I’m back with the second part of the Sam Darnold breakdown. First of all, sorry for the delay. My son was born early and had to spend more than a week in the NICU. Since I spent most of last month at the hospital, I didn’t get a chance to work on film.
A major problem for Sam Darnold in the past year was the lack of experience and talent on the team, once Smith-Schuster moved onto the NFL. Let’s breakdown the tape to see where the issues presented.
This is a crucial 3rd down for the Trojans and Darnold makes a very good read on the play. The Buckeyes are in zone coverage and playing back towards the line of scrimmage. Darnold sees the receiver open, but the direct path has defenders in the way, so he has to put touch on the ball. Darnold does a good job of recognizing coverage, and making the right throw, albeit a bit high, but the receiver loses the ball when tackled. On a crucial down, this is a play that has to be made by the receiver. If this is ball is thrown with a low trajectory, then the zone defenders have an opportunity to make a play. The play for the defense is really made by Kendall Sheffield, who is a top-flight prospect that should continue the line of stud defensive back prospects. Sheffield peels off his man, and goes for the tackle, and dislodging the ball. This is a prime example of Darnold making a very good read with a decent throw, but having the team around him fail.
On the outset, this is a bad throw. I wish I had better angles to show, but we need to decipher from this TV angle. The read on this play is simple, when No. 80 (Deontay Burnett) moves across the field, the defense shifts coverage. Darnold’s read is really the slot defender on this play. If the defender stays to protect against Burnett, then it’s a one on one match up with a defensive back. If the defender leaves, then it’s an easy pitch to Burnett. However, the OSU defense shows why it’s great because it can thrive on one on one match ups. The slot defender stays home with Burnett, which causes Darnold to go towards the one on one read. However, the OSU defender cuts outside (as you can see at the end of the play), while a linebacker from the other side races over to cut off the middle of the field. As of then, Darnold has his primary receiver double covered. His deep option is covered by the cornerback, and the free safety in the middle, so that’s a throw into double coverage. Simultaneously, notice the blitz from the linebacker as well. He has dual responsibilities on this play, the first one being to cover the running back. When the running back commits to blocking, the linebacker turns to his second responsibility, which is to blitz. Once the linebacker blitzes, the guard is overmatched because he can’t cover the B gap. On this play, the center fails to roll with the line and provide blocking, which allows the defender to run a spin move and attack the cornerback. Darnold recognizes the conundrum quickly, and fires a quick pass, but it coincided with Burnett turning the wrong way, and it falls for an incomplete pass. Let’s just focus on Darnold here and what he’s doing. He makes the first read to look downfield when the slot cornerback stays with Burnett, a wise choice. He also realizes the deep route down the field has a cornerback and safety involved, thus he avoids that throw, another wise choice. He also recognizes pressure and decides to make a quick throw to a safe receiver, right before he would be sacked, another wise choice. Unfortunately, the timing is off, but Darnold could not wait any longer. This is a good example of Darnold making the right read, but ending up with the wrong result because OSU is just better than USC in terms of talent.
Let’s get this out of the way, this is a horrible play because of the fumble. However, this is a situation where his right guard just gets flat-out beat, and there isn’t anything a QB this side of Lamar Jackson can do about it. The Trojans have late movement, and notice how Darnold’s first read is to the right. The receiver eventually gets open, which shows that Darnold made the right pre-snap read, but the defender absolutely destroys the guard, which forces the QB to try to move up in the pocket, but his left guard is essentially pushed back right into his path as well. On this play, both his guards had subpar play, which blew any chance of success. Although the thing to learn here for Darnold is to give up on the play, rather than trying to make a miracle.
I think we can cross the USC right guard from potential draft choices. He gets beat once again, and allows the play to be blown up. Once again, you see Darnold has the right read as the receiver comes open, but there is no chance for it to develop.
On the outset, this looks like a pass that is thrown behind the receiver. However, notice the trajectory of the route when Darnold throws the ball. The receiver is running a quick drag route, underneath the slot receiver but cuts upfield prematurely because he sees an open running lane. If the receiver stays on his route, this ball would be placed perfectly.
There were some folks clamoring about the lack on creativity on offense for USC, under offensive coordinator Tee Martin. There were rumors around draft time that the offense lacked innovation and recycled plays repeatedly. I was surprised by the disconnect with Deontay Burnett because he was their top receiver, but far too often seemed to run the wrong route. I can’t do a more detailed deep dive unless I have the all 22 tapes, and I wanted to keep this as short as possible.
The next one in this series might run in a week or so.