The Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens square off on Sunday in Charm City, and both Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson are being asked to carry their teams.
In the modern NFL, great quarterbacks are asked to be the sun of their team’s solar system.
In Baltimore and Buffalo, they’re the entire galaxy.
Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson are on all-time paces in terms of percentage of yardage accounted for. Through three games this season, Allen has accounted for 83.4 percent of the Bills’ total yards. Jackson somehow checks in at an even higher rate of 85.9 percent.
For comparison’s sake, here’s how recent Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks have measured in the same statistic.
Tom Brady, 2020: 73.7%:
Russell Wilson, 2013: 68.4%
Aaron Rodgers, 2010: 71.8%
Peyton Manning, 2006: 73.0%
Kurt Warner, 1999: 69.3%
Steve Young, 1994: 70.3%
Over the last 30 years, quarterbacks tend to be right around the 70 percent threshold. Yet Jackson and Allen, enjoying the combined skills as tremendous passers and talented runners, are attempting to change what a winning quarterback can be.
Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson changing what it means to be a winning QB
For years, the groupthink in NFL circles has been running quarterbacks can win games, but not championships. One must win from the pocket first, and use his legs second. Jackson and Allen began their careers as talented throwers who were most dangerous when on the move. Now, both have morphed into full-fledged quarterbacks who can also take off and win on the ground.
This has turned conventional thinking on its proverbial ear, but it’s a fair question to wonder if Allen and Jackson can keep up their torrid paces without both slump and injuries.
Last year, Jackson missed five games to end the season with an ankle injury, the first time he missed action. In his unanimous MVP season of 2019, Jackson was brilliant, but accounted for just 65.2 percent of his team’s offensive yardage. Allen’s best campaign was 2020, earning Second-Team All-Pro honors alongside Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs. That year, Allen went for 76.3 percent of Buffalo’s yards.
So while Jackson and Allen are a new breed of quarterback — far from the stationary days of Manning and Warner — this is new territory even for them. The Bills and Ravens are each 2-1 and have the look of contenders, but it’s clear both need their signal-callers to be historic in yardage share to win it all.
This is made more challenging by the elongated 17-game schedule, along with only one team getting a bye week come the postseason. One of these quarterbacks will need to travel a 21-game road if they’re to win a Super Bowl.
Of course, it also figures at some point, teams will begin forcing anybody else to beat them.
Against Baltimore, opponents will eventually try to stack the box, take away Jackson’s ability to run and challenge a questionable group of targets to beat them in man coverage. This could be a tough adjustment for the Ravens, as Jackson’s 243 rushing yards tie him off fifth-most in the NFL, alongside the Carolina Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey.
With Buffalo, the Bills are guaranteed to start getting an increasing amount of two-high shells, forcing the ball to continuously go underneath. Allen has shown a willingness to play this way, but it’s hard to be patient for a full afternoon. However, with Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis and Dawson Knox, Buffalo has the talent in the passing game to win in a variety of ways.
On Sunday, we’ll see the two best quarterbacks thus far in 2022. The two quarterbacks being asked not only to be great, but to be everything to their contending teams.
The question isn’t about their individual greatness. It’s about how far their galactic talents can go before the limit is finally reached.