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Ravens Insider: Mike Preston: Lamar Jackson vs. Patrick Mahomes with a Super Bowl trip on the line is a treat | COMMENTARY


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There are a lot of similarities between Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, but there is one significant distinction.

Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, is a two-time world champion and was the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player in each of their wins in 2018 and 2022. Jackson, the Ravens quarterback, has yet to even play for one.

But that might change.

Jackson and top-seeded Baltimore will get the opportunity Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium when they host Mahomes and the Chiefs in the AFC title game, the first the Ravens have played at home. This isn’t about passing the torch from one icon to another like Los Angeles Lakers guard Magic Johnson to Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan when both played on the “Dream Team” in the 1992 Olympics.

Both Mahomes, 28, and Jackson, 26, are in the prime of their careers. Mahomes has had better coaching and more talent around him, but this season has seen a reversal in fortunes. The absence of titles on Jackson’s resume is glaring compared with Mahomes’, whose Chiefs will be playing in a sixth straight conference championship game.

“It’s a huge challenge,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Kansas City. “We’re playing a great football team, they’re very talented and very well-coached. They know how to win. They’ve been in these situations many times. They’ve been here before. It’s our first time with this team and these guys, but we’re up for the challenge, and we’re excited.”

Jackson has been on a roll this season. He is likely to win his second NFL MVP Award — the other came unanimously after his 2019 season — but more importantly, he played well in the divisional round during the Ravens’ 34-10 win over the Texans, accounting for four touchdowns.

He completed 16 of 22 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns and added 100 yards rushing and two scores on 11 carries. He did more damage with his legs than his arm, but that’s always been a major part of his success.

The Ravens wanted to upgrade their passing game to become more balanced with the rushing attack, and the team succeeded with 541 rushing attempts compared with 457 passes. Jackson completed 67.2% of his throws for 3,678 yards and 24 touchdowns with seven interceptions in the regular season, and he led the team in rushing, too, with 821 yards and five touchdowns on 148 carries.

Because of his speed, Jackson is a threat from anywhere on the field.

  • Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson breaks from the pocket for a gain against the Houston Texans in the fourth quarter. (Jerry Jackson/Staff photo)

    Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson runs in the fourth quarter Saturday against the Texans. (Jerry Jackson/Staff)

  • Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes reacts after beating the Bills on...

    Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes reacts after beating the Bills on Sunday in Orchard Park, New York. (Adrian Kraus/AP)



“I would tell you, it’s somewhat the same,” Kansas City coach Andy Reid said when asked how Jackson compares with Bills quarterback Josh Allen. “You have to stay in your lanes, you have to stay disciplined with any quarterback that runs. Lamar is special, he’s fast and one of the faster guys on the field when it’s all said and done and he’s shifty. Where Josh will go right through you, he doesn’t care, he’s a big big man and probably equally as fast.

“He’s a fast kid, he’s run away from secondary players, you’ve seen that on tape. This kid [Jackson], he throws it well, he throws it on the move well, runs the ball well so we’ve just got to stay on top of that part of it throughout practice this week and then during the game.”

While Jackson and Allen are different types of hybrids, Mahomes is the most complete quarterback in the NFL. No signal-caller is more elusive than Jackson, and Allen might have the strongest arm in the league (no offense, Aaron Rodgers).

But Mahomes is the total package. He has the touch and, oh, so much vision.

He also completed 67.2% of his passing attempts for 4,138 yards and 27 touchdowns but threw a career-high 14 interceptions in the regular season. Mahomes also scrambled for 389 yards on 75 carries for an average of 5.2 yards. Beyond the statistics, he has more deliveries than the pizza man.

“Patrick just has great pocket presence,” Harbaugh said. “He sees the field, and he feels the pocket. He must have an antenna that he just senses all that, like your car has all those sensors that start beeping when guys get close. It must be that way for him because he kind of senses the pressure, and he’s able to just move around and get away but keep his eyes downfield, slip out and all those kinds of things. That’s what he does.

“Everybody that watches football knows it. It’s one of his gifts, so we’re going to have to really study it and be good at defending it. I do like our guys’ chances. We’ve got a lot of really good athletes, a lot of guys who play hard, so we’ll just try to make it as hard on him as we can.”

The teams appear even statistically. Offensively, the Ravens are ranked No. 6 overall — No. 1 in rushing (156.5 yards per game) and No. 21 in passing (213.8) — while the Chiefs are ninth — 19th in rushing (104.9) and sixth in passing (246.4).

Defensively, Kansas City has the statistical edge with the No. 2 overall ranking (113.2 rushing, 176.5 passing) while the Ravens are ranked sixth overall allowing averages of 109.4 rushing and 191.9 passing a game.

If you want to go deeply analytical, though, the Ravens are better across the board. According to FTNFantasy’s Aaron Schatz’s Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system, which breaks down every single NFL play and compares a team’s performance to a league-average baseline based on situation and opponent, the Ravens are No. 1 overall. They have the top-ranked defense, the No. 3 special teams and the No. 4 offense. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are fifth in DVOA overall, eighth offensively, seventh defensively and sixth on special teams. In fact, Schatz puts this Ravens team among the greatest ever based on his measurement.

Mahomes has carried the offense this season. In the past two years, the Chiefs have allowed two of their top receivers to leave. They traded star wideout Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a bevy of draft picks, including a first-rounder.

After last season, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster left Kansas City to sign a free agent contract with the New England Patriots, while offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy joined the Commanders to become their play-caller.

The Ravens, though, brought in Todd Monken from the University of Georgia to become Jackson’s third coordinator in six years. They also signed free agent receivers Nelson Agholor and Odell Beckham Jr. and drafted Boston College rookie receiver Zay Flowers with their top pick in April’s draft.

They also have gotten solid contributions for tight end Isaiah Likely in place of the injured Mark Andrews and third-year wideout Rashod Bateman.

In previous years, the Ravens built everything around Jackson in an obsolete run-first offense. Now we see what he can do with real playmaking receivers. Both quarterbacks are explosive, can improvise and extend plays with their arms and legs.

The only difference is that Mahomes has won two Super Bowl titles and Jackson hasn’t even made an appearance.

Jackson wants to change that. It’s about time, or better yet, it might be his time.

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