Lamar Jackson is dealing from the pocket. Josh Allen is finally turning his big arm into big plays. Drew Brees is struggling to push the ball downfield. And Jamal Adams is doing it all for the Seattle Seahawks defense. In this Week 3 debut edition of NFL Stats That Matter, we take a look at why the Baltimore Ravens may be even better than they were in 2019, why the New Orleans Saints may be in trouble in 2020, what the Buffalo Bills have done to take the next step, and how the Adams trade has paid early dividends for the Seahawks.
(Note: All stats, categories, and splits come from the Sports Info Solutions database unless otherwise cited.)
NFL Stats That Matter, Week 3: Lamar Jackson and his success in the pocket
Is there someone in your life who still claims that Jackson is some sort of scrambling gadget-play specialist who will soon be “figured out” by NFL defenses? Well, stop returning that person’s texts!
OK, that might be a little harsh: you can remain friends, but arm yourself with some 2020 stats which demonstrate what an accurate pocket passer he has become in his third NFL season, just in case that argument comes up again.
Here are Jackson’s numbers when throwing from the pocket this year: 37 attempts, 30 completions, 372 yards, four TDs, zero interceptions. That’s a completion rate of 81.1%, second in the NFL on passes from the pocket to Russell Wilson; 10.5 yards per attempt (second Wilson) and a passer rating of 144.6, the best rating from the pocket of any quarterback so far in 2020 (remember that interception Wilson threw on Sunday night? That’s why Jackson is ahead of him in rating).
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Need more evidence? Let’s eliminate any screens and dump-offs from the data. Here are Jackson’s numbers when throwing from the pocket on passes of five-plus air yards: 15-of-21, 265 yards, three TDs, zero INTs, a 71.4% completion rate (fifth in this category), 12.6 yards per attempt (third), and a 153.3 rating (second to our old pal Wilson).
Let’s forget about the air yards and make things harder for Jackson by taking away play-action passes, eliminating the threat of any kind of read-option funny business. Here are Jackson’s stats from the pocket without play-action: 24 attempts, 18 completions, 214 yards, two TDs, zero INTs, a 75% completion rate (sixth), 8.9 yards per attempt (fourth), and a 129.5 passer rating (third) on the most conventional of conventional passing plays.
So far this season, Jackson is averaging 15 completions, 186 yards, and one touchdown per game when just chilling in the pocket like your basic Tom Brady type. That’s making it even harder for defenses to stop all the other stuff. And when it comes to Jackson, there’s lots and lots of other stuff.
Josh Allen’s success throwing the ball downfield
Josh Allen haters are in full retreat after two games in 2020. Allen not only leads the NFL in passing yards (727) through two games and ranks third in passer rating (122.8), but he’s blowing up the advanced metrics as well. Allen ranks first in the league in Football Outsiders DYAR and second in DVOA, statistics which account for third down and red zone efficiency, as well as other situational factors.
One big difference for Allen this year is that he is a much more effective downfield passer. Here are Allen’s stats on passes of 15-plus air yards: 18 attempts, 14 completions, 374 yards, two TDs, zero INTs. Allen is second in completion rate (77.8%), and passer rating (155.8) in this category to Daniel Jones of the New York Giants, who is 6-for-6 on 15-plus yard passes (after only two games, we gotta be a little lenient with the minimum cutoffs).
Last season, Allen completed just 36.3% of his passes of 15-plus air yards, with just three TDs and two interceptions and a well-deserved reputation for overthrows. So cut the Allen skeptics some slack: the criticism was valid last season. It’s just no longer valid so far this season.
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs has a lot to do with Allen’s downfield success. Diggs is tied with Calvin Ridley with six catches on 15-plus air yard passes and leads the league with 153 yards.
Allen has also improved under pressure: 31 attempts, 20 completions, 404 yards, five TDs, zero interceptions. He leads the league in all of those categories and is second in passer rating (147.5 to 155.4) to — guess who? — Russell Wilson.
Allen has faced two of the softest defenses in the league, and he’ll face a tougher test from the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. Brady faced the Jets and Dolphins twice per year for a long time too, and no one put an asterisk next to his numbers. Yes, Allen is unlikely to keep completing 77.8% of his deep passes. But he still has improved drastically, and he is taking the Bills with him.
Is Drew Brees suffering from “noodle arm” already?
Your eyes did not deceive you on Monday night: Drew Brees really does look old. Specifically, it looks like he is having trouble driving the ball downfield. And we’re not talking about bombs, either: Brees is struggling on routine, intermediate-length throws.
Here are Drew Brees’ stats on passes of five-plus air yards: 30 attempts, 15 completions, 225 yards, one TD, one interception. His “on target” rate on such passes is 53.6%, per Sports Info Solutions. That’s the lowest rate among NFL quarterbacks. The only player with a lower on-target rate is Cowboys punter Chris Jones, who comically underthrew a knuckleball on one fake punt.
Take the air yard threshold up to 10 yards — something closer to what we normally think of as “downfield passing” — and Brees’ stats look like this: 16 attempts, seven completions, 171 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception. Those are Sam Darnold numbers, not Hall of Famer numbers.
Wide receiver Michael Thomas’ absence is obviously contributing to Brees’ woes by forcing him to rely heavily on his favorite short-range weapon. Alvin Kamara leads the NFL with 11 targets at or behind the line of scrimmage; no other player has more than seven. Kamara has nine catches for 70 yards and one TD on these plays: good production, but no substitute for a functional downfield passing game. Opponents will happily let Kamara feast in the flat if that’s all the Saints offense can do.
Brees may still bounce back once Thomas returns. But it will be hard to beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday with nothing but dump-offs to Kamara and Taysom Hill trick plays. The Saints may slip in the standings, but at least Kamara will help you mop up in your PPR fantasy league.
Jamal Adams has had a massive impact on the Seattle defense
Adams’ nickname should be Legion because he’s the one-man heir to the Legion of Boom. Also, he contains multitudes: He’s a pass rusher, run defender, and coverage safety, all in one. The Seahawks defense would look like the Atlanta Falcons defense without him.
Here are Adams’ stats as a pass rusher: 18 pass rush snaps, two of the Seahawks’ three sacks, 10 pressures, eight quarterback hits, and five hurries.
That first number — 18 pass rush snaps — is the easiest to overlook, but it’s the most important. Adams is a safety, of course, so he only rushes the quarterback on blitzes. Adams is tied with T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers for sixth in the NFL with those 10 pressures, but Watt is a full-time edge rusher with 72 pass rush snaps, four times as many as Adams. Adams is tied for second in quarterback hits to Aaron Donald, but the same caveat applies.
Adams has impacted the quarterback on more than half of his pass rushes this season. No one can sustain that level of production, but Adams generated 24 pressures on 81 pass rushes (29.6%) for the New York Jets last season, so he should remain a lethal weapon while streaking off the edge.
Meanwhile, here are Adams’ 2020 stats as a run defender: 43 rush snaps, 21 tackles plus assists, a team-high four tackles for a loss, tied (with Bobby Wagner) for a team-high seven tackles short of a first down. Once again, when opponents run the ball, Adams impacts the play nearly half the time, an extraordinary figure.
Pass coverage has been Adams’ relative weaknesses so far this year. He has allowed five receptions on seven targets for 147 yards on 86 snaps in coverage. Julian Edelman got deep on Adams on a double-move on Sunday, but you can’t blame Adams for biting on the fake: Who on earth ever thought Edelman would go deep? But seriously, Adams lines up everywhere from deep safety to slot corner when he’s not blitzing, so his coverage stats are bound to be a mixed bag.
Adams is one of the few standouts this season for a defense short on pass rushers and cover corners. What the Seahawks need to do is clone Adams into, like, three guys: one an all-purpose safety, one a dangerous box defender, and one a physical bump ‘n’ run cornerback. They can name the clones Earl, Kam, and Richard. And then … well, this plan isn’t really feasible. For now, they were wise to rescue Adams from the New York Jets in that offseason trade because the Seahawks are a contender with him but probably would not be without him.