Film Room

Analysis beyond the numbers

Lamar Jackson Part III: Analyzing the Film

Guest column by Keegan Abdoo

This is the final article in a three-part series exploring the schematic advantage Lamar Jackson can bring to an offense with his athleticism. The first two articles approached the question from a statistical perspective. This article will look at a few plays to see how this phenomenon reveals itself on film.

Film Examples

All of our prior statistical analysis goes a long way towards proving that Lamar Jackson discourages defenses from using two-man. However, it is helpful to actually watch some of the plays where defenses employed Man Cover-2 against him.

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On this play, the right guard gets pushed back by the 3-technique defensive tackle, collapsing the pocket. Jackson needs to pull the ball down and sidestep the oncoming pass-rusher. He first sees an open run lane to the right of his center, but reverses course when the edge defender disengages with the right tackle and closes it. By this point, a gaping hole has opened to the left of his center, and Jackson takes off. With the five underneath coverage defenders matched up on receivers in man, their backs are turned and eyes are not in the backfield. When Jackson crosses the line of scrimmage, there is not a defender within 10 yards of his path:

This is a great example of Matt Bowen's explanation from earlier in this series: "So you have no one, if the quarterback gets out of the pocket, it's an automatic first down." Unfortunately, Jackson fumbles here and turns the ball over when he is tackled, but nonetheless it is a great example of the theory playing out in practice.

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This example features a slide left protection, with the tight end staying into block, which leaves the cornerback that was assigned to him in man coverage almost acting as a spy. When Jackson doesn't like what he sees with his main progression to the left, he takes off to the right. The cornerback rushes forward when he sees Jackson start to run, but doesn't stand a chance in an open-field tackle on Jackson, who easily eludes him with a quick juke. Jackson's acceleration really stands out here, and he is able to sidestep the oncoming deep safety to avoid a big hit and gain an extra 3 yards after the tackle. Again, automatic first down.

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This example might be Jackson's best play. On third-and-18, Syracuse dials up a middle linebacker blitz up the A-gap, with the left 3-tech defensive tackle and defensive end running a stunt. Louisville's offensive line is completely unprepared. The middle linebacker runs right through untouched by the confused center. Jackson is forced to pull the ball down almost directly after the snap. The center turns around to try and recover, which allows the looping defensive end a clear path right down the middle of the pocket. Jackson effortlessly avoids the middle linebacker, only to be immediately faced with the oncoming defensive end, whom he also jukes. He then avoids two more pass rushers playing contain. By the time he crosses the line of scrimmage, the field is wide open all the way to the first-down marker in front of him.

Even on third-and-very long, once Jackson breaks the pocket, a first down is almost inevitable. The only defender who has a chance is the crashing deep-left half safety, but Jackson has one of the smoothest changes of direction you will ever see. He plants his right foot mid-stride at the 26-yard line while maintaining the majority of his speed.

By the time the safety even reacts to try and change direction, Jackson has already bolted past him, and if anything gained more separation on the three trailing pass-rushers even with the cut.

The craziest part of this play is that Jackson smoothly avoids five defenders who have an opportunity to hit him, and he doesn't get touched until 31 yards down the field at the 48-yard line.

Jackson's elusiveness within the pocket cannot be overstated. Using SIS charting data, we can reasonably determine how many broken tackles a quarterback forced on his dropbacks behind the line of scrimmage by looking at defenders who were credited with both a pressure and a broken tackle. This can also be thought of as sacks avoided, as any of those tackles that the quarterback breaks would have been a sack. Jackson has a clear lead by raw total in both of our seasons of FBS charting data. He led the FBS in 2016 in sacks avoided on a per-dropback basis and trailed only Josh Allen in this same stat in 2017.

Lamar Jackson Sacks Avoided
Season Sacks Avoided
on Passes
Sacks Avoided on
Pressure Scrambles
Total Sacks
Avoided
Sacks Avoided/
Dropback
2016 10 (T-1st) 8 (T-1st) 18 (1st) 3.6% (1st)
2017 13 (1st) 7 (1st) 20 (1st) 3.9% (2nd)

Jackson's uncanny ability to turn a potential negative play into a success allows him to get out of the pocket against two-man when there's pressure. His pocket elusiveness came in handy last season, when he was pressured often behind a below-average offensive line and with his longer snap-to-throw time. Sixty percent of Jackson's scrambles were pressure scrambles, tied for third among the 68 FBS quarterbacks with at least 20 scrambles last season. However, he was at his best when he scrambled because of coverage, despite it being the least efficient scramble type overall for all quarterbacks. It was only on 12 attempts, so small sample size beware, but of the 34 FBS quarterbacks with over 10 coverage scrambles, Jackson finished first in both success rate (66.7 percent) and yards per attempt (14.3; next closest was Kenny Hill at 9.6).

Jackson's 26 percent scramble rate vs. Man Cover-2 really does stick out as an outlier at three times the FBS average. And given his dominance on scrambles against the coverage, this was rational behavior. However, he didn't always just take off and run when the opportunity presented itself. In fact, in both of the two past years, Jackson has been way below average in the percentage of his scrambles that came from an open running lane. In 2016 he ranked 55th out of 63 at 11.3 percent, and in 2017 he ranked 50th out of 68 at 16 percent of the quarterbacks who had at least 20 scrambles in that given year. This suggests Jackson scrambled more out of necessity than just taking off and running anytime he saw an opportunity.

In the next two clips, Jackson shows the discipline to take the correct crossing pattern vs. Man Cover-2 even when there is a wide-open rushing lane in front of him.

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Here Jackson sits in the pocket and looks through his first progression (the wide receiver running a go route down the left sideline). Once he sees it's well-covered, he moves right to his next route in the progression. Instead of taking that wide-open rush lane to the first-down marker in front him (pictured below), he takes the tight end running a dig who had at least a yard of separation after bursting past the unprepared linebacker in man coverage.

Here's a play Jackson made against North Carolina:

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Here Louisville dials up a hi-lo mesh wheel concept, with the two drag routes by the slot receivers causing a natural pick between both of their man defenders (they literally run into each other). Jackson can probably get away with tucking the ball and hitting the hole if he does it before the 3-tech defensive tackle loops back in on the right guard, but he knows he has the perfect play dialed up for the coverage and delivers the ball to his receiver with much more open field in front of him than Jackson would have had.

Conclusion

If and when Lamar Jackson eventually takes over as the franchise quarterback for the Ravens, he is going to give his offensive coordinator a clear edge by discouraging his opponents from playing the fourth-most popular coverage in the NFL. Jackson has a Man Cover-2 deterrence effect that makes sense as a concept and is backed up by the data and film. Football is a chess match between offensive and defensive playcallers, and teams spend countless amounts of hours studying their opponents' tendencies. Any reduction of uncertainty in how an opponent will play against your team is invaluable, and Jackson will give his coaching staff this advantage.

Keegan Abdoo is a former Research and Development Intern at Sports Info Solutions. Interested in working for SIS and being able to perform this type of research with access to its rich charting database? Apply here for a R&D position.

Comments

2 comments, Last at 03 Sep 2018, 3:51pm

1 Re: Lamar Jackson Part III: Analyzing the Film

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Aug 31, 2018 - 12:37pm

Do you attribute the line mix-ups we see on some plays to the quality (or lack thereof) of Louisville's line, or is this something going wrong with Jackson's protection calls?

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2 Re: Lamar Jackson Part III: Analyzing the Film

by njgiants333 // Sep 03, 2018 - 3:51pm

That's a good question that unforunately I don't have any way of answering. Brings up the larger point of how much quarterbacks are responsible for the pressure rates.

-Keegan Abdoo

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