Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson spent the offseason working on downfield accuracy.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson dazzled the NFL last season with his combination of speed and passing on his way to winning MVP honors. But there is one area he struggled with, and he’s determined to change that in 2020.
For all of Jackson’s accomplishments on the field in 2019, he was a below-average passer when attempting a throw more than 15 yards down the field. He completed just 43.8 percent of his deep passes, 22nd in the NFL. In the Ravens’ divisional-round loss to the Tennessee Titans, he was 6-17 on such throws despite gaining 365 yards through the air.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says that Jackson has made improving his accuracy on deep throws a priority this offseason. His running ability—Jackson gained a quarterback-record 1,206 yards on the ground last season—means that opposing teams consistently stack the box to stop the Ravens’ running attack. That, Harbaugh says, opens up opportunities down the field for Jackson and the receivers to exploit.
Lamar Jackson working on his one weakness is scary for the rest of the NFL.
“Those corners are going to be one-on-one and those safeties are going to be one-on-one against receivers, especially on some downfield throws, and we’ve got to make them pay for it,” Harbaugh told ESPN’s Jamison Hensley back in May. “We absolutely have to make them pay. I do believe that’s the next step of this offense. I really do believe Lamar is going to take the next step.”
The offense that led the Ravens to 12 straight wins to finish the season, a franchise-record 531 points scored, a 14-2 record and the No. 1 seed in the AFC was heavily reliant on the run. The Ravens had the most rushing attempts of any team since 1983. Their 3,296 yards gained on the ground were the most of any team since the merger. Behind Jackson and running backs Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, they became the first team since the Barry Sanders-led 1997 Detroit Lions to gain 5.5 yards a carry with at least 400 attempts.
The Ravens called plays to make use of Jackson’s legs as well as his arm. Jackson ran the most option plays last season (173; Kyler Murray was second with 108) and the third-most play-action passes (163, behind only Jared Goff and Carson Wentz). But while they led the NFL in running plays of at least 10 yards (97, 33 more than any other team), they were 26th in 20-plus-yard passing plays.
That’s something Jackson and Harbaugh believe the Ravens can improve on this season, and they have the weapons to do it. Speed receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown scored four touchdowns of at least 20 yards in his rookie season, more than all but nine receivers. Jackson’s passer rating when targeting Brown was 123.2, making them the sixth-best quarterback-receiver tandem in the NFL. But Brown was just 59th in targets and 36th in targets down the field.
Jackson’s 2019 season deserves all the superlatives you could give him. Preparing to enter his third season, though, he’s determined to only get better. If the work he’s putting in pays off, an already dangerous Ravens offense would become virtually unstoppable.