Sam Darnold
Robby Sabo, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Jets haven’t allowed Sam Darnold to engineer the offense from the line of scrimmage and it’s creating a severe handicap.

Robby Sabo

As complex as the game of football may turn out to be, it oftentimes comes down to the simplest of formulas. It’s usually a numbers game.

Eleven players on one side try to run it where they aren’t, block it where they can, and pass it where it makes sense—all based on numbers. Vince Lombardi’s famed Packer Sweep was based out outnumbering the opponent.

The NFL in 2018 still works with numbers. As complex as it can seem to be, the quarterback and the offense work best when calling plays that take advantage of the defense’s weakness on each particular play.

The New York Jets offense can’t even dare dream of providing itself an advantage due to the restrictions put on young Sam Darnold.

Watch closely. When Darnold and the offense break the huddle, never does the rook work the offense from the line of scrimmage. He’ll work in conjunction with Spencer Long in calling out the Mike, but unless it’s a hurry-up/two-minute situation, Darnold doesn’t use any “check with me’s” or straight audibles at the line.

Nobody expects the kid to engineer an “at-the-line” offense like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but the way this Jets offense is going puts all the pressure on Jeremy Bates. The team’s offensive coordinator is forced to attempt to guess the next defensive play when it’s entirely not necessary.

It’s resulted in a terrible handicap. The Jets often run into a loaded box or throw into a two-deep look.

It’s also revealed one of two things: either the Jets don’t trust Darnold to that level or Todd Bowles doesn’t want to put it on him because he stubbornly believes the rushing attack and defense can win games. Maybe he’s just so afraid of the offense turning the ball over that he doesn’t mind a weaker-than-average offense.

Whatever the reason, it’s beyond comprehension that the squad won’t allow Darnold pre-snap freedom. It’s literally the only way to possess a shot of a top-flight offense in this league.

The Stats

  • Run into Loaded Box: 19
  • Pass into two-deep: 3
  • Run into Loaded Box (Short-Yardage): 1
  • Pass into two-deep (3rd-&-Long or Desperation): 14

Nineteen times in 61 total plays the New York Jets ran the ball into a loaded box, meaning at least eight players in the box with a single-high look on the back-end (safety). Not even the Dallas Cowboys offensive line from the early 1990s could find consistent success with that handicap.

In terms of giving Sam Darnold a true opportunity to compete and feel good about himself, there weren’t many opportunities in which he could take his chances downfield against a single-high look.

It all boils down to not having the ability to change the play at the line of scrimmage.

The first example comes on the third drive for the offense. Therefore, we’re out of the first 10-14 “scripted play” range (just in case Bates abides by that offensive coordinator tradition).

On a 2nd-and-10, Bates dials up a zone run to the left to Bilal Powell. The problem with the play is the defense is showing eight in the box with an incredibly aggressive look from the corners. If Darnold actually had pre-snap power, this defense equals a pass almost every time.

The no-gain run sets up a tough 3rd-and-10.

Next up comes a first down that showcases one of the few times the Jets actually face a two-deep look. Instead of capitalizing with a run in this situation, the Jeremy Bates wide receiver screen stays on.

New York ran eight screen passes in total on Thursday night and it’s easy to understand why. Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams blitzes like a madman. Therefore, the wideout screen is a great tool to offset that aggressiveness and for the most part, Quincy Enunwa took serious advantage.

He, along with the entire offense, could have taken even more advantage if Darnold had the ability to change things up at the line of scrimmage. In the example above, the screen is carried out against the worst possible screen defense there is: two-deep, no blitzing second level and lagging cornerbacks.

In the third quarter, we got back to witnessing the Jets jamming the run into an eight-man box. Isaiah Crowell in between the tackles with a tight end split/wham gets shut down on 2nd-and-3.

Why has Robby Anderson basically done nothing downfield since his touchdown in Detroit? It’s because those Josh McCown nine-routes from a season ago aren’t happening this season. Even though Darnold recognizes single-high aggressive corner looks, he hasn’t been able to audible to such a shot play thus far.

Still, as the case in the last two games (and most games in the NFL), the Jets had a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Conservative and poor play still didn’t prohibit them from having a shot.

After Baker Mayfield led the Browns to their only touchdown (and subsequent two-point conversion) of the night, Darnold and the Jets marched it into the red zone. On first down, the team was stuffed. On 2nd-and-10, the Jets ran the ball when the defense played eight in the box with a man-press single-high look from the secondary.

This one was unforgivable. It’s almost as if Todd Bowles and the Jets coaching staff didn’t watch Doug Pederson’s aggressiveness win the Super Bowl last February. It’s almost as if the Jets coaching staff is still living in the 1980s.

When an NFL defense is playing this aggressively, an NFL offense must take advantage by attacking through the air. It’s that simple. Of course, due to the idea Darnold doesn’t control the game pre-snap, the rushing play that was called in the huddle was carried out.

What needs to commence is a certain level of trust in young Darnold. He won’t look like Peyton Manning anytime soon, literally calling every play from the line in a no-huddle situation. That’ll take some time. But to have the kid completely powerless when he scans the defense pre-snap is hurting everybody more than it’s helping.

Trust the kid. Give him that responsibility. An offense is only great when it consistently takes what the defense gives it and that cannot happen until Sam Darnold has the power to adjust things pre-snap at the line of scrimmage.

Robby Sabo is a co-founder, CEO and credentialed New York Jets content creator for Jets X-Factor - Jet X, which includes Sabo's Sessions (in-depth film breakdowns) and Sabo with the Jets. Host: Underdog Jets Podcast with Wayne Chrebet and Sabo Radio. Member: Pro Football Writers of America. Coach: Port Jervis (NY) High School. Washed up strong safety and 400M runner. SEO: XL Media. Founder: Elite Sports NY - ESNY (Sold in 2020). SEO: XL Media. Email: robby.sabo[at]