New York Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold showcased amazing poise and awareness during his team’s win against the Detroit Lions.
The New York Jets have found that guy, their man, the dude who’ll sling his way to the organization’s second Super Bowl. It’s over. It’s solidified. Joe Namath’s reincarnated body has arrived. (Ignore the fact Namath is still alive and, thus, reincarnation isn’t possible.)
How could it not be the case after watching Sam Darnold’s performance in Week 1?
All of the aforementioned noise has represented the universal narrative since the Jets destroyed the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football, 48-17. Darnold looked absurdly grown after the disastrous pick-six that opened his career so how could anything else go wrong?
On second thought, perhaps we should wait until at least
Week 3 2020 before we put Darnold in the same breath as Namath.
Or, maybe … just maybe, it actually is time to celebrate.
Forget the stats and even the victory. Forget his arm. What was so impressive about Darnold in Motown had everything to do with what’s between the ears and in the torso (heart and guts).
The kid is smart, aware, poised, composed, clutch and wise beyond his years. Each and every time Sammy Savior was faced with a challenge, he answered with authority.
For example, while the world was losing its mind when the USC product did what quarterbacks are taught during Pop Warner on the very first pass of his NFL career—throw across the field—Elite Sports NY loved it. Being around the kid like we have all August long, we loved the mistake as it would immediately show the world what the kid is made of.
For the shortsided crowd: Foks, this is the very BEST thing that could happen to Sam Darnold.
Let's see what the kid is made of. #Jets
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) September 10, 2018
Not only did he rebound. He thrived.
First Poised Completion To Neal Sterling
On his very first completion, Darnold hit Neal Sterling on a middle-range hook/bench route. While it looks pretty standard from the broadcast view, it turns out to be anything but.
First and foremost, it’s a third down. It’s a third and long and the Detroit fans are going nuts. Against a single-high Cover 1 look, Darnold has nothing on the crossing patterns. With pressure coming on his right side, he calmly hits Sterling on the bench route with incredible anticipation.
To have the faith in letting the ball go at that very moment while the defender is still draped all over Sterling shows incredible poise for a 21-year-old kid.
Incredible Throw-On-The Run To Quincy
While many will question the legitimacy of this catch by Quincy Enunwa, there’s no taking away Darnold’s ability.
On another third down, the Lions defense goes with a conservative two-man under. Darnold sees it. He knows it’s two-deep man and knows either three or four will be coming after him.
It turns out the pass rush equals four. The problem? Well, the four-man rush painfully disrupts the pocket in an instant due to James Carpenter missing the stunt.
What unfolds is purely Darnold pocket awareness, mobility and incredible throw-on-the run ability while throwing against the grain.
Again, like the Sterling play, this was third down. Isaiah Crowell pounded this one home to tie the game at seven apiece.
Darnold’s first professional touchdown drive came on his third attempt.
Patience Throughout Progressions
It’s not always about the flashiness—especially in 2018 in which most of the quarterbacks thrive on a dink-and-dunk completion percentage is king mentality.
On the following play, Darnold appropriately dumps it off to Bilal Powell in the flat once he sees the flat zone man lag into another zip code.
Detroit’s in a straight Cover 3. Darnold reads single-high and gets that Cover 3 he probably expected. Because the Lions are in a nickel instead of a base (against the Jets base), it’s tougher to determine man vs. zone.
However, the way the two corners line up on the left heavily suggests zone coverage. Darnold capitalizes once the flat man continues to carry his first-read into the deep third along that sideline.
Moreover, this was only a three-man route. Darnold still looking to the right side even though there weren’t any active route-runners is a veteran move.
The Amazing 9-Route To Robby
It’s now time for everybody’s favorite Sam Darnold play from Monday night: the fly route to Robby Anderson.
Again, it’s third down. It’s a moment in which Darnold seems to thrive. This time, however, it’s a third-and-two.
The Lions gamble on defense with a straight Cover 2. In fact, it’s more a Cover 2 sink with all underneath players playing the yard-sticks, but in any event, a straight Cover 2 will leave either safety vulnerable in a one-on-one situation with a deep wideout.
Though Darnold is looking for the quick hook, he sees the safety bite down just a bit too far and takes what the defense gives him yet again.
Other than thriving on third down, the other Darnold theme from the night is that he appropriately takes what the defense gives him. It’s at the heart of quarterback play.
In this league in which corners have a hard time covering Mr. Anderson, there’s no shot a safety can. Anderson on the 9-route needs to be exploited via one-on-one situations at least twice a game.
Awareness, Athleticism Leads To A Pryor Cross
The following play is not a boot (no matter how much Rick Dennison loves that boot off of zone stretch). The only reason Darnold scatters to his right is that it’s the right play to make.
Robby Anderson is on a corner. Enunwa head into the flat. With Anderson taking the deep half zone man and Enunwa taking the flat zone man, Terrelle Pryor’s deep cross perfectly victimizes the soft spot down the sideline in a straight Cover 2 zone.
Since Darnold knows his targets will all be flooding the right side and since he’s feeling pressure from the left (due to Kelvin Beachum missing the edge blitz), he excellent awareness takes him to the right side out of the pocket. (If not for Bilal Powell’s excellent blitz pickup, Darnold may have been taken out.)
This one was huge. It was the drive after the Golden Tate touchdown that tied the game at 17 all. Yet again, Darnold came through in the clutch immediately as soon as he was tested.
Eventually, Enunwa cashed in after taking a five-yard out from Darnold to the house.
Sure, one week is one game, and Week 1 is always the most unpredictable and crazy of them all. Still, it’s obvious that this kid’s attributes aren’t a flash in the pan. We’re not looking at a guy who simply blows hot and cold due to pure arm strength. We’re looking a guy whose attributes will rarely fail him due to the idea they are the intangibles that literally make franchise quarterbacks tick in the NFL.
Thus far in Sam Darnold’s NFL career, he’s showcased the exact “it” characteristics wanted. He showcased incredible poise, awareness, leadership, clutch ability and a cool demeanor that can’t be understated.
The kid seems to possess the hidden and unpredictable attributes that take talented quarterbacks and make them NFL studs.