In a quip that quickly made the rounds, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson said his performance Sunday was "not bad for a running back." The line was a reminder that Jackson has been listening as NFL analysts questioned whether he could play quarterback in the traditional sense rather than simply capitalize on his elite running skills.
The Ravens' game plan against the Miami Dolphins seemed designed not only to debunk that assessment but also force their next 15 opponents to reconsider their presumed game plans. Jackson fired the ball all over the field with accuracy, throwing five touchdown passes in three quarters and spending almost the entire game behind the line of scrimmage.
This revelation is a perfect point to launch our quarterback awards, a weekly distribution of QB accolades using unique data culled from ESPN Stats & Information and NFL Next Gen Stats. Each Tuesday, we'll highlight the best and worst QB performances from the NFL weekend and break down what made each quarterback perform at either extreme. Let's start with Jackson, our best quarterback of the NFL's opening week.
Best QB of Week 1: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Sure, it's possible that the tanking Dolphins will finish the season as one of the worst teams in NFL history. But it would be wrong to view Jackson's Week 1 performance solely in the context of defensive quality. The passes he completed were not easy, based on the positioning of defenders and the distances the ball traveled in the air, and he was pressured on 36.4% of his passes, the sixth-highest rate in Week 1.
Most notable, of course, was that the Ravens did not feel compelled to utilize the run-heavy scheme they tied Jackson to last season. He threw the ball on 20 of his 22 dropbacks, carrying only once on a designed run and then scrambling one other time. (His third "carry" was a kneel-down.) In 2018, Jackson carried on a design run on 23% of his total plays and scrambled on 13% of his total dropbacks.
His passes posted a relatively high degree of difficulty, in part because they averaged 11.9 air yards past the line of scrimmage, tied for the second-most in the NFL. And while Jackson did exploit some busted coverages, the Ravens actually had the fourth-lowest percentage of open receivers (35%), as defined by the instances when there was no defender within 3 yards of the target, per Next Gen Stats data. Only 5.3% of his passes were judged in ESPN charting to be off-target, the fourth-lowest rate in Week 1. And using the NFL Next Gen model for completion probability, Jackson completed a league-high 24.8% more of his passes than an average quarterback would be expected to.
As ESPN's Dan Graziano noted, it would be a bit of an overreaction to lock in Jackson as the league's MVP after just one big game. But he'll have a decent chance to demonstrate in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals that this was no fluke. The Cards gave up 385 passing yards and three touchdown passes to Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, whose 11.9 air yards per attempt Sunday tied Jackson for second best. In other words, the Cardinals' defense will provide Jackson another opportunity to connect with the type of deep throws that highlighted his Week 1 performance.
Dime Award: Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Did you see the perfect pass Wentz launched to receiver DeSean Jackson in the second quarter Sunday? It had it all, and NFL Next Gen Stats is here to prove it.
It had distance: At 58.4 yards from his hand to Jackson's, it was the longest throw of Week 1.
It had touch: The ball hung in the air for 3.1 seconds, long enough for Jackson to reach a top speed of 21.4 mph to snag it -- the third-fastest speed of Week 1.
It had defensive presence: Redskins cornerback Josh Norman ran with Jackson most of the way down the field before Jackson got 1 yard of separation on him.
The end result was a 51-yard touchdown that sparked the Eagles' comeback from a 17-0 deficit. Based on those data points, Next Gen's model assigned this play the lowest completion probability of any reception in Week 1 (15.9%).
Believe What You See Award: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
"My body feels fine," Newton said after the Panthers' 30-27 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Newton added that he "didn't even think about" his surgically repaired shoulder. But the numbers suggest otherwise.
Only two of Newton's 38 attempts traveled more than 15 yards downfield. Both fell incomplete. The only starter who threw fewer such passes was the Minnesota Vikings' Kirk Cousins, who had only 10 total attempts.
Furthermore, Newton was getting rid of the ball unusually quickly for him. His released his passes in less than 2.5 seconds on an NFL-high 71% of his dropbacks. And the Rams' pass rush wasn't the issue; Newton's 17.1% pressure rate was the fifth-lowest in Week 1.
This is a scheme/confidence/health issue that is worth monitoring. Newton and the Panthers have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers up next.
How To Move On Award: Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
Once the shock of Andrew Luck's retirement dissipated, the big question in Indianapolis became how the Colts' offense would change with Brissett as the full-time starter. We got our first glimpse during Sunday's 30-24 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, and one notable aspect stood out.
For one week, at least, Brissett's throws were much shorter. His average pass traveled 24% fewer yards past the line of scrimmage (5.8) than Luck's did in 2018 (7.6). Twenty-three qualified quarterbacks averaged more air yards per pass in Week 1.
Good teams adjust their approach based on opponents' strengths and weaknesses. But in Week 2, Brissett will face a Tennessee Titans defense that limited the Cleveland Browns' downfield juggernaut to only one completion on passes that traveled more than 15 yards downfield. The Colts once again might be better served keeping their passing offense closer to the line of scrimmage.
Thanks For The Help Award: Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Let's be clear from the start. Prescott played a great game in leading the Cowboys to a 35-17 victory over the New York Giants. He threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns, and were it not for Lamar Jackson's breakout performance, his 96.9 Total QBR would have led the league.
But let's also remember there are many factors that go into a sparkling outing for a quarterback. In this case, Prescott faced almost no pressure from the Giants' defense. Next Gen Stats recorded pressure -- defined as a defender within 2 yards of the quarterback when he throws -- on only one his 32 dropbacks. That 9.4% pressure rate was by far the lowest in Week 1. For further context, it would have ranked as the third-lowest for the entire 2018 season.
Again, this is not to disparage Prescott's game. Last season, for example, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger enjoyed a 3.3% pressure rate and still lost to the Oakland Raiders. But there is little doubt that a clean pocket is more conducive to a high-level performance. So we need to tip our cap a little to the help Prescott got in this division win.
Week 1 performances are difficult to put into context. Was this superior pass protection from the Cowboys, poor pass-rushing from the Giants or both? A Week 2 matchup against the Redskins could provide a little more of a challenge. They put Wentz under pressure on 22.5% of his dropbacks.