In the past couple of games, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is throwing more often with the same sidearm motion he used as a rookie two years ago.
There are quarterbacks who can deliver sidearm passes with great accuracy, such as former Green Bay Packers star and Hall of Famer Brett Favre and the man who replaced him, two-time Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers.
Jackson isn’t in that class yet, but his sidearm motion and recent lackluster performances have prompted questions from fans about if he needs to return to QB Basics 101 class, or if he has hit the ceiling of his potential in only his third year.
Now, if the Ravens were 1-5 and losing because of Jackson, those questions might have more legitimacy. Instead, they’re 5-1 entering their bye week, and Jackson has an answer for the sidearm deliveries.
“I don’t think I’ve slipped,” Jackson said. “There are certain situations in the game where you have to throw in certain windows, with the guys putting their arms up trying to slap the ball. There were a lot of tipped passes during our games, and I’m trying to find angles. So, that’s why sometimes my elbow drops trying to get the ball out.”
Jackson played the worst game of his young NFL career against the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago. Even though the Ravens won, 27-3, he completed only 19 of 37 passes for 180 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He should have thrown two or three more picks if the Bengals could hold onto the ball.
In Sunday’s 30-28 win over the Eagles in Philadelphia, Jackson completed 16 of 27 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown. In both games, he missed open receivers and dropped his elbow to throw sidearm quite a lot. There were times when Jackson threw flat-footed without stepping into his passes.
On one pass over the middle against the Eagles, his pass wobbled more than a punt by Sam Koch.
Throwing a football is very similar to shooting with a lacrosse stick. If you throw overhand and step into the pass, you have more accuracy and control. If you shoot sidearm, you lose some accuracy and control, especially when you are aiming at a moving target.
“The one thing I know is he’s done that for a very long time,” Ravens quarterback coach James Urban said Tuesday of Jackson’s sidearm delivery. “We work very hard on having a consistent platform. I’m more concerned about his base, his platform and the biomechanics of the delivery than some of those things that he does great naturally. I know there are some other players around this league who get publicized for how amazing it is that they can throw sidearmed. And I’m not going to try to coach him out of making a consistent, accurate throw.
“Decision-making, timing and accuracy; that’s what we’re chasing. And if it occurs to his brain to throw that shallow cross into a window that not many people can do, and throw a little sidearmed, and it’s an accurate throw, then I’m not concerned about the arm angle.”
But what if he isn’t accurate, which he hasn’t been the past couple of games? Again, Jackson isn’t Favre or Rodgers.
Urban said he hasn’t seen any changes in Jackson’s mechanics from a year ago. He defended the reigning MVP, who has completed 63% of his passes (102 of 162) for 1,135 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions this season.
“I don’t see that at all,” Urban said of any difference in Jackson’s mechanics in the last couple of games compared to last season.
There have been other concerns that have slowed the development of the Ravens' passing game. The running game has not performed as well as it did last year, and teams are less fearful of Jackson’s play-action passes. The offensive line is better suited for running than passing, and the result is that Jackson has to throw more often on the run.
Besides tight end Mark Andrews and receiver Marquise Brown, there haven’t been many other options for Jackson to throw to downfield.
But some of those things shouldn’t affect mechanics and fundamentals. When a quarterback throws sidearm, he’ll get more passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
Maybe former Ravens receiver Qadry Ismail, now an NFL analyst, summed up Jackson’s recent performances best.
“I think there are two things when I look at when a guy throws,” said Ismail, who played 10 years in the NFL. “I come from the school of thought; you got to make a play. When he was making plays last year sidearm from different angles, no one was really saying much. But now that his throwing has not been as accurate and you can see where he is pressing at times, people are looking now with a more critical eye.
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“Against the Eagles, he threw it sidearm after two plays where it was batted down. So, in my mind, the throwing hand wanted to deliver a more tradition arm pass, but the defender was jumping up in his face, so he readjusted and was able to get the ball out. But then there are also times where he is guiding the ball, the arm angle dips, his form gets off and he isn’t rotating through the hips. It’s the rotation through the hips that gives him the velocity and the ability to be able to throw with a lot of revolution and get it to his receivers. That’s where we saw a little bit of that in his first year and that’s starting to creep back up. That’s what has me concerned.”