Encouraging Signs from Jets Offense in Loss to Dolphins

When you have a young offense with a rookie quarterback, you are going to experience growing pains. Mistakes will be made. We saw this in Week 2 during the Jets’ home opener against the Dolphins. New York turned the ball over, dropped passes, mismanaged the clock, thwarted drives with penalties, and missed opportunities. With that being said, the offense continues to show encouraging signs.

For the 2nd straight week, we’ll say that we love what Jeremy Bates is doing with his young quarterback. On Sunday, Bates incorporated a good mix of play-action and boot-action. The play-action helped freeze defenders and simplified the reading progressions for Sam Darnold. The boot got him on the run where the reads are reduced and there is always the option to run or throw the ball out of bounds.

Darnold Boot1

How comfortable does Darnold look throwing on the run, by the way? We’ve seen this in just about every one of his appearances, going back to the preseason. The below play was a scramble to his left and another deadly accurate throw.

Darnold to the left

That ball has to be caught.

Darnold has shown precision accuracy throwing on the run, both moving to his right and to his left. The Jets’ offensive line was completely outmatched against the Dolphins on Sunday, so Bates knew he couldn’t just leave Darnold in the pocket on pass after pass. Screens and getting Darnold on the perimeter helped prevent Miami pass rushers from pinning their ears back and aiming for the same spot down after down.

Play-callers often like to move the pocket for this very reason. However, when you have an immobile quarterback, even if you call a few boots or sprint outs, the defense really doesn’t have to honor the threat. They know the majority of plays will still come from the pocket. With a mobile quarterback who can make plays throwing on the run in Darnold, defenses have to be aware of it at all times. The Jets don’t just use the rollout to simply mix things up. They can actually put together some consistent offense this way, and we expect them to do so all season.

Bates didn’t just make Darnold’s life easier by rolling him out or calling screens and play action, though. He once again helped Darnold out from a personnel-alignment perspective. As we wrote last week, personnel alignment can help define the coverage pre-snap. It is easier to play the quarterback position when you have a very good idea of what the defense is doing before the snap, and all you have to do is confirm the coverage post-snap.

The Jets’ lone touchdown of the day is a great example. Here, they aligned with 3 wide receivers to Darnold’s left and a tight end to the right.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Notice linebacker Kiko Alonso over tight end Christopher Herndon on the right side. A linebacker on the perimeter is a heavy indicator of man.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The Dolphins put their two starting cornerbacks, Bobby McCain and Xavien Howard, along with 2018 first round draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick (Listed as a safety but used as a cover corner in the slot) over the Jets’ 3 wide receivers on the left. This all but confirmed the man-to-man coverage.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Darnold knew that the route combinations would leave the middle of the field wide open. His running back, Bilal Powell, would be matched up in 1-on-1 coverage against linebacker Raekwon McMillan. Powell would be running an angle route over the middle.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

To a quarterback, linebackers exist to be taken advantage of in coverage. It really doesn’t matter who the player is. If you can go after linebackers in the passing game, you do it. Darnold had his running back against a linebacker with a lot of open space to maneuver. The man indicators pre-snap let him know that he had the Powell-McMillan matchup and that the other routes would take defenders away from the middle of the field. Darnold smartly focused on Powell and pulled the trigger.

Darnold TD to Powell

Makes quarterbacking look easy doesn’t it?

The Jets were down 20-6 at this point with plenty of time remaining. After the Dolphins turned the ball over deep in their own territory on their next drive, the Jets had a chance to close the gap even further. Bates wasn’t timid. He wanted the end zone right away. We love the aggressiveness.

The Jets came out in another formation to help define the coverage for Darnold pre-snap; 3 wide receivers to the right and a tight end isolated to the left.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The Dolphins matched up as you can see below. Notice the linebacker over the #3 inside receiver to Darnold’s right and the corner over the tight end to his left.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Defenses generally don’t match up with a linebacker on a wide receiver and a corner on a tight end if they are playing man coverage. This was a strong indicator of zone. Darnold was able to confirm that this was cover-3 zone immediately after the snap.

The zone coverage meant that the cornerback over Terrelle Pryor would be playing with outside leverage. Pryor was running a post route, and the zone indicators/outside leverage of the corner meant that his route would have a good chance of being open if the deep middle safety wasn’t a factor.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The safety was held by another route over the deep middle, giving Darnold the opening on Pryor’s post. The pass was intercepted, though.

Darnold INT

Pryor needed to come a little flatter on his route. As a receiver, you can’t let your defender win inside on a ball over the middle. In Pryor’s defense, it looked like his hand was being held by the corner. All of that being said, there is nothing wrong with Darnold’s thought process here. The other team gets paid to make plays too. Overall, despite the mistakes made by Darnold on the afternoon, the signs are encouraging that he gets how to play the position the right way.

One thing that was not the same in Week 2 for the Jets was their running game. They were not able to get anything going on the ground against the Dolphins (42 yards on 19 carries). This was largely because the offensive line was outmatched from the get-go. Center Spencer Long and Left Guard James Carpenter especially had difficult times. They weren’t much better in the passing game either.

That Dolphins defensive line figures to be pretty dangerous this season. Defensive end Robert Quinn made his presence felt on several plays on Sunday, and the Dolphins were, man for man, simply better than the Jets up front.

The Jets’ o-line was an issue coming into the season, and it will continue to be moving forward. The good news is that they have enough talent at the skill positions and in their offensive approach to be able to handle many of their deficiencies up front. This will definitely be something to monitor throughout the season, though, especially this Thursday against Myles Garrett and that much improved Browns defense.