Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Lamar Jackson: Stats don’t lie, narratives do

By Chris Schisler

Lamar Jackson isn’t your typical quarterback and it makes quantifying what he does on the field a little harder. Jackson is the only quarterback in NFL history to have two seasons of 1,000 yards rushing. Jackson may be a quarterback, but he has so many ways to make plays.

The passer rating metric is actually Jackson’s friend. Jackson has a career passer rating of 102.6. He does a lot of things that work for him in the passer rating equation. He scores a lot of touchdowns through the air. In 2019, he led the league in passing touchdowns. In 2020, he still had 26. Jackson’s career completion percentage is 64.4 and nine interceptions are the most he’s thrown in a season.

Despite the Ravens having the least prolific passing game in terms of yards in the 2020 season, the quarterback passing rating likes Jackson. He puts a lot of good into the equation and he avoids bad plays. So what’s the problem?

The problem is you can’t compare the performance of Jackson and Patrick Mahomes or Jackson and Aaron Rodgers by using passing statistics. Jackson is an elite quarterback in the NFL (to borrow a term from a certain former Ravens’; QB). If you put his passing stats next to the other elite quarterbacks, it is wildly misleading.

Stats are presented for the norm, not the exception

You cannot blame the average fan for thinking that Jackson struggles to throw the football. They are trained to see passing yards as a barometer (and to be clear they are). If you don’t watch the Ravens regularly, all you see are highlights and stats, you probably aren’t going to get the big picture. The way the stats are portrayed doesn’t help.

You may think that I am trying to give special treatment to Jackson. That’s not entirely untrue. Jackson is a special player and I want to see that he’s getting credit for his total contribution. He’s a runner, a thrower, and a play creator. He’s the closest thing the NFL has to a point guard. Quite frankly, we spend so much time thinking about what he needs to do better, we forget he’s the most versatile player in the NFL regardless of position.

If the stats were described plainly as yards on CBS on any given Sunday, and not deviated between rushing and passing it would help Jackson’s case. In the 2019 game against the Seahawks, Jackson went 9-20 passing and only had 143 yards through the air. That sounds bad but if you watched the game, you know he was the star of the show.

He picked up 116 yards on the ground. The casual NFL fan is going to focus on the 143 yards. He’s not focusing on the 259 total yards or the fact that Jackson made the plays that changed the game. Duh. The game is changing, but the quarterback position is thought of in a very set-in-stone way. People are seeing something different. Whether one accepts this difference or not, the way we present information to fans about quarterbacks doesn’t help the perception that Jackson struggles to throw the football.

Production is production:

When things are rolling all the way around Jackson still can’t catch a break from this bias. Look at the 2019 game against the Cardinals. He had 272 yards in the air, which isn’t a bad day of throwing the ball. Jackson also had 120 yards on the ground. That’s 392 total yards. Can you imagine how much credit he would have gotten if all of those 392 yards came through the air?

That’s the problem right there. 392 yards is 392 yards. It doesn’t matter how it’s split up. We need to stop putting so much weight on the passing yards of Jackson. We also need to stop discounting the running yards. Production is production. If 392 yards passing is a monster game for a quarterback, 392 total yards should be seen in the same light.

Those are the games I like to bring up, because they paint the best picture. That being said, if you go to the game logs of Lamar Jackson, and you don’t see countless examples of what I am talking about you just want to call him a running back.

Let’s look at the total production of Jackson without splitting the passing and rushing into a separate category. You’re looking at 3,762 yards and 33 touchdowns. That’s an objectively productive season. It really doesn’t matter how you slice it.

Once you say the Ravens were last in passing in the 2020 season, it creates a problem that’s not even there, Does the passing game have to pick up a bit? Yes. But the idea that Jackson isn’t a good passer is wrong. He can sling it. The new weapons on the offense should help him show the football world that this season.

The Bottom Line:

With Lamar Jackson, you either get it or you don’t. Perception may change in time, but as long as we stick into the old school ways of defining quarterback success, we’ll always shortchange Jackson on the credit he deserves.

NEXT POST: Ravens draft lessons: What I learned being wrong about Ronnie Stanley

This conversation could go on forever. Jackson does not get enough credit for what he can do with his legs. He doesn’t even get enough credit that he completes most of his passes and is one of the most efficient scorers in the NFL at the quarterback position. Jackson can’t end this debate and he never really has to. If he keeps staying true to himself good things will happen.