Sam Darnold
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

New York Jets young Sam Darnold won’t develop as an NFL quarterback until his organization and head coach actually allow it.

Robby Sabo

On Sunday in the New York Jets disheartening and stale 24-10 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bears, there were, in fact, two games. First and foremost, of course, was the NFL contest leading to the Jets fifth loss of the season. This is the one Todd Bowles cares about most. It’s the one that adds another loss on top of his murky 23-33 career record in New York.

The other game happened (and continuously happens) within the game—one the Jets are losing week-to-week despite the status of NFL victory. This game is the one of developing young Sam Darnold.

Now, at 3-5 with pedestrian numbers across the board—1,705 yards on 55.2 completion percentage with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions—fans are starting to feel Mark Sanchez-worthy nervousness concerning Darnold’s development.

While we’re not quite at that horrifying level just yet, “development” isn’t what we’re witnessing at the moment. In fact, it’s been the opposite and Sam Darnold won’t develop until this franchise, his franchise and this coach, his head coach finally allow him the opportunity to do so.

Throw the Ball to Score, Run the Ball to Win

New York was defeated 24-10 on Sunday. Sam Darnold threw the ball 29 times. His offense rushed the football 24 times. Here comes the embarrassing part … the Jets could muster just 57 yards equating to a disgusting 2.4 yards per carry on the afternoon.

In this new NFL that features all sorts of crazy passing feats, teams must throw the ball early to score and run the ball late to win. Ensuring that your offense comes to the party equipped with a healthy, balanced attack is a thing of the past. Of course, it’s ideal in having the ability to pull a rushing attack out at any point during the game, but it’s not essential.

All that’s important is a passing attack that can both dink-and-dunk its way on a three-step drop while also having the ability to capture big chunks downfield.

Twenty-nine attempts aren’t even close to a real opportunity for the kid. Furthermore, 24 rushing attempts on the ground netting 2.4 YPC is a recipe for disaster. A young quarterback would have much more of an opportunity to develop if the offense simply ditched the running game altogether and threw the ball 54 times.

But on Todd Bowles’s team, the offense attempting to impose its will on the defense via the ground is a necessary ideal. Trace the numbers. It’s why the Jets offense only finds success when the rushing game works. Never do they fail to rush for quantity. With Jeremy Bates in and John Morton out, quantity is never an issue on the ground (even to the team’s detriment).

After Sunday’s loss, the Jets rank 21st in the NFL with a below-average 4.1 yards per carry mark while coming in 11th in the league in rushing attempts 27.6. This is not good. It’s never a good idea to run the ball simply for the sake of running the ball in this era. Three decades ago, the idea flew a little tighter (as QBs weren’t as valuable and impactful as we see today), but today, every play is about efficiency.

In wasting so many plays on the ground, Darnold’s opportunities through the air have been drastically cut. Darnold ranks 25th in the league with a paltry 31.2 pass attempts per contest.

For a team that’s trailed a healthy amount of time in 2018, this is inexcusable for a kid looking to develop.

Conservatism & Pre-Snap Strategy

On 10 1st-down attempts in the first half, the Jets ran the ball six times. On 10 2nd-down attempts in the first half, the Jets also ran the ball six times.

It doesn’t Vince Lombardi to understand what the Jets are doing. They are one of the most conservative offensive teams in the land as they look for three, four-yard wins on the early downs to set the rookie QB up for 3rd-and-manageable situations.

In theory, this is great. But this offensive line is good enough to impose its will and this specific theory is also one of the past.

Instead of helping Darnold, they’re limiting him and placing him further behind the eight-ball than other rooks in the NFL. Rarely does he ever receive an opportunity to take a shot on first down with a Robby Anderson on a go-route against a single-high look.

The Jets really need to understand the era of football for which they’re currently playing.

Even more dangerous to Darnold’s development is the idea that the coaching staff still doesn’t trust him to run any pre-snap audible stuff at the line of scrimmage. We already discussed this very topic this season (in an ESNY Film Room) and it’s critical.

Against the Bears, we saw the rushing attack not get it done consistently against seven-man boxes. When that happens, forget about it. At the same time, far too often we watch Darnold’s offense rushing it into loaded boxes and throwing it into two-deep. Any offense completely reliant on the execution of the offensive coordinator’s huddle play calls is an offense going nowhere during the NFL season of 2018.

The Jets must start running a few “check with me’s” at the line.

Final Thoughts

It’s not a good feel right now. Jets fans, after decades of frustration, finally welcomed Sam Darnold in after so much pain. They had finally found their man.

Yet after half a regular season, what exactly has provided hope?

How could Deshaun Watson tear up the league over a six-to-seven-week stretch as a rookie and Darnold do next to nothing? How come Patrick Mahomes is taking Andy Reid’s offense to the next level during his first year as a starting quarterback? Why can’t Darnold play as Carson Wentz did as a rookie in Philly?

While the “patience is a virtue” folks will stand up quickly, the current state of affairs is troubling, nonetheless. Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa both missed the most recent contest. Bilal Powell’s absence was a killer. Pair the injuries with a below-average offensive line who couldn’t even dare dream of running it against a seven-man Bears box and suddenly, the rookie quarterback is facing major odds.

Still, one can’t turn a blind eye to the fact Darnold and his weapons have remained in a conservative, “don’t screw up” mode all season long instead of letting him attack things at a much quicker pace.

If Todd Bowles is looking for a game manager who just doesn’t turn the ball over so his beloved defense can win the game, Sam Darnold just isn’t his man. If that’s the case, the NFL in 2018 just isn’t his league. (That shipped sailed at the turn of the century.)

If Todd Bowles and company can turn 180 degrees and understand 13 rush attempts are what the doctor ordered on the day if the YPC is 2.4 and, in accordance, letting the rook sling the ball a bit will help in the long run, maybe the Jets do employ a coach who can oversee the development of a possible franchise quarterback.

Through eight games, Sam Darnold’s development has been greatly slowed down by a regime whose outdated football principles belong to the NFL decade of the 1980s.

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