Josh Allen-Lamar Jackson Showdown Proved Two QBs Headed in Different Directions

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 17, 2021

Buffalo Bills' Josh Allen (17) rushes during the first half of an NFL divisional round football game against the Baltimore Ravens Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

One is the NFL's reigning MVP. The other is a strong candidate to take the award home for the 2020 campaign. Yet, the Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson and Buffalo Bills' Josh Allen are two quarterbacks trending away from one another despite the immense talent both display. 

Saturday's meeting between the two couldn't have ended more differently. 

Jackson's final play came on a botched snap where the quarterback ended up on his back in the end zone underneath a pair of Bills defenders. Medical professionals quickly checked the phenom for a concussion before he was ruled out for the rest of the game. 

Whereas, Allen and the Bills emerged victorious, 17-3, despite adverse conditions and an offense that didn't click for most of the contest. Buffalo will now face either the Kansas City Chiefs or the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Championship Game. 

In the end, the development shown by Allen this season is nothing short of staggering, while questions still remain about certain areas of Jackson's maturation. 

The seventh overall pick in the 2018 draft always had the physical tools to excel. Physically, Allen is everything a team wants in its quarterback. He's big (6'5" and 237 pounds), tough in the pocket and mobile with a rare natural throwing ability. But consistency has never been his biggest strength.

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In Allen's first two campaigns, he completed only 56.3 percent of his passes. He ranked dead last among qualifying quarterbacks in that category last season. His climb to 69.2 percent during the 2020 season is nearly unprecedented. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he became only the fourth quarterback over the past 20 years to raise his completion percentage by more than 10 points from one season to the next. 

Multiple factors played a part in his rapid growth in an area often viewed as inherent. 

Mechanically, personal quarterback coach Jordan Palmer concentrated on Allen adding more arc to his passes instead of trying to drive the ball since the 24-year-old has the arm strength to throw a pigskin through a brick wall. Thus, he took his student and forced him to throw from uneven platforms toward his intended targets. 

"What it does is it exaggerates the shoulder tilt and your spine tilting back," Palmer told the Buffalo News' Vic Carucci. "And then we bring them down the stands. You do that over a period of a month or so and it's kind of like you develop both sides of the spectrum, both extremes. Too high and not high enough."

The process also included marrying his lower body to his upper-body mechanics.

Sometimes, a passer is so naturally gifted that he develops bad habits and tends to rely purely on arm strength. At the high school and collegiate levels, a quarterback can get away with those types of throws. It's very different in the NFL, though. Windows are much tighter and close faster. Arm strength is important to thread the ball into those windows, but precision and timing are also necessary.

Consistency within one's footwork up through the actual throwing motion creates repeatable technique that translates to better overall accuracy. 

"Being able to add my hips and make that as consistent as possible and try to slow everything else down up top and use my hand as the leverage for the speed and the accuracy has changed a lot of things," Allen explained to Carucci. "The accuracy has gone up, but it's actually added some mph to my throwing power, too. It's been a pretty cool process. … It was like a wake-up call."

With the natural ability always present, added emphasis on the little details in technique and a growing comfort level with the offensive scheme, Allen went from a Roy Hobbs-like natural to one of the game's best all-around quarterbacks. 

This can't be said enough: A player's situation matters. In Allen's case, he's been with the same head coach, Sean McDermott, and offensive play-caller, Brian Daboll, from the start of his professional career. As such, he knows what to expect of the scheme on a down-by-down basis.

The young gunslinger now understands what to expect once he makes his pre-snap reads. He knows where to go with the ball if his initial read is taken away by an opponent. His approach is no longer about reacting and trying to make a play. He's now mentally playing at a more advanced level. 

"It seems like Josh is a little bit more composed and comfortable in stepping up in the pocket," Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons told Carucci in December. "He's making accurate throws all across the field."

To Simmons' point, Allen, who threw for 4,544 yards and ran for 421 more during the regular season, excelled when standing tall in the pocket against opposing pressure packages. He ranked first among quarterbacks with 19 passing touchdowns and 1,850 yards against the blitz, per Pro Football Focus. After zero 300-yard passing games in his first two years, Allen produced eight this fall. PFF also noted the quarterback's excellence in the red zone with a 26-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He threw another against the Ravens. 

It may have taken three years, but Allen realized his immense potential and turned it into one of the best seasons ever seen by a professional quarterback. 

On the other hand, Jackson peaked a year ago and didn't continue his ascent in Year 3. 

Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

This summer, Bleacher Report spoke with the 24-year-old's personal quarterback coach, Joshua Harris, about the specific areas in which Jackson could improve even after his MVP performance. 

"When I looked at Lamar this past season, the thing that seemed to stick out to me—and the Ravens seemingly saw the same thing from their quotes—is Lamar needs to work on deep-ball consistency, hitting that deep ball in stride," Harris said. "And the most important to me: throws outside the numbers. Those need to be consistent with velocity."

Much like Allen, inconsistency plagued Jackson throughout the early portions of his career. Unlike Allen, the two-time 1,000-yard rusher didn't make the same strides working the passing game during the same time frame. 

The issue stems from footwork and overall mechanics more than an actual inability to do so. Jackson missed a wide-open Mark Andrews at one point during Saturday's contest because the quarterback didn't properly reset his feet and tried to whip the ball toward his favorite receiving threat. The ball fell a yard short of the tight end. 

While technique often plays a big part in a passer's success, Jackson pointed to another issue during the regular season: a lack of aggressiveness when opportunities presented themselves. 

"I'm just attacking the game more, being more aggressive," Jackson told reporters when asked why he played better down the stretch. "I'll say, in the beginning of the season, I was conservative a lot; just staying back and getting sacked a lot more. But as the season went on, [when] things break down, my first read is not there, second read is not there, I take advantage of what the defense gives me."

Still, the 32nd overall pick in his class tied for 16th with an average of 7.3 yards per attempt. 

John Munson/Associated Press

Jackson is nowhere near as poor from the pocket as his detractors make him out to be. At the same time, he can and should be better at this point in his career. But he hasn't been. At least not to the level where he's consistently making the throws expected of an MVP quarterback. 

The Ravens will go into the offseason with the hope Jackson's potential turns into something more. As unique and talented as the dynamic signal-caller is, the Ravens aren't a better team today than they were a year ago. Not all of that falls on the quarterback, of course. His surrounding cast of skill-position players and coaches can be better. However, Jackson can do more to make Baltimore into a legitimate Super Bowl threat. 

Baltimore wide receiver Willie Snead IV said the quarterback needs to "knuckle down" this offseason and that his latest performance should serve as a "wake-up call," per the Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer

"The sky's the limit for him, man," Snead said.

The sky may be the limit for Jackson, but Allen is the shooting star well within reach of the game's biggest prize. 

         

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.