It’s almost as if Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and Ken Dorsey were trying to make a point last Thursday by throwing at Jalen Ramsey early and often. The all-pro, the Pro Bowler, the highest-paid, and the most-respected by his peers, Ramsey does stand alone in one category through the first week of the season:
He’s the only cornerback in the NFL to have allowed a passer rating of 158.3 on more than five targets: According to Pro-Football-Reference, Allen went 7-of-8 for 108 yards (one yard below the most yards allowed by any player in Week 1) when throwing in Ramsey’s direction.
When you talk the most, you have to expect that players like Diggs are going to want to challenge you the most.
Throwing at Ramsey eight times is not that unusual however. In fact, there were seven circumstances in 2021 when quarterbacks threw at Ramsey at least nine times, including twice in the playoffs:
- Tom Brady threw at Ramsey a season-high 12 times in their Week 3 matchup, completing eight passes for 59 yards; then Brady beat that, throwing at him 13 times in the divisional round and completing seven for 109 yards and a touchdown
- Kirk Cousins threw at Ramsey 10 times, while Russell Wilson/Geno Smith combined to do the same in Week 5, gaining 75 yards and a touchdown; Wilson attempted nine passes against Ramsey in Week 15
- Joe Burrow threw at Ramsey nine times in the Super Bowl, completing five passes for 160 yards and a touchdown, but also because Tee Higgins got away with a facemask
This might all sound like an implication that Ramsey is bad or that his talent is fading. Of course, Jalen Ramsey was still one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL in 2021 (Super Bowl champion) and there’s no reason to expect him to fall off in 2022. However, do quarterbacks have that “fear” of throwing at Ramsey like they used to?
In 2020, only one quarterback challenged Ramsey more than nine times: Dak Prescott went 8-of-11 for 81 yards in a Week 1 Rams win. Ramsey then allowed 25 yards over the next four games. But in the playoffs, quarterbacks were 10-of-15 when throwing at Ramsey with both Wilson and Aaron Rodgers scoring touchdowns against him in those circumstances—although there’s always more to a touchdown than just assigning blame to one player.
We may not even be blaming the right player, so please do take all these stats with that very important caveat.
However, that doesn’t mean we can ignore the attempt rate: 71 passes at Ramsey in 2020 vs. 98 attempts in 2021 (in one more contest) and then Josh Allen comes out the gate firing against L.A.’s number one cornerback.
During his nine-game debut with the Rams in 2019, Ramsey was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 43 times, a rate of 4.7 targets per game. The rate in 2021, including playoffs, was 6.3 per game. Is that a significant enough difference to consider the idea that opposing quarterbacks, receivers, and offensive coordinators are more prone to throwing at Jalen Ramsey instead of away from him?
Because their other options this year—Troy Hill, David Long—would seem to be more appealing than one of the best cornerbacks in the league and we also know that most teams these days are bringing two or three massively talented receiving weapons into each contest.
The Rams’ Week 2 opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, do not appear to be one of those teams.
The shake back gon be legendary, ain’t even sweating it!— Jalen Ramsey (@jalenramsey) September 10, 2022
After trading Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans in 2021, then seeing Calvin Ridley suspended for the entire 2022 season, the Falcons enter the year with a pair of under-23 weapons at the disposal of quarterback Marcus Mariota: Tight end Kyle Pitts takes the lead for the offense and was targeted seven times in Week 1 and rookie receiver Drake London, 21, led the team with five catches for 71 yards.
Complementing them are receivers Khadarel Hodge, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Bryan Edwards.
If Ramsey can shutdown London in his second career start, Mariota will need to turn to one of the journeymen receivers on the team who is considered ‘less talented’ than the rookie who was dominant at USC before breaking his ankle in 2021, and that will force head coach Arthur Smith to change his gameplan.
Could Mariota and London come out firing against Ramsey early, assuming that’s who he is matched up against?
For Ramsey, these are the moments that will define where he is truly at in his career arc. At 27 (with an October birthday staring him in the face), Ramsey should not be past his peak or studying the playbook as a strong safety, as we recently saw Stephon Gilmore win a Defensive Player of the Year award at 29.
But the number that matters the most will not be 158.3 necessarily. It will be the number of times that opposing quarterbacks feel that they have an open receiver who is matched up against Ramsey. With a rookie on deck this early in the season, Ramsey knows that his job isn’t necessarily to get one interception.
It’s to get zero opportunities for an interception.