On Sunday, Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes meet when the Kansas City Chiefs host the Baltimore Ravens, exclusively live on Sky Sports Action. What can you expect in a battle between two of the league’s hottest young stars?
In the Super Bowl era, only two quarterbacks have ever began the season with seven-plus passing touchdowns, no picks, and a 70-plus completion rate in the first two games of a season. Those two? Jackson and Mahomes.
Sunday’s match-up will showcase arguably the NFL’s best two players to start the season, who are both young (22 and 24), exciting and, so far, undefeated.
In a week where three potential Hall of Famers have seen their seasons halted, it is fitting that this weekend, all eyes will be on the QBs who are taking the position to the next level.
Jackson proving doubters wrong
“Not bad for a running back,” was Lamar Jackson’s quip to reporters after Baltimore’s 59-10 drubbing of the Miami Dolphins in Week One, in which he had a perfect passer rating, and completed 85 per cent of his passes and threw five touchdowns and no interceptions.
Jackson’s short experience with the NFL has been met with criticism, or at least a second-guessing of his ability as a passer.
In the lead up to last year’s NFL Draft – in which he was taken by Baltimore with the 32nd overall pick – there were analysts who believed he should switch positions. He was described as more of a runner than a passer, and one team even asked him to work out for them as a receiver.
He stuck to his guns, refusing to take part in the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, instead wanting to show off his passing skills.
Jackson ended up being the fifth quarterback taken in that class – behind Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen – but the Ravens believed in him, and he has proven them right.
After taking over from underwhelming, long-time starter Joe Flacco last season, Jackson led the team to a 6-1 record in the regular season and a playoff appearance. His passing numbers were what you might expect from a first-year player (58.2 per cent completion rate, six touchdowns to three interceptions) and his rushing? It was as good as many of the best backs around league (147 attempts, 695 yards and five scores on the ground).
However, a rough playoff performance in which he was held to just 25 passing yards until the fourth quarter (he ended with 194 in a 23-17 loss to the Chargers) led to further questions this offseason. Can he be a top pocket passer? Was he exposed?
The former Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner has answered his critics in the best way he could to start this season.
In the victory over Miami, Jackson became the youngest player ever to achieve a perfect passer rating. In Week Two against the Cardinals, he showed that improved passing doesn’t mean he will regress as a runner – he will do both.
He put his name in the history books again, becoming the first player in NFL history to pass for more than at least 250 yards and rush for 120 in one game.
Jackson is special, and he is breaking out in a big way.
Mahomes on MVP pace again
Mahomes isn’t breaking out. He has done that already.
Last season – in his first as a full-time starter – the former Texas Tech gunslinger became only the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a single campaign (after Tom Brady and Peyton Manning). He was subsequently named the league’s MVP.
With every downfield launch, outrageous fastball, and no-look pass, the myth of Mahomes grew as the Chiefs got to within one game of Super Bowl 53 before being knocked out in overtime by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
In Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy’s wide-open offense, Mahomes is taking the position to a new level. What he did last year was unprecedented for any player so early in his career, and this year, he is on pace to better it!
With 821 yards and seven touchdowns through two weeks, he would end up with 6,568 yards and 56 touchdowns if he continued at that rate over 16 games, and both would be NFL records.
Both Mahomes (136.3) and Jackson (145.2) have current passer ratings that would obliterate Aaron Rodgers’ record of 122.5 (2011).
I will slow down. It’s early – very early – but after Mahomes’ performance last season, nothing seems out of reach.
Last week in Oakland, he threw four touchdowns in one single quarter. It’s not hard to imagine he will become the first QB to throw eight scores in a game or break further records down the line.
On Sunday, however, the difference in this game may just be defense.
When Mahomes has the ball
Since the start of the 2018 season, Kansas City have averaged an NFL-best 431.4 total yards per game. In that same period, Baltimore’s defense has led the league, allowing just 290.9 yards per outing. Something has got to give.
When these two teams met in Week 14 last year, the Chiefs put up 442 yards (the most Baltimore allowed all year) as Mahomes rallied in regular time with two fourth-down conversions to tie the game, and the Chiefs came out on top in overtime 27-24.
In order to win this game, 25 might be the key number for Baltimore. The Chiefs have scored 25-plus points in 23 straight games (an NFL record) while the Ravens are 0-8 since 2017 when allowing 25-plus. With a dominant defense that has only given up 27 points in their first two games combined, will they be able to end KC’s streak?
Their success might depend on how Mahomes faces the blitz, as again, two opposite ends of the spectrum face off. The Chiefs quarterback averages 9.1 yards against the blitz since 2018, and has a 120.9 passer rating (both lead the NFL), but he has only been pressured on 20 per cent of his dropbacks.
The Ravens, meanwhile, are aggressive, and have blitzed 43.6 per cent of the time this year, third-highest in the league, to great success (239 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 pick). Will they dare come after Mahomes on Sunday?
And who will be Kansas City’s top offensive target this week with Tyreek Hill still sidelined with a collarbone injury? Against the Jaguars, Sammy Watkins registered career highs of 198 yards and three touchdowns. Last week, Demarcus Robinson stepped up with six catches, 172 yards and a pair of scores. Tight end Travis Kelce is a three-time All-Pro and capable of changing the game.
Baltimore must be prepared for anything, as Mahomes can win in many ways.
When Jackson has the ball
In last year’s meeting, Baltimore had their fewest yards (321) and passing yards (127) of any of Jackson’s career starts. However, it’s clear he is coming into this meeting as an improved passer, and the offense looks unstoppable.
Take a look at both team’s offensive stats so far this year: