The two quarterbacks had different numbers, different deliveries, even different shoe colors, but still Justin Houston was sometimes left confused. In training camp and in the preseason, the Ravens outside linebacker would watch Tyler Huntley run around and make a play, and he’d wonder: Was that Lamar Jackson?
“All preseason,” Houston said last week. “If you watched every preseason game, that kid was special out there.”
As the Ravens wait for Jackson’s injured ankle to recover, possibly in time for Sunday’s pivotal rematch with the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals, their offense has found a capable caretaker in Huntley. Since taking over for Jackson early in the second quarter of a Week 14 loss to the Cleveland Browns, the second-year quarterback has gone 55-for-78 (70.5%) for 485 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and added 19 carries for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
In a narrow 31-30 loss Sunday to the Green Bay Packers, Huntley finished with the highest QBR for any Ravens quarterback this season (82.4), surpassing even Jackson’s 80.4 mark in a record-breaking comeback win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5. Afterward, tight end Mark Andrews called Huntley a “special player” who’d blossomed under Jackson’s mentorship.
But for as much as the two might have in common — their South Florida ties, their dual-threat ability — Jackson and Huntley operate coordinator Greg Roman’s passing attack with almost competing approaches. At one end of the spectrum is Jackson, a deep-throwing, middle-field-targeting, occasionally-too-patient veteran. At the other end is Huntley, a quick-trigger, field-spreading newcomer with just two career starts.
“There are definitely some subtleties — very similar, but some subtle differences,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday of how he handles play-calling for each. “It’s vital to be out here in practice with them, and we’ve had plenty of opportunity with Tyler to really get a feel for what he likes and what direction we want to go.”
As runners, they’ve been almost equally dangerous on scrambles; Huntley is averaging 8.1 yards and has two touchdowns on his 15 carries, according to Sports Info Solutions, while Jackson is averaging 8 yards over 49 attempts this season.
As passers, however, they might as well be wearing different colors. If Jackson’s closest NFL analogs are strong-armed, aggressive peers like Russell Wilson and Josh Allen, Huntley’s might be Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan, field generals who prefer paper cuts to uppercuts. His longest completion Sunday, as determined by air yards, traveled just 15 yards downfield.
Here’s how starkly Jackson and Huntley diverge as passers, according to SIS and NFL Next Gen Stats data entering Tuesday’s games:
- Huntley has the eighth-fastest average time to throw among the 40 qualifying quarterbacks on Next Gen Stats (2.66 seconds); Jackson has the fifth slowest (2.96 seconds).
- Huntley has the seventh-lowest average intended air yards (7 yards downfield per attempt); Jackson has the second highest (9.6 yards per attempt).
- Huntley’s longest completion this season traveled 43 yards in the air, the fifth shortest among qualifying quarterbacks; Jackson’s longest completion traveled 60.8 yards, the fourth longest.
- Huntley has thrown over half of his passes (52.8%) outside the numbers; Jackson has thrown 60.2% of his passes between the numbers.
Huntley’s diet of quick hitters has worked so far. On passes of 9 air yards or fewer this season, he’s posted a 92.6 passer rating, compensating for a meager 5.2 yards per attempt with 75.5% accuracy.
He’s also done just enough on intermediate and downfield shots. On passes between 10 and 19 air yards, Huntley’s 9-for-17 for 120 yards (80.0 passer rating). On passes of at least 20 air yards, he’s 3-for-10 for 95 yards (66.7 rating). Both passer ratings compare favorably to Jackson’s in those ranges since Week 7, when his slump first started. Over that six-game stretch, Jackson has an 81.9 rating on intermediate passes and 36.9 rating on deep throws.
If Huntley is called on again Sunday in Cincinnati, the Ravens could benefit from his get-the-ball-out approach — and also from more Jackson-esque big plays. The Bengals sacked Jackson five times in Week 7, flustering him with “Cover 0″ blitzes and taking away his escape routes on scrambles. They also allowed back-to-back 30-plus-yard pass plays to wide receivers Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Rashod Bateman on the third-quarter touchdown drive that gave the Ravens their final lead of the game.
Huntley’s performance Sunday marked another step forward in his development, but the Bengals could be his toughest test yet. Cincinnati ranks 11th in the NFL in defensive efficiency, according to Football Outsiders, ahead of the Chicago Bears (18th), Browns (15th) and Packers (22nd).
“I thought Tyler played, really, a poised game,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “He got the ball out on time most of the time. He got off and got scrambling most of the time, when he needed to. He saw the field pretty well and just played an all-around good football game. He’ll look at it real critically, just like Lamar does. He’ll want to play a lot better than he did, and that’s what you appreciate, but that’s how you improve, too.”
‘Greatest respect’ for Adams
Packers star Davante Adams had a relatively quiet Sunday, finishing with six catches on seven targets for 44 yards and a touchdown. Only the Kansas City Chiefs have held the All-Pro wide receiver to fewer receiving yards this season, limiting him to 42 in a 13-7 loss last month.
With the Ravens missing cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey (pectoral), Marcus Peters (knee), Chris Westry (reserve/COVID-19) and Jimmy Smith (reserve/COVID-19), coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale made Adams a well-marked man. What his defense lacked in personnel, it tried to make up for with creativity.
“It was one of the most interesting defensive schemes that I’ve seen in a long time,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after finishing 23-for-31 for 268 yards and three touchdowns in Baltimore. “They were trying to stop Davante with some of the presnap alignments … we haven’t seen. I told him walking in the tunnel after the game that that’s the greatest respect level that someone could give you, to literally line up two guys on you for the majority of the game.”
From the Packers’ opening drive, it was clear that Adams had the Ravens’ full attention. On Green Bay’s first play from scrimmage, a run, safety Geno Stone relocated at the snap to shade over to cornerback Anthony Averett’s quadrant of the field, where he was guarding Adams. On the Packers’ next play, another run, cornerback Kevon Seymour matched up with Adams in press coverage as cornerback Tavon Young lined up 7 yards behind him in support.
In man-to-man coverage, the Ravens rarely deviated from their strategy. According to a review of Sunday’s game, Adams was essentially double-teamed on about half of Rodgers’ 36 drop-backs. Sometimes the Ravens would have a cornerback on Adams playing with outside leverage — aligned over his outside shoulder — and a safety on the same side playing with inside leverage. Other times, they’d stack defensive backs over Adams, as they did with Seymour and Young.
Dared to beat the Ravens with secondary receivers, Rodgers mostly obliged. He found wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling five times for a team-high 98 yards, tight end Marcedes Lewis three times for 40 yards and running back Aaron Jones for a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
But even a double-teamed Adams found ways to wriggle free. Late in the second quarter, on third-and-goal from the Ravens’ 3-yard line, Ravens cornerback Robert Jackson, a practice squad call-up, lined up over Adams’ outside shoulder. Stone, lined up a couple yards deeper in the end zone, was there for inside support.
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That was no problem for Adams. He shook free of both, faking an inside release before exploding to the sideline, leaving a flat-footed Jackson in his wake. Rodgers found him easily for a game-tying touchdown.
“He makes throw after throw that you are just like, ‘How did he get that ball in there?’ ” Valdes-Scantling said afterward. Of course, it helps to have a target like Adams.
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 13, 9 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Bengals by 2 ½