bad for James Burgess, who is the middle linebacker (#58) tasked with taking Ingram out of the backfield in man to man coverage. This assignment is very difficult automatically, just because you’re trying to cover a flat route to a quick running back – but even more frustratingly to watch, he clearly starts to head towards Jackson instead of focusing on busting to stop the running back.
When you spend a whole week preparing to stop Lamar Jackson scrambling and have your eyes on him for every second on every rep, it is a pretty tall order to also make sure that you cover your guy in a route that is perfect against man coverage from a running back who is faster than you.
After this play, Jackson went to the bench and relaxed for the closing minutes. He walked onto the primetime stage, threw 200+ yards and five passing touchdowns, rushed for 85 yards and then went and sat down for a well-earned rest.
All five of these touchdowns were different, not only to the five different receivers, but also on (mostly) varied play designs and types of pass that allowed for Jackson to put on an absolute clinic.
One of his throws was an anticipation throw after showing good pocket awareness, two of them were deep throws where he put the ball in a spot that the defenders couldn’t stop it, and the other two were quick throws where the play got someone open but he didn’t have long to get the ball out before the defenders closed in.
These five touchdowns all demonstrated different things, and I didn’t even look at the rushing production, which is the part that – on paper – you’re supposed to be most scared of.
Lamar Jackson is the real deal.
He’s also the Most Valuable Player in the National Football League.
A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL.