The Panthers defense is the main reason that they’ve started the season 3-0. That being said, Sam Darnold has played the best football of his 4-year career. He’s completing over 68% of his passes, has a QB rating of 99.0, and has thrown for more yards than in any 3-game span in his NFL career. So what’s accounting for the difference in his game?
Panthers Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady is putting Darnold in position to succeed by simplifying the decision-making process, often with play-action passes. The below play is a great example. Here, Darnold was able to turn his back to the defense before setting up and reading the two vertical routes attacking the safety to the short side of the field. If either of those weren’t open, he could dump it off in the flat. Simple.
Brady has also gotten Darnold onto the perimeter with play-action boot passes. Again, these types of throws have more defined reads. They’re also safe, with options to run or throw the ball away if no one is open. Darnold has always excelled on these types of passes and has the talent to make some pretty spectacular throws on the run:
Darnold has also been a much calmer quarterback in the pocket so far this season. He has always had a tendency to get happy feet and play with a frenetic pace in the face of pressure. He often overreacted to perceived pressure during his time with the Jets. And while that is still the case on some plays, the improvement is noticeable:
How often did you see him make a throw like the one below with the Jets:
Darnold does not have a good history of hanging in the pocket to deliver throws downfield knowing he’s about to get hit. On the above 3rd down, he did.
I can’t explain why Darnold has appeared more poised in the pocket this season. Perhaps it’s increased confidence coming from those successfully schemed throws off of play-action. Improved O-line play and more weapons around him are also major contributors. Whatever the main reason is, Matt Rhule and Joe Brady have already turned him into a different looking quarterback than he was in New York. Maybe now we’ll actually get a chance to see what his ceiling could be.