BALTIMORE (AP)Lamar Jackson lofted the pass toward the back right corner of the end zone, and for an instant it seemed like an ill-advised throw into coverage.
Except Jackson put the ball just above the two Cleveland defenders, where only tight end Mark Andrews could – and did – catch it.
“It was incredible. I felt like it was slo-mo when it was in the air – just the placement of it, the height of it, the spiral,” Andrews said. “It was an incredible ball.”
Through four games this season in Baltimore’s new offense, what stands out most about Jackson is his accuracy. He’s completed 74.3% of his attempts, ranking second in the NFL behind Buffalo’s Josh Allen. That’s a sign that Jackson is still evolving as a passer despite injuries that have limited his receiving corps yet again.
The Ravens hired Todd Monken as their new offensive coordinator this year and tried to add some help at receiver for Jackson. First-round draft pick Zay Flowers has lived up to expectations with 24 catches already. Free agent signing Odell Beckham Jr., however, has missed two games. Rashod Bateman has also had injury issues for a third straight year.
Jackson has been completing shorter passes this season – he’s averaging 5.8 air yards per completion, the lowest mark of his career – but that tradeoff his been worth it so far. With incompletions more rare, he’s averaging 7.6 yards passing per attempt, his most since his MVP season of 2019. His passer rating of 104.2 is also his best since 2019.
“I believe in this day and age, there’s a lot more speed on the field. A lot of offenses in the NFL are making defenses play off (coverage) a lot more and just making sure nobody beats them over (the) top,” Jackson said. “That’s pretty much why that situation’s happening right now – not a lot of deep passes or a lot of air passes down the field right now.”
Jackson has taken 11 sacks already and is on pace for a career high in that department. The Ravens have had injuries on the offensive line and struggled with protection, and at times Jackson might be staying in the pocket a bit too long, considering how much of a scrambling threat he is. His longest run of the season so far is 16 yards, so he has yet to break a huge gain on the ground.
Where he is using his legs is in the red zone. Jackson already has four touchdown runs – his career high is seven – and has helped Baltimore score TDs on 12 of its 15 red zone trips.
“Lamar is a very good red zone quarterback,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Goes back to the completions that you talk about, the accuracy part of it, but also the fact that he can extend the play. He can also make the running game. There’s not as much space down there, so when you can spread the defense out a little more with the running game, which Lamar helps you do with his skillset, all those things are a part of it.”
Last week’s 28-3 win over Cleveland was a good microcosm of what Jackson has been doing this season. He ran for Baltimore’s first two touchdowns. He showed great touch in dropping a 23-yard pass to Melvin Gordon out of the backfield.
On second-and-29, Jackson did leave the pocket, keeping the play going long enough for Flowers to come free downfield for a 43-yard reception. Then came the 7-yard touchdown toss to Andrews in the back of the end zone.
“I’ll say what I always said: Lamar is an accurate quarterback. He always has been, to my eyes,” Harbaugh said. “I’ll just take the one throw to Mark for the touchdown in the corner of the end zone. That’s as good a throw that you’re ever going to see in a football game from a quarterback. So, his completion percentage speaks for itself. It speaks to all the guys – receivers, offensive line, everybody, but we’ve always believed in his ability to throw the ball for sure, and I do think that he is very determined to be the best he can be.”