The criticisms against Lamar Jackson are exhausting at this point. The Ravens defeated the Bengals on Sunday Night Football, and like clockwork, Matt Hasselback was on SportsCenter afterward talking about how Jackson has to improve as a pocket passer.
Granted, Jackson didn’t have his best game — he threw for just 174 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and had a couple of bad overthrows — but these criticisms are constant regardless of how well he plays on a given day.
Never has there been a player who has led the league in passing touchdowns and had multiple games with a perfect passer rating in the same season have his passing game dissected like this. The above is what he did in 2019, but this is a “what have you done for me lately?” league. So maybe he does need to improve, being a lowly third in passing TDs and an abysmal sixth in passer rating.
This is all in addition to being the best running quarterback the league has ever seen. I could list off a dozen stats that, while maybe imperfect on their own, combine to paint a clear picture. Lamar Jackson is a top-three quarterback right now.
At the very least, he’s certainly better than Kirk Cousins. [Editor’s note: You like that?] A few weeks ago on First Take, Chris Russo said he would take Kirk Cousins over Lamar in big moments. Of course, people on debate shows only say things like that to get a reaction, so I guess I’m taking the bait. Kirk Cousins — the undisputed king of 8-8 and 7-9 — is 10-18 all-time in primetime games.
On Sunday, Lamar Jackson improved to 11-5 in primetime, a record better than any regular season of Cousins’ career. Jackson is 1-3 in playoff games he’s started while Cousins is 1-2, though he did attempt 10 passes in another. You could point out that Cousins’ playoff record as a starter is technically better, though I feel it’s a bit of an indictment on Cousins that he’s started fewer playoff games than Jackson, but has been in the league six years longer.
Keep in mind, this is all while Jackson has been playing his entire career without a true No. 1 receiver. His best target is Mark Andrews, a tight end. Meanwhile, Cousins plays with one of the best receivers in the league, Justin Jefferson. Before that, he had Stefon Diggs, who left Minnesota as soon as he could.
There’s a racial element to Jackson’s criticism that can’t be ignored. White football players are praised for “intelligence” and “leadership” while Black players are touted for “speed” and more physical attributes — but never for their intangibles.
Analysts are clearly willing to give some quarterbacks passes on things that they’re not willing to give to Jackson. No one ever criticizes Justin Herbert’s playoff record, in large part because he’s never made the playoffs. But that doesn’t stop people from anointing him a top-five quarterback. I guess some people have to prove they can do it on the biggest stage and for others, it’s assumed that they can.
Even more so than that, I think the criticisms are really a confession that he’s just really good, and they’re holding him to a higher standard because of it. Analysts don’t hold many other quarterbacks to this standard. Daniel Jones is a dual-threat quarterback like Jackson, but no one zeroes in on his pocket passing because he sucks. It’s only the best players who are under the microscope and have their games dissected this much.