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The Reason Lamar Jackson Looks More Dangerous Than Ever…

The Ravens’ quarterback is getting rid of the ball more quickly and more accurately, coming into his own in new OC Todd Monken’s system.

When combined with the loss of their most seasoned running back (David Montgomery), the Buccaneers defense thwarted some of their best run concepts, forcing the team to make some significant readjustments at a crucial juncture.

In those weeks, Baltimore is one of the worst teams to play. The Ravens bring pressure in a way that is almost unnerving for even the best offenses. The old football axiom about “pinning one’s ears back” when ahead and in obvious passing downs looks one way for most of the NFL. The way Baltimore pins its ears back, it resembles a fighter in the UFC going after a non-fighter at Target.

What can we say with confidence after a week like this? With only six interceptions, three touchdown passes, and one touchdown run, let us concentrate on Lamar Jackson. The quarterback we were promised, with a new scheme under offensive coordinator Todd Monken, new receivers, and a new contract, has, I believe, finally arrived. With seven games remaining in the season, the sample size is there.

Jackson may be just as unpredictable from a sustainability standpoint—even though I think he has more options than he ever has at this point in his career, he is rushing at almost the exact same clip, with one more attempt through the first six weeks of the season as he did a year ago. He has undoubtedly changed as a player, though, as he now commands both the game and the pocket.

Jackson is getting rid of the ball, on average, about 0.02 seconds per snap faster. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he had dubious company the previous season, averaging three seconds for each dropback alongside Sam Darnold, Justin Fields, Russell Wilson, Zach Wilson, and Kenny Pickett. He is now more in the middle of the pack this season, right alongside Baker Mayfield, Derek Carr, and Justin Herbert. If that feels insignificant, watch an elite NFL pass rusher track into the backfield and tell me how much more valuable that blink of an eye is for your long-term health and safety.

Jackson is also throwing a lot fewer bad passes. Pro Football Reference tracks less-than-ideal throws and compiles a bad throw percentage. Through six games a year ago, about one in five of Jackson’s passes were ill-advised. This year, the number is closer to one in every 10.

It results in more downs, similar to the one we witnessed early in Sunday’s fourth quarter against the Lions. It was not particularly impressive, but after Jackson received the snap and the ball was gone on a first-and-10 throw to Odell Beckham Jr., his back heel struck the ground again. Beckham was separated from two zone defenders by a rush of tight ends and wide receivers who ran routes in such a way. Doing what he did at Louisville (and, for some reason, having to assure every anonymous NFL executive he could do in the professional ranks once more), Jackson launched a fastball for a simple first down.

Jackson has a very accurate fastball, which may not have been as obvious to us when, in half of Baltimore’s games, he was throwing at a clip of less than 60% accuracy. This year, Jackson hit more than 70% in five of six games, and then 77% against the Lions.

Rhythm is everything to a passer, and, God bless him, Jackson did a lot earlier in his career without a great deal of rhythm. As the nerve center of Baltimore’s run game, he was tied into, and almost expected, to spend most of the passing downs evading and allowing an injured and slower (tight end-heavy) receiving corps to get open. He was comparable to a tennis player who used continuous attrition to wear out their opponent in order to win volley matches.

Now, he is on pace to throw fewer balls off play-action and off run-pass-option concepts, according to Pro Football Reference. It is more in line with what a quarterbacks coach told me about Jackson a few years ago: Jackson could be dominant if he could figure out how to make every snap appear the same, put his feet down when it is time, and release the ball when it should.

During the broadcast Sunday, Fox analyst Greg Olsen, a longtime teammate of Cam Newton, talked about the double-edged sword of good mobile quarterbacks. Even if some of their athletic abilities are detrimental to their general health, they are constantly under pressure to utilize all of them.

Newton could never quite get there. Jackson was somewhat underappreciated for the sake of efficiency, but he was also a Heisman Trophy winner who had two seasons in a row with a passer rating close to 150 before he left college. Now, he is more accurate than ever. He looks more comfortable than ever. And, because of that, we can safely suggest that he is more dangerous than ever.

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