Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson: Breaking down the NFL’s two best quarterbacks
Quarterback coach Quincy Avery says it doesn’t get any better than this AFC Championship Game matchup
The NFL is abuzz with anticipation about the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens playing Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
Throughout the league, there’s even more anticipation than usual about a matchup in which a Super Bowl berth is at stake because it also marks the first postseason showdown between the NFL’s top two quarterbacks: Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Lamar Jackson of the Ravens. With all due respect to the league’s other franchise passers, a conference championship game featuring Mahomes and Jackson dwarfs any other marquee quarterbacks duel during these playoffs.
Mahomes has won two Associated Press MVP awards and Jackson is expected to be awarded his second AP trophy in the week before the Super Bowl. No other active quarterback drafted in the last 17 years even has one.
With their distinctive styles of play, they’ve inspired NFL coaches and fans alike to reimagine what’s possible from the most important position in sports. Mahomes and Jackson are gifted artists, renowned quarterback coach Quincy Avery said, and he plans to watch every second of their first dual show in the playoffs.
“You’re getting ready to watch two of the most creative football players to ever play the game, and two football players who are entering the peak of their abilities,” Avery told Andscape on the phone Tuesday. “Patrick Mahomes is the ultimate artist. He has the ability to create, both in structure [of the Chiefs’ offense] and out of structure, unlike anybody we’ve ever seen.
“He throws the ball as well as you can … but he’s also mobile enough to create time and space, and to do things that other people just don’t have the ability to do. Then when you think about Lamar, there’s one word: Stress. I mean that in a good way. I mean, he stresses out defensive coordinators in a way they’ve never been stressed out before.”
Avery, an independent quarterback coach, has worked with many top college and NFL passers, including Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns, Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears, C.J. Stroud of the Houston Texans and Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles. When it comes to coaching the position, Avery is widely considered one of the best teachers in the game.
Avery has studied Mahomes and Jackson closely since they were in college at Texas Tech and Louisville, respectively. Although little surprises Avery about playing quarterback, he’s often wowed by how Mahomes and Jackson perform every week.
“Mahomes throws the ball as well as you can throw the ball in three different ways,” Avery said. “Think of a pitcher who throws three great pitches. He throws the ball firm [on a straight line] as well as anyone. He’s also great on those touch balls that go right over [the hands of defensive backs] and fall right into the receivers’ laps. He drops them in perfectly.
“And he also pushes the ball down the field with high trajectory passes. He has
the three most important pitches. And he can put those three pitches exactly where he wants to put them whenever he wants to put them. When you think about [every NFL starting quarterback] … it’s just a very short list of guys who have all three with the command of them also.”
Although Jackson is built differently from Mahomes, Avery said, Jackson is no less spectacular than his fellow superstar. Jackson’s immense improvement as a pocket passer the past few seasons has been bad news for the NFL’s defensive playcallers.
“There was a point in time where people thought, ‘OK, let’s just make him throw.’ But that’s not the way it is now,” Avery said. “If you try to implement that strategy now, if you try not to rush him and keep him in the pocket, he can eviscerate you from the pocket.
“And the thing is, he’s still the most athletic person on the field. Whenever he steps on the field, he can do things that nobody else can even think about. That’s why he puts so much stress on defensive coordinators. It’s like, ‘What do we do now?’ He’s just that good.”
Michael Vick and Cam Newton also were incredible dual-threat quarterbacks, “and the three of them are the most uniquely gifted athletes we’ve ever seen play” quarterback, Avery said. “To me, Lamar has the same level of athleticism that Michael Vick had in terms of straight speed, but he may be a little quicker.
“He just throws the ball so well from the pocket. Like, I don’t think people understand how good of a job he has done with that part of his game. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for working so hard on that part of it to get to where he is now. I mean, he’s just able to pick people apart from the pocket now.”
Mahomes wouldn’t be favored against Jackson in a race, but he’s athletic, too.
“He would win every game of tag he ever played,” Avery said. “His way of changing directions … he runs as fast in every direction as he does running forward.
“He isn’t as fast as some of the other guys at the position. But he doesn’t have to be. His ability to change direction, create space and maintain his balance is unlike anyone else.”
During four meetings in the regular season since Mahomes and Jackson have been starting for the Chiefs and Ravens, respectively, the Chiefs are 3-1. Of course, none of that matters now.
Their playoff slate is clean, and Mahomes and Jackson are vying for the same prize.
“These two guys are doing it mentally and physically in a way that we’ve never seen,” Avery said. “They’re at the peak of their quarterback ability. This [game] should be something.”
With the NFL’s best two quarterbacks squaring off for a spot in the Super Bowl, yes, one would certainly think so.