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Lamar Jackson's Success on Third-and-Long

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.

Kyler Murray Can Follow Lamar Jackson's Lead

Kyler Murray's performances during his rookie season revealed a skill set of a potential star. His charting mirrored that of Lamar Jackson, suggesting that he will be the best quarterback from the 2019 rookie class. Lamar Jackson's rookie season was very impressive. It wasn't obvious that he would become a superstar as early as 2019, but the signs were there. He was the most likely out of his class after his rookie season. Jackson was the 16th-most accurate passer in the league with the 29th-ranked interceptable pass rate (seventh-worst out of all qualifying quarterbacks). His charting numbers were better than his fellow rookies in every measurement. But on their own, they didn't suggest greatness. The greatness only became evident when they were viewed through the prism of his skill set. Jackson was an exceptional pocket passer who could mitigate pressure and read full-field progressions like a 10-year veteran. His athleticism was a complementary element of his skill set, something he could turn to when the situation called for it. Jackson was by far the best rookie quarterback in 2018. Kyler Murray was by far the best rookie quarterback in 2019. By charting data alone, Murray was the best rookie quarterback in the NFL since 2015. Now he finds himself in a similar position to Jackson. His rookie season was a success, but he has to take a step forward to become one of the league's better starters. It's unlikely he moves right to the top as a second-year starter the way Patrick Mahomes and Jackson did. He can realistically hope to become a top-10 or top-13 starter though. Comparing Murray and Jackson is easy because they entered the league in consecutive seasons and because both are impressive athletes. Their similarities aren't as pronounced as the surface analysis suggests though. Whereas Jackson has been a patient, precise pocket passer since he stepped in the NFL, Murray is more likely to follow the Russell Wilson route to success. Jackson's ability to work within the confines of the pocket is spectacular. He only relies on his athleticism to create big plays when it's the best option. Wilson has built his career on excelling outside of structure, while being just good enough within the pocket to be effective. Pete Carroll has kept him in a rigid, run-oriented philosophy because of that. Kliff Kingsbury's spread offense is the opposite of Carroll's preferred approach. A huge emphasis on screens and option runs gives Murray clarity. He has the freedom to bail from the pocket and create unstructured plays whenever he chooses, the same way Wilson does. He can generate big plays inside and outside of structure, the same way Wilson does. Like Wilson, Murray has a spectacular arm. He showcased that by hitting nine of his 14 passes that travelled further than 30 yards downfield during his rookie season. That's an illogical rate of accuracy. Dak Prescott was 60% accurate on throws that travelled further than 20 yards downfield, he was the most accurate deep passer in the league last year. Murray's arm talent is his greatest quality. It's paired with poise in the pocket and an ability to make good decisions relative to the coverage he's attacking. His 3.1% interceptable pass rate is inflated by how many screens he threw. He threw 105 screens in 16 games, Aaron Rodgers was second with just 91 and nobody else reached 85. So if we take Murray's 105 screen passes out of his total pass attempts, his interceptable pass rate would drop to 3.9%. Even while letting every other quarterback keep their screen passes in their totals, Murray's 3.9% interceptable pass rate would rank 14th in the league. That's exceptionally good for a rookie. Good decision-making isn't just about avoiding interceptions. Murray's outlook is so positive because he throws with timing and attacks the leverage spots between/away from defenders. This is a routine play. It's not a highlight-reel play or anything spectacular. Christian Kirk runs a crossing route, his stem brings him behind the two linebackers in the middle of the field before he breaks in front of the deep safety. Murray splits the two linebackers and throws the ball slightly high to make sure the nearest linebacker can't undercut it. His timing isn't perfect here because he doesn't hit Kirk in stride when he could have, but this is the type of throw he makes regularly. Good timing and understanding of where to throw against specific coverages is the foundation of any successful quarterback's passing profile. If we stick to the same quarter of the same game and a throw to the same receiver, we get another idea of Murray's understanding of leverage. This time it's a vertical route rather than a route breaking across the field. Kirk is running downfield against press-man coverage. He doesn't win early in the route so Murray exploits the technique of the defensive back with a backshoulder throw. He understands that the defender can't look back for the ball and Kirk can. Therefore, Murray lays the ball perfectly behind the cornerback's head for the completion. The above play has been slowed down slightly to make it easier to see the ball arriving relative to the defender. Having a generational arm only has the anticipated impact if the quarterback understands how to maximize his arm talent. Matthew Stafford is a great example of a quarterback who has a generational arm but who has never fully harnessed its quality. This play from Week 10 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is again a fairly unspectacular play. What's important here is how Murray recognizes the hole in the coverage and where he places the ball. The cornerback outside is playing zone so he lets the receiver release past him outside. Murray recognizes the defender has sat too shallow, opening a crack for him to throw over him. Throwing over the cornerback is the easy part. Fitting the ball in before the safety is the difficult part. The safety wants Murray to lead his receiver further upfield. The allure of gaining more yards can bait quarterbacks into making that throw. That's how safeties get interceptions or highlight-reel worthy hits on receivers. Murray understands the positioning of the defenders so he clears the cornerback while placing the ball on his receiver's outside shoulder. He forces his receiver to adjust and move away from the safety to protect himself and the ball. Murray's arm allows him to make any throw. He can make throws most quarterbacks can't attempt. He has a greater margin for error with his timing because of the velocity his passes carry. This touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers is the quintessential example of the value of his arm talent. He's throwing this ball deep from the far hash. The safety has a good break on the ball and was never out of position. But the combination of velocity and ball placement beat him. Perfect offense beats perfect defense every time. The huge arm can be a detriment for quarterbacks who don understand its limits. Murray's arm doesn't have any limitations. So long as he's attempting a throw that is physically possible of being completed, he's got a chance of making it work. Thankfully for him (and Cardinals fans), he doesn't appear to have that reckless mindset. He's an intelligent quarterback who understands how to maximize his opportunities by acting and reacting to what the defense does. This is a simple concept executed to perfection. Kingsbury calls a fake screen to the right side with a slant route and vertical sideline route complementing it. Murray fakes the hand-off then executes a quick pump fake to the screen. The cornerback covering Larry Fitzgerald in the slot jumps the screen, leaving Fitzgerald to run his slant unperturbed. Murray looks to that route for a split second but sees the safety come down and the linebacker drop into the passing lane. He very quickly resets then reloads to hit Kirk deep downfield for the touchdown. Again, this is a monstrous throw because it comes from the far hash and goes deep outside the numbers on the opposite side of the field. Manipulating coverages is typically the last thing a quarterback learns in his development. It requires a high level of poise and awareness to execute at NFL speed. On this Third-and-14 play against the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, the defense only rushes three after the quarterback. Murray appears to recognize this, staying in position to let the routes fully develop. The key to understanding what Murray does on this play is to watch #53 toward the bottom of the screen. Murray uses a pump fake to move him out of the passing lane. Once that linebacker vacates his position, Murray has a clear route to his receiver past the first down line. He still has to beat the defender coming from the opposite side of the field with his arm strength. Having a huge arm is one thing, having a huge arm that generates such velocity with a quick release is a whole other problem for defenders. It's so difficult to break on Murray's passes because the ball comes out instantaneously and is immediately at top speed. Fitting the ball into this window would be a huge challenge for even the stronger-armed quarterbacks in the league. Recognizing three-man rushes is as important as being able to beat blitzes. Baker Mayfield couldn't handle three-man rushes so much so that he threw an interceptable pass on 15.6% of his dropbacks against three-man rushes while being accurate just 40% of the time. Murray has to improve against the blitz. He wasn't notably poor against the blitz, he was a typical rookie for the most part. He showed off the ability to react to blitzes and locate the right receiver. He was also baited into bad throws at times by defensive coordinators. He should develop in that area because his poise and ability to understand when to hold the ball and when to catch-and-release within the pocket was consistently on show. In Kliff Kingsbury's offense, Murray shouldn't have been sacked as often as he was. He was taken down 48 times. Part of that was his relative youth, part of it was his ineffective offensive line. As he develops mentally, Murray can evade sacks with his athleticism. During his rookie season, Murray showed off an ability to react to free rushers from his blindside, frontside and in tight spaces. He can throw from either flat and he keeps his eyes up when he's forced from the pocket. Plenty of quarterbacks through NFL history have taken more sacks than they should have while making up for it by evading free rushers to create big plays. Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson are the best examples from recent decades. Both Wilson and Roethlisberger had great success without great offensive lines in front of them. Wilson had a strong line at the start of his career, Roethlisberger had a strong line during the latter stages of his career. Addressing the offensive line over the coming years will be the Cardinals' biggest priority. After trading for Kenyan Drake and DeAndre Hopkins over the last 12 months, the Cardinals have bolstered their skill position players enough to give Murray a chance to accelerate his development next season. Making the playoffs would be a big achievement for the Cardinals. They're still a ways away from being an equal of the San Francisco 49ers in their division, but they're on the right track and appear to have the right quarterback.

Russell Wilson's Interceptions

Russell Wilson only threw 14 interceptable passes in 2019. Three of those were caught, two more interceptions came because of circumstances outside of his control. That meant Wilson had the fifth-best interceptable pass rate at 2.4% and was the second-luckiest quarterback with a 25% luck index score. #1 The first pass worthy of being picked off came in Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wilson executes the play fake before looking for Tyler Lockett down the left sideline.Terrell Edmunds has good coverage and Wilson's pass hangs in the air. Edmunds knocks the ball away with his inside hand instead of attempting to intercept it with both of his hands. The ball was there to be caught. #2 Against the New Orleans Saints in Week 3, Wilson had a similar problem when his deep pass toward Lockett hung up and arrived short. Vonn Bell doesn't read the ball to attack it at its highest point ahead of Lockett despite having the initial positioning advantage. Wilson is relying on Lockett's pass breakup to avoid a turnover. #3 There are three different components to this play. The first is the wide receiver at the top of the screen, he runs a lazy out route. This frees up Byron Murphy to freelance once the ball is thrown. The second is the pressure off the right side that forces Wilson to step up. The third is Wilson's bad footwork, which causes his pass to float. The combination of these three factors allows Murphy to jump in front of Wilson's pass intended for Will Dissly. #4 The Baltimore Ravens finally intercepted Wilson in Week 7. Marcus Peters jumped a late throw for the turnover. #5 After a bootleg, Wilson's pass is thrown behind his receiver. The defender has a chance to catch the ball into his chest but can't control it. #6 After escaping the pocket, Wilson flips the ball toward Jacob Hollister. He doesn't read that Jimmie Ward is breaking on the ball ahead of Hollister. His speed and more aggressive angle allows him to get two hands to the ball with a clean opportunity to catch it. He can't make the play though. #7 Fred Warner is content to knock this ball away on third down. It would have been a difficult interception but he was in the passing lane and the ball went straight to him. The velocity of the throw was what prevented the ball from being intercepted, but it was definitely a reckless throw from the quarterback. #8 Wilson feels the blitz and assumes the defense is playing a more aggressive man coverage. Instead, the defenders have sat off the underneath routes, meaning when Wilson tries to throw the wheel route down the sideline it's easily picked off. #9 On a Third-and-25 against the Eagles, Wilson makes an aggressive decision that backfires. He tries to force the ball into a tight window but his pass is too slow and arrives too far infield. One defender breaks on the ball to tip it into the air before a second catches it. #10 Tipped passes are put in their own category unless the quarterback made an egregious error. Tipped passes aren't considered to be the fault of the quarterback. #11 Anthony Harris breaks on this ball perfectly. Tyler Lockett tips it just before it gets to him. The ball still goes through Harris' chest, had it not been tipped it would have been an easy interception. There was still a chance Harris could have held it after the tip. Wilson relied on Lockett's intervention to prevent the turnover. #12 Trailing 21-3 at the end of the second quarter, within touching distance of field goal range, this wasn't a hail mary situation but Wilson was right to be aggressive. He had the chance to lead his receiver to space downfield by throwing the ball further inside/deeper/with a lower trajectory. His pass hung up for the defender to break on the ball outside instead. #13 At the end of the fourth quarter, Wilson was in a hail mary situation. #14 This quick out route almost turned into an interception when the ball went through the defender's hands. #15 In the playoffs, Wilson forced a ball to D.K. Metcalf late in the play when Jaire Alexander was covering him. Alexander had his eyes on the ball throughout the play and moved with Metcalf on his inside shoulder. When the pass was underthrown, Alexander broke on it first. Metcalf pulled him from behind and went through his body to break up the pass. #16 Malik Turner was Wilson's intended receiver on this crossing route. He overthrew the ball so it went straight to the defender waiting behind.