The New York Jets offense led by rookie Sam Darnold is currently towing a fine-line of NFL conservatism that isn’t helped by the O-line.
Twenty-one of 29. One touchdown. One meaningless interception on fourth down. And a whole bunch of checkmarks that have an entire New York Jets organization foaming at the mouth with the mindset that “getting after it” with their guy finally in-house is the next step.
Sam Darnold’s practice and preseason performance deserve every piece of attention it’s garnered up to this point. Forget looking like the real deal. He is the real deal.
This blissful reality doesn’t mean everything is ecstasy. Issues are present, specifically in the form of a weak offensive line and a conservative offensive mindset.
Darnold’s current yards per attempt number through two preseason games sits at 5.4 (158 total yards on 29 attempts). This number is legendary conservatism. While, of course, there’s no need to press anything closely resembling a panic button—as preseason always needs to play itself out with the absence of craze—certain questions must be asked in relation to Darnold as the 2018 starter.
Has this conservative mindset come as a direct result of the poor offensive line? It’s football logic. When two starters are out and the O-line plays poorly, the offensive coordinator will rarely call five and seven-step drops—especially in the preseason with a 21-year-old No. 3 golden child.
Could it deal with Todd Bowles’s defensive mindset as a whole? Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment: this man is a defensive and running-attack first head coach. A year ago, Josh McCown finished with a 7.4 yards per attempt mark, good enough for a middle-of-the-NFL-pack pace (albeit, with a different play-caller).
Or could it simply be a direct result of the preseason and/or pure happenstance? Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has been relatively vanilla through August. The Jets have hit the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins with a ton of outside zone stretches and quickly-timed design passes. With both Kelvin Beachum and Brian Winters sidelined for Darnold’s first start last Thursday in D.C., Bates’s conservative design took more of a stranglehold on the offense.
The answer is probably a mixture of all reasoning involved.
The kid has remained true to what’s critical in his development whatever the true reason may be.
“Umm, I don’t know. I’m really just trying to put the ball where I need to,” Darnold answered when directly asked about his conservative output to this point. “As quarterbacks, we’re not really looking at those kind of stats. We’re looking in terms of how efficient we can be. Completion percentage is a lot more important to us.”
It’s true: completion percentage is king. Ensuring an incompletion instead goes for one or two yards on a flat play means everything in today’s dink-and-dunk matchup contest.
During these days of high-flying acrobatic passing, completion percentage means everything. This is more the case even within a west coast system that’s fully entrenched at Florham Park, New Jersey.
Darnold’s current completion percentage is 72.4. Not bad for a kid who literally just turned old enough to legally enjoy a cocktail.
“We want to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands, but also understand when to take our shots,” Darnold said. “So when I see Robby (Anderson) on the post, I’m gonna try to hit him if he’s open, but if not, check it down and live to see another day.”
Sam Darnold is not even close to worrying about his ultra-conservative 5.0 and change yards per attempt number through two preseason games.
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) August 18, 2018
It’s this exact rhetoric that perfectly matches up with his play. He’s not turning the ball over or running into dangerous situations. He’s also caring about the correct specifics relating to his new profession.
This needs to be lauded.
At the same time, the question does need to be presented: are the Jets creating a conservative monster?
Remember, Mark Sanchez—while couldn’t hold a candle to Darnold’s QB talent—was so concerned about turning the ball over that it trumped everything else within his game. Some believe the teachings and defensive paranoia of Rex Ryan ruined what could have been a solid professional.
Forget Sanchez. The Jets, as an offense since the hiring of Rex Ryan, have leaned towards the conservative end of the spectrum during an era in which rushing the ball is now an option—not a necessity. This remains in the back of green-colored heads everywhere.
There’s no chance anybody could get to that level with Darnold at this point. It’s August during his rookie summer. Just keep an eye out on this very familiar situation.
The rook showcases a 5.4 yards per attempt while Teddy Bridgewater’s mark reads 9.2. Of the top 41 passing yards leaders from 2017, only three sported an average under 6.0 (Joe Flacco at 5.7, Brett Hundley at 5.8 and Drew Stanton at 5.6.). Oh, and Bryce Petty finished his shortened season at 4.9.
There’s no chance Sam Darnold should be concerned over this statistic at the moment. He’s done everything right up to and including beyond the most optimistic mind’s expectations. It’s simply an interesting mark to note regarding certain O-line limitations as well as the overall mindset of a west coast offensive squad led by a defensive head coach.
This coming Friday against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium may reveal a lot.