Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s five-touchdown performance in Week 15 against the New York Jets may have cemented his status as MVP. Statistically speaking, he was phenomenal, throwing for 212 yards. I think it is important to note, however, that just because Jackson had one of his best statistical games as a passer on Thursday night, this does not mean that it was actually his best game of the season in that regard.
According to PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), which measures how responsible a player was for their own production, Jackson’s Week 15 grade of 32.58 only ranks as his third-best on the season, implying that, although he played well, he was less responsible for that production than in prior weeks. Normally, that might not be worth mentioning. After all, Jackson has had numerous incredible games this season. Choosing between them will naturally be quite difficult. However, his level of play in Weeks 1 and 10 was so impressive that his game against the Jets pales in comparison.
Examining Jackson’s OSM grades
When I say that Jackson’s Week 15 performance was not his best, I don’t mean to imply that he played poorly. For most quarterbacks, a grade of 32.58 would represent an excellent game. But Jackson is not most quarterbacks, and his play has resulted in some genuinely remarkable grades this season. The most notable of these occurred in his aforementioned Week 1 and 10 performances against the Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals. His grades from those two weeks, at 59.12 and 61.74, respectively, were not only significantly higher than his grade from Week 15, but they are also the two highest grades produced by any quarterback so far this season.
The fact that Jackson’s game against the Dolphins received such a high grade probably won’t come as much of a surprise. It was easily his most productive passing day so far in 2019, with 324 yards and five touchdowns. His grade against the Bengals is initially more confusing, as he only threw for 223 yards and three touchdowns. Those statistics are excellent but do not seem as though they would result in a higher OSM grade than what he achieved Week 15.
Explaining Jackson’s low grade in Week 15
In order to determine why Jackson’s grade in Week 15 was low relative to earlier in the season, we first need to briefly explain several of the advanced metrics involved in calculating the OSM grades. Let’s start with intended air yards. This statistic measures how far the ball traveled through the air before a receiver caught it or it hit the ground. In a practical sense, this metric measures how far the quarterback threw the ball downfield across all his attempts. Completed air yards (CAY) is functionally the same but only takes into account completed passes.
Next is aggressiveness, which is a relatively straightforward metric measuring what percentage of a quarterback’s passes were thrown into tight windows. Finally comes the most crucial metric for our purposes: expected completion percentage. The NFL calculates how likely each pass a quarterback throws in a game is to be completed. Using that data, they can calculate what percentage of their passes that quarterback should have completed statistically. We can then compare that number to the quarterback’s actual completion percentage in order to determine whether they over or underperformed.
With the explanations out of the way, let’s examine each of the three games. The table below shows how Jackson performed according to each of these metrics across Weeks 1, 10, and 15:
As you can see, most of his statistics remained consistent across our three-game sample. He threw the ball roughly the same distance downfield and into tight windows approximately as often. Both of those statistics heavily influence his grades in each of those games (his IAY and CAY averages, in particular, are very high in all three, dramatically increasing his grade).
Still, because there was so little variation from week to week, they are not very helpful in explaining Jackson’s lower grade on Thursday. The one difference that we can point to was his completion percentage. In Weeks 1 and 10, he completed more than 25% more passes than expected. Against the Jets, that differential plummeted to less than two percent. This differential is absurdly large, to the point where I would be tempted to write off as a fluke if it hadn’t already happened twice.
Jackson’s play in Week 15 is indicative of a larger pattern
When examining his OSM grades from these three games, it rapidly becomes apparent that Jackson can be very inconsistent as a passer. But when taking his entire season into account, the problem becomes even more evident. With grades ranging from his 61.74 in Week 10, all the way down to a grade of 5.73 in Week 14, Jackson is one of the NFL’s most inconsistent players, according to the OSM. When he is playing well, his passing game can carry his entire offense, while in other games, Baltimore’s success is more heavily influenced by Jackson’s teammates, as well as his own abilities as a runner. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as evidenced by the Ravens’ overall record, but it’s still important to apportion credit appropriately when we can. And despite the flashy statistics, Jackson’s performance in Week 15 was merely very good, rather than great.
It will be interesting to see how well he performs going into the playoffs. There might come a time where Jackson’s inconsistency costs Baltimore in a key moment. On the other hand, if Jackson can play well at just the right times, Baltimore could be raising the Lombardi Trophy come season’s end.