On Sunday, the New York Jets and rookie QB Sam Darnold continued their inconsistent season of highs and lows. What are fair criticisms from fans when enduring such a season?
The New York Jets moved up in the 2018 NFL draft to select Sam Darnold with the third overall pick. In concert, decided they wanted him to learn on the job as a rookie.
Seven games into the project, fans of the Jets have had plenty to say about the results from week to week. the question we dive into today is this: what is overreacting compared to fair criticism?
In our current age of social media, gauging fans reactions after games is now readily available. While the average Jets fan can go from utter bliss to psychotic rage in the blink of an eye, such instant reactions used to be kept to family and some unfortunate friends.
Covering the Jets the last few years you know what’s coming with fans. However, there is a widening gap now between younger and older fans. With most franchises, older fans are the voice of reason. With the Jets it’s opposite. While younger fans tend to be more optimistic in their view, older, more scarred fans, usually expect the other shoe to drop.
BEING HYPOCRITICAL OR IS THERE A REAL SYNDROME?
While no team is perfect, it’s not unreasonable to expect fans not to want to blow up the organization after every loss. However, you also need to speak the truth.
When dealing with the Jets, their past makes most longtime fans very anxious. Most have a hard time sitting through a game without going through more mood changes than an extreme schizophrenic. While one minute they understand of the inconsistencies of a season starting a rookie quarterback, the next minute they are ready to fire anyone within reach.
Despite the hysteria, I do actually believe that rooting for this franchise has led many to experience Jets PTSD. Being someone who suffers from real PTSD due to chronic illnesses, I am not in any way dismissing the seriousness of it. However, therapy sessions should be available for Jets fans after losses.
UNDERSTAND THE UNDERLYING CAUSES
Most fans are not reacting to Darnold. The anxiety and anger which leads to overreaction come from many underlying causes.
First is the team’s history. The Jets have won the fewest division titles since the merger (two – every other franchise except for the Detroit Lions have won at least four). They have not hosted a playoff game since 2002. They are currently in their second-longest playoff drought (longest was from 1970-80), having not qualified for the postseason since 2010.
The Patriots return to being the Patriots (Sunday marked a franchise-record fourth consecutive game scoring 38 or more points) and the fact that a 41-year old Tom Brady never seems to age (16 TD, 1,876 passing yds), certainly doesn’t help. Remember, at one time the Patriots were no different than the Jets (Patriots had seven playoff wins to Jets six, but Jets had only Super Bowl title entering this century).
The Jets are more to blame than anyone for the success the Patriots have achieved under Brady thanks to Mo Lewis knocking out Drew Bledsoe in September 2001. Add to that Bill Belichick spurning the Jets for the Patriots, and the disgust is obvious.
WHAT IS EXPECTING TOO MUCH FROM SAM DARNOLD?
It is essential to understand the task that the Jets and Darnold are undertaking. Peyton Manning and the Colts went 3-13 in his rookie season while Manning led the NFL with 28 interceptions. John Elway went 4-6 in his 10 rookie starts while throwing twice as many interceptions (14) as touchdowns (7). Eli Manning went 1-6 in his 7 starts during his rookie campaign while completing under 50 percent of his passes (48.1).
WHAT TO LOOK AT WHEN SEPARATING OVERREACTING AND REASONABLE ANALYSIS
After two consecutive weeks of excellent play where the rookie quarterback completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 477 yds, five TD and just two INT, expectations were raised. The Jets offense combined for 886 yards and 76 points in those wins. Fifteen of the Jets 26 offensive drives in those two games resulted in points (57.7).
Against the Vikings on Sunday, Darnold and the offense looked like polar opposites. Darnold completed just 17-42 passes (40.1 percent) for 206 yards while throwing a career-high three INT and one TD. After looking like the franchise quarterback the Jets have been waiting for, Darnold resembled Browning Nagle.
After moving the ball so well in the previous two weeks (10 of 26 drives totaled 50 yards or more), the offense was awful. Against Minnesota, 11 of the Jets 17 offensive drives totaled 10 yards or fewer. Just three of those drives ended in points (17.5 percent).
WHY THE DISCREPANCY?
The Broncos defense has been awful against the run all season, ranking 31st in the NFL (148.1 YPG allowed). The Jets took advantage of that to run for the second highest total in franchise history (323 yards), while Isaiah Crowell set a franchise record for rushing yards in a game (219).
The Jets were able to take advantage of that, thus when Darnold did pass the ball (just 22 pass attempts – second fewest this season), he had open receivers that led to a career-high three TD passes.
Against the Colts, the Jets took advantage of Indianapolis’ penchant for turnovers (13 entering Week 7, the fourth most in the NFL). The Colts turned the ball over four times against the Jets, leading to 20 points.
Darnold was able to take advantage of the Colts passing defense, which ranks 31st in the NFL in completion percentage (73.1 entering Week 7) and 25th in the NFL in yards per game (280). The Jets rookie quarterback completed a career-high 80 percent of his pass attempts (24-30) for 280 yards and two TD.
COULD ANYONE PREDICT SUCH A BRUTAL OUTCOME AGAINST MINNESOTA?
The Vikings ranked in the middle of the road in passing yards per game allowed (266.8) and bottom half in completion percentage (66.5) entering Week 7. However, one of those games was against the explosive Los Angeles Rams and Jared Goff who lit them up for 465 yards, 5 TD and completed 26-33 pass attempts (78.8 percent). Take that game away, and their pass defense moves to the top half of the league in both categories.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE RUN GAME?
The Vikings did an excellent job of stuffing the Jets on first down. Nine times the Jets ran the ball on first down. They totaled 34 yards and one holding penalty. For the game, they ran for just 71 yards, their third-lowest total of the season.
Darnold has proved this season that when the team runs the ball well, it has a significant impact on his performance.
ARE INJURIES AN EXCUSE?
No. Every team deals with injuries and no NFL team should accept any coach or player that complains about it or site it as a legitimate reason why they lost. Backups need to be prepared to do the job they are being paid for.
BOTTOM LINE – EXPECT INCONSISTENCIES, BUT DARNOLD AND JETS HAVE A BRIGHT FUTURE
Much like when Jamal Adams was critical of fans earlier in the season after the Jets three-game losing streak, most only care about results. This season was supposed to be about letting Darnold learn on the job. There will be many more ups and downs this season, but most analysts who understand the game believe Darnold will be the franchise quarterback the Jets have been waiting for.
For more on the Jets offensive analysis with Sam Darnold this season, check out the ESNY Film Room.