I watched a Week 1 game between the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills in the year twenty eighteen that was played in the pouring rain and was, at one point, 40-0. Nathan Peterman and Joe Flacco were the starting quarterbacks. Both teams’ best defenders were their respective nose tackles. Greg Roman was still somehow coaching one of the teams.
(I know C.J. Mosley is better than Michael Pierce just please let me get my jokes off.)
The good news is that I cover the Draft, which means rookie play interests me even in the worst games. Especially when the game is bad enough to get rookies playing in the early third quarter.
Both Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson saw significant playing time in Week 1 despite not starting — Allen because the deficit was insurmountable; Lamar because the lead was … insurmountable.
Allen looked better than Peterman, which is an increasingly lower bar to clear. While the mind still can manage to wrap itself around the idea that Peterman beat out Allen in camp — Peterman is an accurate passer under practice conditions — it bodes ill for Buffalo fans that neither of their quarterbacks do well under even the slightest pressure.
That was the biggest issue for Allen on Sunday morning — he wilted under pressure. Multiple times, Allen felt an oncoming rush from the buzzsaw that is the Baltimore Ravens defensive line and panicked, failing to find his hot read or an adequate escape path from the pocket.
Given the pressure look pre-snap and the tight alignment of the corners, Allen should expect man coverage on the play. He looks to his “No. 1” wide receiver in Kelvin Benjamin once he finishes his drop, but Kelvin doesn’t win the one-on-one look.
Next, Allen should come to the slant route from the No. 3 receiver on the opposite side (TE Charles Clay). However, as bodies begin flying around him, Allen panics and drops his eyes, looking for an escape route. Everyone is blocked and accounted for in the 6-man protection, but without a clear mental plan for what to do against the anticipated coverage, instincts to flee take over. Allen sacks himself here.
But when Allen was able to keep his eyes downfield and put the ball in play, his talent shined.
I can’t speak to the read he made down the field here, as the broadcast angle didn’t give us the deep routes on this 3rd and 17. But, despite the fact that his internal clock expired in the pocket, Allen didn’t unnecessarily break and escape when feeling phantom pressure — that’s greatt to see.
Once pressure does arrive, excellent pocket management with nice subtlety to remain in a throwing position/keep eyes downfield. And then, a long drive of the football beyond the sticks.
Now, that ball obviously tails off at the end of the throw — but to me, this is still an example of arm strength. There’s some rain and wind in Baltimore at this time, so driving the football becomes all the more difficult — and Allen’s release is lightning-quick, as he’s trying to get the ball downfield before the window closes. As such, he can’t get his full lower-body into the throw. This is all arm, and that makes the velocity more impressive.
Allen’s counterpart, Lamar Jackson, flashed similarly unteachable talent that represents the base from which these young signal-callers will grow. As he showed at Louisville, Lamar was able to manipulate zone defenders with his eyes to generate throwing windows, and he’s a strong intermediate passer who can throw with touch over the middle.
That’s a nice ball on another 3rd and long situation. Lamar correctly IDs the zone coverage look at the snap and likes his tight end (No. 87 Maxx Williams) leaking into the space between the zone levels. But he has to move that hook curl defender to the left, so he pulls the linebacker over with his eyes before resetting his feet and delivering a timely touch pass that allows for YAC. Note also the pressure into which Lamar stepped up — that’s just a high-quality play all around.
But Lamar’s mechanical inconsistencies — and thereby, his accuracy issues — didn’t just vanish in the NFL. That’s to be expected — but it does keep Lamar off the field for the foreseeable future. On a similar look earlier in the game, for example, Lamar missed the throw entirely.
What’s different here? The footwork. Lamar hesitates a bit on this throw, waiting to see the window develop — and as such, he’s hitching up the pocket. While hitching, the synchronicity between his feet and throwing motion becomes untethered. As was often seen on the Louisville tape, Lamar is upright and barely activates any power from his lower half. This attempt becomes an ‘all-arm’ throw, and it’s difficult to modulate the placement on such throws. The ball comes in behind the receiver, and could have been intercepted.
Both Allen and Lamar flashed on Sunday, which is excellent news for their respective franchises. And, as you’d expect from rookies, both missed plays they clearly could have made. The rookie curve of growth is steep and intimidating, but this playing time will help them clearly see, upon film review, how their current weaknesses affect their ability to produce consistently.
And then they’ll go back to work.
Allen benefits from the likely chance he sees more first-team reps/starts in the immediate future. He’ll have the influx of attempts and coaching attention necessary to take strides in Year 1, while Jackson won’t see such opportunity for as long as Flacco keeps hanging 30+ points on defenses. But both coaching staffs should feel encouraged by the flashes of the future faces of their franchises.