Sam Darnold
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Sam Darnold’s late-season inconsistencies have to be a bit concerning for Adam Gase and the New York Jets moving forward.

Robby Sabo

Warning: the following material may be a little upsetting for some individuals. In this case, “individuals” will be defined as “New York Jets fans.”

It’s understandable.

The Jets haven’t experienced the NFL Playoffs since the 2010 season (2011 calendar year) and, pick after pick, draft after draft, the wrong man has been chosen. We define “man” as “potential franchise quarterback.”

So when any bit or semblance of negativity about Sam Darnold is uttered, fury flies.

But guess what? Improvement is born from negativity. It takes a rabid, insightful teacher and a coachable pupil for the formula to ring true.

By no means is Darnold damaged goods. The kid possesses every tool needed to turn out a multi-Pro Bowl NFL career as the rightful “franchise quarterback” in Florham Park.

Having acknowledged that, there’s no way around his concerning play over the last several weeks of the season. Since the infamous “ghost game” on Monday Night Football, the kid didn’t see the field well, showcased poor mechanics and looked skittish in the pocket.

No matter where you stand on No. 14, it’s a concern.

The safeties don’t tell the entire story

One of the things hampering Darnold at the moment is his dependency on pre-snap thoughts and the reading of the safeties, alone.

Oftentimes, defensive coordinators will look to fool the quarterback with specific safety placement. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, love playing with an aggressive center fielder and two lagged corners. Darnold needed to understand that.

The first example shows Darnold actually reading the single-high safety correctly.

The dig-post combo concept forces the safety to make a decision. Does he drop on the post or come up on the dig? Darnold, ideally, should go with the one-on-one coverage, away from the safety.

Interestingly, he chose the right route (the post) base on safety movement, but failed to see the near-side corner drop. He just didn’t read the entire field and eventually wound up throwing into double coverage.

Mechanics

The mechanics aspect is the most troubling for young Darnold. Most notably, his footwork continues to regress.

There’s no question Darnold’s offensive line has let him down, repeatedly, and it’s created bad habits. But even when not pressured, the kid rarely plants cleanly and drives.

On this play, if not for a one-handed Jamison Crowder gem, Darnold is picked.

He’s flailing, bailing and downright uncomfortable in the pocket. A year ago, he showcased excellent poise at times in addition to understanding where the pressure was coming. (He did still bail too early.)

Since the New England Patriots MNF contest, it’s gone downhill.

Next, Darnold first doesn’t pull the trigger on either corner route in the red-zone. Especially take notice of the far-side corner route and the defensive back’s position. He’s caught completely flat-footed.

More importantly, a gimme touchdown to Daniel Brown on the run fails due to poor mechanics. Darnold’s greatest raw attribute was his throw-on-the-run ability. That’s something that’s completely dissolved over time.

Not seeing the entire field

For whatever reason, the USC product just isn’t seeing the entire field. Again, he’s antsy in the pocket. The Jets committed a football felony through offensive line neglect over the last decade-plus. Not selecting a first-round talent upfront since 2006 is unforgivable.

But when greatness is expected, a player must fully realize and eventually right his wrongs.

In the following example, why is Darnold forcing the ball to Le’Veon Bell to the side where his route scheme is overmatched?

The Buffalo Bills technically deploy a two-deep look here, but if Darnold is seeing the entire field, he’d see both safeties aren’t showcasing the same depth.

The near-side safety hangs low in an outside lurk position, waiting to help on the tight end or back, making it a two-on-three situation. Meanwhile, up top, on the bunch side, the other safety takes a slightly-shaded single-high look, making it three-on-three with rub patterns in play.

Notice his vision. He will oftentimes look one way at the snap only to know he’s going to throw to the other side. It’s mechanical rather than purposeful and NFL safeties don’t bite. It’s also true on the following play.

In addition to the mechanical “safety look off,” Darnold throws into the single-high safety rather than throwing away. Why? After Crowder’s shallow cross is taken away, the corner to Vyncint Smith or out to Brown has to be the choice (away from the lone safety).

Accuracy

While accuracy isn’t a grave concern, the attribute lacked in Darnold’s play down the stretch—mainly due to a lack of confidence.

Here, he must lead Crowder more towards the sideline.

Get the ball away from danger. After the game, Adam Gase told reporters that he “understood what Darnold saw.” And yes, Smith’s corner took away the safety, creating a one-on-one situation for Crowder. And yes, opting for Crowder here is appropriate due to the fact the defender is trailing without his head turned.

But an unfortunate interception could have been avoided if thrown to the right spot. An unlucky situation turns into a boring incompletion if he allows Crowder to run under the ball with the defender trailing and his head not turned.

A confident example

It wasn’t all bad for the kid. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he threw a strike on the first drive of the game.

Down the seam with confidence, Darnold put it in the perfect spot, as he oftentimes does.

Interestingly, he didn’t have to think about this one. With Robby Anderson lined up in a Z-close, the seam against the three-deep look is the perfect call to drill the soft spot of the zone, and it became easier once the single-high safety lurked down.


Listen, don’t lose your mind. Calm down. The film above isn’t anything uncommon for young NFL quarterbacks.

What separates the young arms who make it from the guys who don’t is improvement. It’s about understanding shortcomings and rising to the challenge that is overcoming each coaching point.

If Sam Darnold is up to the challenge and Joe Douglas puts a legitimate offensive line in front of him, the New York Jets will be just fine at the quarterback position for many years.

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