Ravens’ Lamar Jackson is on target for another MVP shot

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is once again a strong candidate for NFL Most Valuable Player, but he is excelling as a dual threat in a different way.

In 2019, Jackson became the second unanimous selection for NFL MVP when he led the league in touchdown passes and rushing yards by a quarterback. At the midway point of this season, he’s being hailed as much for his accuracy in the passing game as his legs. Jackson can become the first player in league history to connect on over 70% of his passes and rush for over 500 yards.

Asked why his completion rate has spiked to an NFL-leading 71.5% this season, Jackson paused, gave a sideways glance and smiled.

“What if I don’t have an answer?” Jackson replied. “I don’t know; just hard work, dedication, going out there and just competing my tail off — that’s all.

“Nothing has really changed; just the percentage, if anything.”

Actually, Jackson has experienced plenty of change this season. He has a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken, who is detail-oriented, especially when it comes to route-running. It also feels like Jackson, who said Monken gave him “the keys to the offense” this offseason, has command.

Jackson’s targets have a different look, too. Last year at this time, Baltimore’s top wide receivers were Demarcus Robinson, Devin Duvernay, James Proche and DeSean Jackson. Now, it’s Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman, Odell Beckham Jr. and Nelson Agholor.

In terms of production, Jackson has made his biggest jump on the intermediate throws. On passes that traveled between 10 and 20 yards through the air, Jackson’s completion rate is 75% (36-of-48). No other quarterback this season has connected on more than 69% of those throws.

“He can make every single throw that all these other quarterbacks are making. He’s really showing it this year,” Browns safety Juan Thornhill said. “He’s sitting in that pocket. He’s delivering those passes. He’s showing the whole world that he’s a quarterback.”

Jackson has never been more on point in his six seasons in the NFL. He is at career bests in off-target percentage (14.2%), interception rate (1.2%) and completion percentage over expectation (plus-4.1%).

But Jackson remains a threat to run, as well. His 440 yards rushing leads all quarterbacks. The only quarterbacks to complete over 70% of their passes and rush for over 400 yards in a season are Taysom Hill and Deshaun Watson (both in 2020), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“You have to defend his legs,” Ravens center Tyler Linderbaum. “He’s one of the most electrifying players in the league, but also, he can throw the hell out of the ball.

“He’s done a tremendous job. We have a lot of good weapons that can get the ball. When the time comes when he needs to run, he can run. When he needs to throw, he can throw.”

The next step for Jackson is more consistency on his deep throws. In Sunday’s 37-3 win over the Seattle Seahawks, Bateman got behind the defense twice and Jackson missed him both times. He overthrew Bateman once and then threw out of bounds on the other opportunity.

Jackson has completed 31.8% (7-of-22) on passes that have traveled more than 25 yards, which ranks 20th in the league. Since 2019, he has only completed 39 of those passes, which ranks 17th in the NFL.

“We’re hitting them in practice regularly,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I think sometimes you make a decision, maybe just to throw it away. Other times, you might be a step or two further than you want or shorter than you want.

“All in all, I’m very confident in our deep passing game. I’m very certain that we’re going to make those plays in the coming weeks.”

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