Adam Gase’s offensive philosophy was on full display when Sam Darnold led the New York Jets to an opening-drive score against the Giants.
An early mistake and a triumph—this is the Sam Darnold story at the big-boy level.
Darnold’s across-the-field pick-6 on his first career NFL pass highlighted the “early mistake” part of the equation. ‘Man, what a disaster,” the collective diehards thought, in Detroit, Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season, as their beloved New York Jets finally boasted what felt like a real franchise quarterback for the first time in ages.
It didn’t get more “Joe Benigno-like” than that very moment.
Luckily, No. 14 is cut from a special sort of cloth. This is not Browning Nagle. There are no Neil O’Donnells to be seen here. The Geno Smith train has left the building as quickly as it arrived. The California kid quickly showcased his short memory and fearless attitude the rest of the way, leading his squad to the 48-17 old-fashioned ass-kicking over the Detroit Lions, the triumph part of the equation.
For every early mistake young Darnold puts forth, a handful of positives follow, and Thursday night’s Week 1 preseason opener didn’t take a detour from that regularly scheduled GPS destination.
It’s just one of the many uncoachable, open-your-eyes attributes the USC product possesses and displays on a regular basis.
Play 1: Inside Zone, Ty Montgomery
Due to the wide-9 alignment of the near-side defensive end, Osemele’s assignment became much clearer and easier: double-team the 1-tech and get to the second level as quickly as possible.
This play is a tremendous example of Adam Gase’s zone-rushing style when mucking it up inside, eventually setting up a more manageable 2nd down.
Play 2: 3-Step, Jabrill Peppers Near INT
Now comes the early mistake portion of the Darnold program.
How the kid missed Jabrill Peppers breaking towards the flat is still unclear. He either thought the Giants were in man (Cover 1) or figured he could still out throw Peppers in the flat.
Man on this play is a tricky thing, considering the pre-snap motion. Anytime motion comes across the line of scrimmage and no defender is chasing, zone is usually highlighted as the coverage.
Be careful. Look at the defenders (especially Peppers’s activity) pre-snap. The secondary could have easily audibled to man after the motion finished, and Darnold could have thought that’s what went down.
It feels like that’s what Darnold thought. Based on the Giants secondary alignment, it looked like Cover 1. Instead, it was a straight four-man rush with a Cover 3 on the backend.
Either way, Darnold missed Peppers and the second play of the game nearly resulted in disaster.
Remember, though: this is Sam Darnold. He never dwells on the past (or the recent past that was the prior play).
Play 3: Deep Cross, Chris Herndon
On 3rd-and-6, more uncoachable Darnold traits hit the TV screen. This time, his pocket feel and throw-on-the-move ability smack us in the face.
Gun, bunch left sets up another Gase staple: the mesh play.
There is an infinite number of designs that can be run via the mesh. On this particular design, the mesh comes as a double shallow cross with Chris Herndon running a deeper cross over the second level and below the single-high safety.
Defensively, nobody knows what’s going on. Odds are, it’s a busted coverage.
Darnold’s head-up mentality while moving is something rarely seen from gunslingers this young.
The other call-out on the play is that man again, Osemele. At times, effort is the name of the game, especially on the offensive line, and the big man decided to clean house once realizing his 2-on-1 situation didn’t need his attention anymore.
Play 4: Clear Out, Slot Underneath Iso
The NBA world has nothing on the Jets fourth play of the drive. In fact, Carmelo Anthony is still blushing.
Wes Welker in Denver and Danny Amendola a year ago would often enjoy this look from the slot. It allows for every weapon to clear defenders deep, while the slot makes his stutter-step move across the field for a big chunk.
All the quarterback has to do is remain patient (and receive solid protection).
The Jints went with a slot-nickel blitz (a five-man rush) with six in coverage. Either the slot corner on the far side abandoned his second-read flat responsibility or the middle linebacker made the sin of allowing Jamison Crowder to cross his face to the weak side.
Either way, the patience Darnold displays is something worth nothing. No happy feet, no dancing, no bailing from the pocket.
The biggest play for the Jets first-team offense on Thursday night came as a result of excellent new-age play design, tremendous protection and Darnold’s patience.
Play 5: 3-Step, Flat to Ty Montgomery
Speaking of patience, it’s universally known that the closer an offense is to the goal line, the tougher it becomes to punch it in. A more spacial look allows for greater passing freedom, at times.
With the Giants dropping seven in an extremely soft zone look, Darnold takes what the defense gives him. He doesn’t force it into the end zone, and, instead, picks up a few with Montgomery in the flat due to the fact the matchup was his to win.
The maturation process on display on this play is something to think about moving forward.
Jets 6: Inside Zone, WR Smoke Fake
Gase loves to run inside with a wide stack look. It allows for more space inside as well as room for his ballcarriers to match up one-on-one in space.
What Gase asks the quarterbacks to accomplish in the rushing attack is incredibly different from what Jeremy Bates had them do a year ago. The action of following through with a potential read-option or wide receiver screen post-handoff is evident.
Gase prides himself on taking what the defense gives him. He’s a play-calling animal. If the edge is collapsing on a routine basis, he’ll dial up a true zone-read that gives Darnold the ability to keep it and hit for 10 on the outside. He’ll call an RPO if the secondary is jumping run support.
Notice Crowder’s movement on the near side of the screen. Those tiny details following the run are incredibly important once the regular season begins. Every action is a piece to the overall puzzle that is Gase’s offensive attack.
Play 7: Sprint Out, Slant-Flat Rub Concept
Finally, on the score, Gase goes to the well—the very same well the entire NFL showcases every Sunday: the pick/rub concept.
James Bettcher’s defense not switching in man-to-man on the goal line is a criminal offense and Darnold takes advantage.
It’s just too difficult to stick with a man in such tight quarters.
On this one, the slot travels under the slant (Quincy Enunwa) and easily finds space at the flag. The ball isn’t perfect, but the quarterback did the job.
The sprint-out coupled with the back-side slant means this: if Darnold didn’t have Enunwa or Crowder open on the pick concept, a quick decision would need to commence. Luckily, the Giants poor pass coverage called for an easy toss and catch.
From play No. 1 through 7 on the opening drive, Gase’s offensive philosophy and Darnold’s burgeoning traits were on full display. Of course, this is a mere outline of the entire offensive package the head coach is sure to roll out in 2019; but as of now, as long as the offensive line arrives at the party in style, Jets fans have every reason to be excited.