On Third-and-5+ plays last season, Lamar Jackson threw a pass to the first down line 44 times. He was accurate on 26 of those throws. His 59.1 accuracy percentage ranked eighth amongst all qualifying quarterbacks.
The Week 1 game against the Miami Dolphins wasn't challenging. Jackson only had one qualifying throw and it resulted in this touchdown. The play itself is a Cover-0 blitz that gives the Dolphins one unblocked defender off the edge. Jackson doesn't have a hot route so he has to hold the ball. He gains depth when confronted by the defender before connecting with Miles Boykin in the back of the endzone.
Boykin is wide open when he catches the ball, but that's the end result of a very intelligent play from Jackson.
Boykin is isolated on the wide side of the field. The Ravens are hoping to use that space to have him release into a slant before doubling back to the pylon in the back of the endzone. It's a slow-developing route. Jackson understands that, which is why he holds the ball instead of trying to fit the ball into Boykin when he releases inside. Had he done that, he'd be throwing to a receiver who wasn't looking for the ball.
Jackson retreats so Boykin has enough time to get through the first act of his route. He waits until his receiver looks back for the ball, at which point Jackson then begins his throwing motion. The quarterback understands that the cornerback can not look back for the ball, he's reacting to the movement of the receiver from this position. Therefore, Jackson can now lead his receiver to space, away from the cornerback before the defender can react.
When we switch to the All-22 camera, we can see how Jackson throws his receiver open with the timing of the route and we can also see why the blitz caught him off guard. The Dolphins perfectly timed their shift before the snap. They didn't react to the pre-snap motion and only shifted into blitz position when the right guard tapped the center to signal the snap.
Jackson reacted and adjusted on the fly.
On this Third-and-7 play against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3, the Ravens use pre-snap motion to give Jackson a hint about what's coming. Seth Roberts lines up wide to the left before shifting to a tighter alignment, that gives the Ravens' running back space to motion outside of him. When he moves outside, three Cardinals defenders follow to that side of the field. Jackson knows at this point that he has a one-on-one matchup over the middle of the field with Mark Andrews.
Andrews is Jackson's best receiver. He's the first option whenever he has a favorable look.
If we drop back 10 yards more, into a Third-and-17, Jackson again connects with Andrews over the middle of the field for a first down. This time the linebacker makes a mistake by coming forward just before the snap. It's a small movement but Jackson sees it and has the expertise to exploit it. He throws the ball with anticipation, hitting a minuscule spot between defenders with perfect timing for the first down.
At the end of the fourth quarter, with the Ravens looking for a first down to seal the game, Jackson faced a Third-and-11. The Cardinals defense sends a fifth defender after the quarterback, giving his receivers man coverage across the board. Marquise Brown begins the play in the slot against press and releases past the outside shoulder of the defender covering him. Jackson faces pressure through his right tackle so he can't deliver the ball fully stepping into the throw.
The ball still drops perfectly over Brown's shoulder. This was one of the best throws any quarterback made all season long.
One of the league's best freelancers, Tyrann Mathieu, was responsible for the running back on this play. When Mark Ingram stayed in to block, Mathieu began to read Jackson's eyes. He tried to undercut the throw and almost did. Jackson's pass is perfectly placed, just outside of Mathieu's extended arm while arriving perfectly in the chest of Marquise Brown for the first down. It was Third-and-11.
In the second quarter of the Week 4 game against the Browns, Jackson connected with Chris Moore on this Third-and-7 play. The key to this play was Jackson looking off the deep safety.
The Browns defense has a cornerback sitting in a shallow zone outside and the safety covering a deep zone on that half of the field. The Ravens' route combinations are set up to pull the coverage apart. Jackson will either have Marquise Brown running down the seam against a linebacker or Moore will be left alone outside when the deep safety commits inside.
Jackson has to help the deep safety make his decision. He does that by keeping his eyes on Brown's route down the seam while stepping into the pocket.
From this angle we can see Jackson's eyes leading the deep safety inside while he steps into the pocket. His focus changes just before he throws the ball outside, hurrying the ball out to beat the arriving defender. Jackson's pass is accurate, but it's thrown to the body of Chris Moore. Moore should catch this ball and continue upfield, but he is unable to adjust and stay in bounds. He allows his feet to carry too wide, landing out of bounds to turn a good play into an incompletion.
This Third-and-7 play against the Cincinnati Bengals begins with a bad snap. Jackson one-hands the ball away from his body with relative ease, continuing to survey the defense as he does. The bad snap disrupted him by leading him sideways slightly. Jackson almost bailed on the pocket but recognized Andrews as an option over the middle of the field just before the unblocked pass rusher could reach him.
Jackson has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL throwing back across his body over his first two seasons in the league.
Marquise Brown's touchdown against the Bengals came when he ran a corner route from the interior slot on the wide side of the field. Because the deep safety is sitting directly above Brown's release point, Jackson can't throw this ball until his receiver has closed the space between the two. If he throws the ball too early, the safety will just un underneath it for an uncontested interception. Brown has to be able to threaten inside, vertically, outside and a stop route to put the safety on his heels. He can only do that once he gets closer.
Furthermore, Jackson can't know if the cornerback outside has his eyes up. If that cornerback looks for the ball instead of playing his man and Jackson throws the ball too early, the cornerback outside could break on the ball from an off-route position.
This is the point at which Jackson releases the ball. Brown is turning into the open space. That space only exists because Jackson let the routes develop before releasing the ball. Maintaining the timing of this play was a big challenge because of the Bengals' blitz.
Jackson's process in the pocket isn't impacted by the unblocked defender in his face or the second defender arriving at speed. He executes his drop, sets his feet and delivers the ball before taking a heavy hit. He exposed his body to prioritize the quality of his delivery, allowing for the touchdown. The window between the blitz getting home and Brown's route developing far enough for him to be open was very small.
There was no way to make this play without being wiped out by the blitzers.
For this Third-and-9 conversion to Seth Roberts, Jackson delivers the ball when Aaron Donald's hand is in his face. The front-side pressure didn't impact Jackson's delivery so his timing was perfectly in sync with Roberts' route.
The Titans approached this Third-and-6 with a three-man rush. They attempted to squash the middle of the field and force Jackson into a bad throw. Instead, he sliced through three defenders over the middle to get the first down.
The Titans had previously used a three-man rush in the same quarter. On that occasion Jackson showed off his ability to move within the pocket, buying time for his routes to develop downfield. His throw travelled 21 yards downfield on Third-and-10.
On Thid-and-16 during the two-minute drill before halftime, Jackson shows patience against another three-man rush to connect with Seth Roberts downfield. Jackson's body posture in the pocket helps to hold the defenders in the middle of the field as Roberts runs behind them.
Five of Jackson's 26 accurate throws to the first down line from behind the down-and-distance on third downs came in the Titans game.