After what appeared to be a step in the right direction with a win over the Dallas Cowboys, the Jets have embarked on a hellish 3 weeks. 2nd-year quarterback Sam Darnold’s numbers during that span have been ugly:
58.4 Comp %
188.0 Pass YPG
50.9 QB Rating
11.0 Points Per Game
The concerning part of Darnold’s play isn’t just his poor performance. He is regressing under Adam Gase.
One of the red flags about Darnold’s game coming out of college was that his feet didn’t always move with his eyes as he worked through his progressions. This impacted his ability to attack all areas of the field at a moment’s notice and to consistently deliver accurate passes. Last year, we wrote about how he had improved in this area. In recent weeks, however, he looks worse than he did in college.
The below interception against the Jaguars is a perfect example. Watch how Darnold’s eyes went from the middle of the field to the sideline but his feet remained pointed down the middle of the field. This throw was all arm. The result was an inaccurate ball that was thrown too far inside and lost steam at the end.
Accuracy and consistency come from replicating mechanics. That starts with footwork, as we wrote last week. You can’t always throw from a perfect base, but you have to when you have the opportunity.
Darnold’s struggles don’t just take place when he works through his progressions. Any movement within the pocket these days seems to force him to lose his throwing base altogether. This has led to him making some throws unnecessarily off balanced, like this interception against the Patriots in Week 7.
That throw was made from a clean pocket, yet Darnold played it like he was dealing with pressure in his face. He rushed the pass, and it’s hard to understand why exactly he attempted this particular throw in the first place.
It’s safe to say that Darnold’s decision-making has been suspect to this point in his young career. His propensity for forcing passes and turning the ball over was another knock on him coming out of the Draft. He has also regressed in this area under Gase. Darnold is not seeing or reading the field well, as illustrated on the below interception against Jacksonville.
Here, the Jets were down 7 in the 4th quarter, and facing a 2nd-and-24. The Jaguars were playing quarters coverage to Darnold’s left. In quarters coverage, it is the cornerback’s responsibility to play with outside leverage and match the vertical release of the #1 receiver. The safety’s responsibility is the vertical release of the #2 receiver.
The Jets called a route combination specifically designed to beat quarters – a post with a wheel route from the slot.
The idea of this concept is that the wheel route attacks the safety. When the safety bites and matches #2’s vertical stem, the middle of the field should be open for the post. Since the corner generally plays this coverage with an outside shade, the post route should give the receiver leverage to the inside.
Right before Darnold was ready to throw, he saw the safety bite on the #2 receiver’s vertical route, clearing out the middle of the field, just as it was drawn up on the whiteboard during the week.
Darnold thought he had the post open. However, the cornerback (A.J. Bouye) recognized the route combination, had started moving inside, and was well on top of the post route. The route was dead.
Darnold should not have thrown this ball. He should have read the coverage and the positioning of the targeted defenders and come down to his tight end, who was leaking out to his left. There is nothing wrong with cutting the yards to go by half (or possibly more) and setting up a more manageable 3rd down. Instead, he made a careless decision and lofted up a desperation throw.
Darnold also made the wrong type of throw here, putting the ball on top of the post route instead of leading his receiver across the field (something we’ve seen often out of Darnold). Bouye came down with the interception, setting up the game-sealing touchdown and another Jets loss.
Darnold’s poor decision-making again reared its ugly head in a critical goal-line situation against Miami on Sunday. Here, the Jets were looking to create a pick with their outside two receivers for Jamison Crowder, aligned as the #3 inside.
But the outside receiver, Robby Anderson, was pushed back into Crowder’s route, completely disrupting the play.
At that point, Crowder’s route was dead. Darnold should have thrown the ball away and lived to pay another down (this was 2nd-and-goal). Instead, he held onto the ball, tried to find an open receiver, and made a ridiculous desperation heave with a defender hanging off of him.
That simply cannot happen. Unfortunately for Darnold, it’s happened all too often throughout his young career, and especially during his last 3 games.
With that being said, not all of the Jets’ offensive issues are Darnold’s fault. His receivers have not shown the ability to consistently create separation. Le’Veon Bell has been utilized as if he is just another running back. Darnold’s offensive line has been getting pushed back into his lap on a regular basis. They are allowing free lanes up the middle to pass rushers far too often.
Who knows exactly why Darnold is performing the way he is. Maybe the layoff hurt his timing and confidence. Maybe he is more conscious of protecting himself after his Mono diagnosis. Perhaps he is hiding a serious injury. Whatever the case may be, he has to improve his footwork, decision-making, and overall game management. That these areas of his game have gotten worse this season is a damning indictment of Adam Gase’s ability to develop a young quarterback.
Darnold and the Jets have looked unprepared all season. Cohesion on the field has been non-existent. Nothing is buttoned up on either side of the ball. The Jets aren’t doing any of the little things right. What’s worse is that Darnold and the offense have regressed. All of these issues point to Adam Gase as the main culprit. The Jets have been a disaster under his watch this season, and there are no signs that things will get better any time soon.
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