INDIANAPOLIS – There are different ways to play the NFL’s most demanding position at a high level.
And that would be quarterback.
Exhibits A & B will share the field Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
We give you Philip Rivers, without question the prototypical pocket passer. Strong arm, albeit with the funky delivery. Fearless and more than willing to weigh the risk-reward equation when the situation warrants. Quick decision-maker and one of the most accurate quarterbacks in NFL history (10th, at 64.8%).
Speed? Um, not so much. Rivers will tell anyone who’ll listen he was clocked in a 4.98 40 at North Carolina State’s Pro Day in 2004.
That old-school package is responsible for 61,131 yards and 407 touchdowns, each 6th-most in NFL history, and 11 seasons with at least 4,000 yards, tied for 3rd-most.
Standing across the field from the Indianapolis Colts’ QB1: the Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson.
“I think you get everybody to tell you that Lamar is in a class almost by himself as far as what he brings and the qualities he brings to the position in such an elite and unique way,’’ coach Frank Reich said Wednesday on a Zoom conference call.
Jackson is among the new wave of QB1s sweeping across the NFL landscape. He’ll stand in the pocket and deliver lasers – 54 touchdown passes in 38 games, including a league-best 36 in his 2019 MVP season – but the 6-2, 212-pounder is the ultimate two-dimensional threat.
Allow Jackson to avoid the pass rush or find a crease on a designed run, and he’ll bedazzle defenses with his elusiveness and breakaway speed.
Last week, defensive end Justin Houston insisted Jackson was the fastest quarterback in the NFL. And his quick response indicated there wasn’t a close second.
“He is hands-down, by far the fastest, quickest quarterback,’’ Houston said. “That’s no knock toward any other quarterback.
“There’s a lot of quarterbacks with speed, but no other quarterback moves the way he moves in that pocket, and when he gets out of that pocket, he is so dangerous.’’
Remember we mentioned Rivers’ unofficial 4.98 40? At Louisville, Jackson posted a 4.34.
Rivers already has had up-close views of Jackson’s uniqueness. His Chargers split a pair of meetings with the Jackson-led Ravens in 2018. Baltimore posted a 22-10 win in week 16 only to have the Chargers get payback with a 23-17 victory in the first round of the playoffs in Baltimore.
“That was his first year going,’’ Rivers said. “Then he comes off an MVP season and obviously playing unbelievable football.
“He still has made a ton of plays from the pocket, throwing it. Unbelievable touch plays down the field, big chunk plays.’’
“There are times when we do play the same game,’’ he said. “He can play the style that I play. His other style, I can’t do.’’
Don’t take Rivers’ word for it, although the eye test should be more than enough.
Consider the Rivers-Jackson contrasts since the Ravens used the 32nd overall pick in the 2018 draft on Jackson:
- Rivers ranks 4th in the league with 10,783 yards and 10th with 65 TD passes. Jackson hasn’t exactly been a pedestrian passer, but ranks 25th with 5,671 yards and 16th with 54 TDs.
- In the Wheels category, it’s all Jackson. Naturally. He’s rushed for 2,312 yards, the most by a QB, and it’s not even close. Buffalo’s Josh Allen is next with 1,368 yards followed by Houston’s Deshaun Watson’s 1,111. Rivers? He’s 60th among QBs with – brace yourself – 34 on 42 attempts/kneel downs. That 0.81 per-attempt average ranks 73rd.
- Rivers’ longest run since the start of 2018: a 12-yarder at Detroit in ’19. Jackson has had 19 runs of at least 24 yards. Nineteen, for cryin’ out loud.
“There’s a lot of different ways to get it done,’’ Rivers said. “A lot of different throwing motions, a lot of different ways guys process . . . what they look for when they break the huddle or who reads this guy or that, or what they do best.
“There’s all kinda different ways to do it. (Jackson) certainly is an awesome player. Been great for our league, he and other young quarterbacks that can both throw it and run it and extend plays, make unbelievable runs and plays. It’s been great for the league.’’
Different ways, indeed.
Rivers, the Pocket QB, is 128-103 as a starter and his win total ranks 8th all-time. He’s been selected to the Pro Bowl eight times. He led the league with 4,710 yards in 2010, and with 34 TDs and a 105.5 passer rating in ’08.
Jackson, the Unique QB, is 24-5 as a starter and since his first start in week 11 of ’18, the 24 wins are most in the NFL. Less than three seasons into his NFL career, he’s been named MVP, first-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler.
Rivers figures to have his hands full with a Ravens’ defense that ranks 7th overall and 2nd in points. It has 12 takeaways, tied for 3rd-most, and 24 sacks, 5th-most.
But at some point Sunday, Rivers will catch a glimpse of Jackson. He won’t be able to help himself. He’ll take a few seconds to catch his breath from the previous series and huddle on the bench with coordinator Nick Sirianni, position coach Marcus Brady and backup Jacoby Brissett.
“Then I just have a hard time sitting down,’’ Rivers said. “I’ve always enjoyed watching our defense play, and that also includes the opposing team’s quarterback.’’
Rivers recalled a Chargers’ trip to Green Bay in 2007 and watching Brett Favre lead a 31-24 Packers win.
“He threw a slant to Donald Driver for a touchdown that beat us,’’ Rivers said. “It was a heckuva game. But just seeing a guy like that, I go, ‘Shoot, I grew up watching him, and here we are on the same field.’’
And there were memorable meetings with Peyton Manning, both while Manning was in Indy and Denver.
“Getting to compete in the same division,’’ Rivers said of the AFC West. “He was always a favorite. I allow myself to be 10, 11, 12 years old just for about 10 seconds every time Peyton ran out on the field to warm up. I just was like, ‘Shoot, there’s Peyton Manning.’ I’m like, ‘What in the world’s happening here?
“Then you go right back to, ‘We’ve gotta get after him.’
“It’s fun to watch these guys, what they can do. Unbelievable what they can do, obviously what (Jackson) can do athletically running with the football and how fast he is and some of the runs he’s made over his career. It’s just remarkable. And he’s made a ton of plays from the pocket as well.’’
Along with their disparate playing styles, there’s the age difference separating Rivers (38) and Jackson (23).
“Thinking about when I (entered) the NFL, shoot, he was 8,’’ Rivers said. “He was my third grader’s age.
“It’s pretty awesome.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.