The NFL has seen a new breed of quarterback enter the league this decade. Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz, Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson separated themselves from the majority of NFL quarterbacks with their dynamic ability to play quarterback. These all-around playmaking quarterbacks had questions about how they would adapt to the league entering the NFL Draft. Similar questions were asked about Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray:
Is he tall enough? Will his body hold up? Should they play wide receiver or running back instead of quarterback? Can they be true pocket passers?
Murray’s and Jackson’s careers are young, but they have already proven that most of these questions were lazy and lacking analysis on how these quarterbacks play the game.
Perhaps the only questions that should be asked about these players should be, is your franchise dedicated to embracing these quarterbacks’ skillsets? Are there coaches in place that have a history with similar players and are willing to work with and help these quarterbacks improve on their lacking qualities? Are you able to dedicate your team-builders and playcallers to surround these quarterbacks with quality talent and put them in a scheme that makes it all work?
Embracing Playmaking Quarterbacks
The football cognoscenti were enamored of Murray and his true dual threat skill set entering the 2019 NFL Draft. Once the Arizona Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury to be their Head Coach in January, the speculation surrounding Murray-to-the-Cardinals heated up. Kingsbury was quoted in October of 2018 saying he would take the quarterback first overall if he could. Fast forward to April 2019, Kingsbury and the Cardinals did just that.
Murray flourished in an air-raid system in college under Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2018. Joining Kingsbury’s team, Kyler entered the NFL in a comfortable offense.
Clements was hired to be a quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers in 2006, became offensive coordinator in 2012, and served as assistant head coach from 2015-2016.
Turner spent time with the Carolina Panthers from 2015-2017, when Newton was having his best seasons since entering the league.
Jackson entered the 2018 NFL Draft as one of the most polarizing draft prospects the game had seen. Jackson took the country by storm with his arm and his legs, setting multiple records and winning a Heisman trophy in 2016.
The Baltimore Ravens had an established NFL quarterback in Joe Flacco, but the Ravens staff re-tooled and geared up for a complete overhaul of their offense, trading up to select Jackson with the 32nd overall pick in the 2018 Draft.
Jackson played in an offense that utilized tight ends and running backs in pistol and shotgun formations, to emphasize his skills as a passer and a runner.
The Ravens smartly decided to surround Jackson with coaches that could accentuate the quarterback’s skillset.
They hired Greg Roman in 2017 and promoted him to offensive coordinator in 2018. Roman is notorious for his time in San Francisco as offensive coordinator under John Harbaugh’s brother, Jim Harbaugh. Jim Harbaugh and Roman had great success developing athletic quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick into solid NFL starters that can win with their arms and legs.
Their respective teams loaded Lamar Jackson’s and Kyler Murray’s first NFL coaching staffs with coaches who had experience with similar players, setting them up to maximize their considerable talents. And in Week 2 of 2019, Murray and Jackson showed what they were capable off.
Surviving in the NFL as an Athletic Quarterback
When facing an athletic quarterback, defenses are stressed on the edges and out on the perimeter with keeping these quarterbacks contained.
The Ravens got a dose of their own medicine in the first play of the week 2 contest.
The questions asked about Murray as he entered the league focused on everything except how he throws the ball. Anyone could watch him at Oklahoma and see that he had elite arm talent, with the athleticism just a bonus.
Arizona comes out in a 10-personnel set, a staple of the air-raid system. The Cardinals are trying to work the boundary side of the field with David Johnson (#31) running a swing route, Michael Crabtree (#15) running a curl, and Christian Kirk (#13) running a corner route. Arizona slides the protection to the boundary, leaving Pernell McPhee (#90) unblocked to the field. Murray quickly scans over the Ravens’ Cover 1, feels the pressure from McPhee from his blindside, whips around and takes off towards the field side.
Murray is small but lightning fast in the open field. Murray showed an understanding at Oklahoma that he won’t take hits he does not have to. He follows suit on this play, running out of bounds.
The Ravens were criticized for their use of Jackson in 2018, when the offense was built on Jackson’s ability to run. In week 1 against the Miami Dolphins, Jackson only ran the ball three times for six yards. But in week 2, the Ravens let Lamar do his thing.
Baltimore is in a 12-personnel, tackle-over formation. Tackle-over is when either the left or right tackle lineup next to the other tackle and the tight-end lines up in place of the tackle. The formation forces the Arizona defense to load up to the field side. Jackson (#8) and Mark Ingram II (#21) meet in the backfield in zone-read action. Tight end Nick Boyle (#86) washes down Terrell Suggs (#55), while fullback Patrick Ricard (#42) comes across the formation to block cornerback Byron Murphy (#33). The entire boundary side of the defense is either blocked or being read by Jackson. Jackson makes the read, pulls the ball, and takes off for a gain of 19 yards.
Jackson’s rare combination of athleticism, speed, and size allow him to take some hits, but the quarterback is smart when running the ball, often running out of bounds or giving himself up.
Passers Being Passers
When comparing Jackson and Murray as passers entering the NFL, Murray was way ahead of Jackson. But the strides Jackson has made to this point have been very impressive.
If you paid attention to Jackson at Louisville, you know what I’m talking about. Jackson throws with a whippy arm motion but would usually deliver from very narrow base. Passes were muscled out from Jackson’s upper body, which caused some throws to sail, especially over the middle of the field. Although Jackson had some issues he had to clean up, for the most part he was a very good passer. He could hit targets deep and intermediate outside the numbers with ease, and showed some good accuracy for underneath targets.
The Ravens drafted Jackson knowing he needed some polish before he became a good passer at all areas of the field. Nine starts into his career, he’s made some strides.
Baltimore is in 02-personnel in an empty backfield formation, trips to the field. Mark Andrews (#89) is the closest slot receiver to the field side and is Jackson’s target on this play. The Ravens are attacking the Cardinals two-high defense with five vertical routes. Andrews runs up the seam, attempting to split the safeties. Jackson gets a glimpse of a window to throw to Andrews once Jordan Hicks (#58) turns towards the tight end. Jackson shows that the hard work is starting to pay off as he delivers a beautiful ball with haste. Jackson throws with a wide base and uses that front leg to generate torque and keep the ball down and on target.
The end zone angle of this throw is a thing of beauty.
The impressive throws continue throughout the game for Jackson, including this one late in the fourth quarter to ensure a Ravens win.
The Ravens are in 21-personnel in another spread formation with trips to the field. Baltimore is trying to push the ball deep from the slot, with both outside receivers taking one step up field before turning towards Jackson in the flat. Jackson takes his drop, sets a wide base, and drops the ball right in the bucket to Marquise Brown (#15). Jackson and the Ravens gain 41 yards.
Jackson’s development has him poised to be one of the hardest quarterbacks to defend in the game. Through game two of his second season, Lamar is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes (seven) and has yet to throw an interception.
Despite the loss, Murray’s arm and touch were on display all day against the Ravens. A couple throws stood out.
Arizona is facing 2nd and 7 when they come out in this 11-personnel formation. Larry Fitzgerald (#11) is lined up tight to the field. The Cardinals are running a leak concept, with Fitzgerald the target. The purpose of the leak concept is to clear out one side of the field and have a target sneak out deep to the vacated area of the field. The play-action is crucial in this concept, as it causes the underneath defenders to creep up a few more steps towards the line of scrimmage. Murray comes out of the fake and looks towards the field side to draw the coverage away from where he wants to go with the ball. In the face of big defensive tackle Brandon Williams (#98), Murray lets the ball fly in Fitzgerald’s direction. A touch under-thrown, but Fitzgerald adjusts and gains 40 yards on a big play late in the game.
Despite the questions surrounding his size, Murray showed that he has the stones to stand in the pocket under pressure and deliver an accurate football.
Again, Arizona is in 11-personnel, with Fitzgerald lined up to the field in a twins formation with Damiere Byrd (#14). The Cardinals are attacking the Ravens’ Cover 3 with a vertical crossing concept. Marlon Humphrey (#44) fails in covering his deep third as he lets Kirk (#13) cross the field and comes up to cover Charles Clay (#85) on his flat route out of the backfield. Murray runs a play-action fake, rolls to his right, sets his feet, and lets another deep ball fly. This time he hits Fitzgerald in stride and the veteran rolls down field for a gain of 54 yards.
Even though he only has two professional starts, Murray has shown he has the skills to shred a defense vertically. Per ProFootballReference’s Stathead newsletter, Murray is leading the league in pass attempts through two weeks and is cutting it loose. Murray is currently 5th in air yards per completion and 7th in average depth of target.
Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson are off to great starts in their young careers. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until 2022 for the next game between the Cardinals and Ravens—unless the two teams meet in the Super Bowl between now and then.