Welcome to the next edition of the Sam Darnold breakdown. This week, we will look at some mechanics, as well a breakdown from Pre-Season Game Two.
I just want you to look at that drop back, that’s all.
That is Tom Brady from the Super Bowl last year. Yes, it hurts to watch them play in that game, but on the bright side, they lost.
The main thing I’m highlighting here is the hop at the end, because it allows for Brady to be better prepared to throw, and you will see this often with him. It helps him stay consistent with his delivery, if given space, rather than turning his head, and then allowing the body to readjust. Brady loves to do the small hop to get himself in position to throw with better force, without waiting for his legs to get under him. Don’t believe me? Let’s go see some more examples:
Notice the hop each time he’s turning his head, so when Brady turns and sees an opening, there isn’t a lag.
Here we see more hops, as Brady goes through the progressions. You don’t see him flat footed because that creates a lag to generate torque. Brady makes each of those hops knowing that if a throwing lane opens, he’s ready to throw.
I don’t want to create this impression that Brady does this on every play, because he doesn’t. There are plays where he doesn’t have time to hop around, so these are just the ones where there is space to operate in the pocket. Furthermore, this quality isn’t limited to Tom Brady, as almost every good QB has the ability to hop around. I pointed this hop mechanism out to ease concerns that Darnold isn’t fundamentally sound with his feet. Darnold does tend to throw passes with open hips, but he’s been fairly accurate in his career.
The second aspect of Darnold’s mechanics deal with his arm motion, as it’s somewhat elongated. I don’t have the tools to measure release times, and there have been reports out of camp indicating that he has cleaned up his delivery. Click Here for a Link to the Soul and Science show, which measured release time at .44 seconds. According to the show, it’s slightly faster than David Carr, but there isn’t anything at our disposal to dispute this notion. There was an attempt made to slow down video and see if there is a shortened throwing motion, but it’s incredibly hard to discern at available speeds, since frame rates can’t be matched.
Sam Darnold cleaned up his throwing motion during the pre-draft process and it seems to have helped him hasten his delivery. It’s not the perfect throwing motion, but it’s not an abomination either. It’s definitely good to see the footwork in the pocket emulating Brady.
I haven’t seen this play broken down from Game 1, so let’s go through it since it’s extremely impressive. You should notice the hops on this one, because you will see the reads that go along with it. Once Darnold drops back, the first read is the middle linebacker. The tight end read is dependent on the middle linebacker, because if that defender blitzes the A gap, then it’s a quick throw to the tight end. The safety would be too far back in this scenario, and it’s an easy pass. If the middle linebacker blitzes, and the “Will” linebacker slides over, then it’s a dump off pass to the running back. Therefore, the first read on this play is the middle linebacker, and notice how Darnold makes the read with the first hop. The direction of that second hop is now based on that read. On this play, the middle linebacker stays home, and the will linebacker follows the running back, therefore Darnold has to look towards his right. The slot receiver gets the safety over the top, while the cornerbacks are in zone coverage. You can’t see it on this play, but the slot receiver would be covered to the inside by the safety, and to the outside by the cornerback that was initially on Tre McBride. The Sam linebacker stays in the zone, while the slot cornerback attacks the outside route from McBride. You can see the slot cornerback move towards the outside, while the Sam linebacker looks over to McBride as well. Darnold’s second read on this play is the slot receiver, as evidenced by the second hop. The read on that play is the Sam linebacker, because if that defender blitzes, then the slot receiver can get inside of the cornerback for an open passing lane. Once, the Sam linebacker doesn’t blitz, Darnold has to go to his third read, which is McBride, as you can see with the last hop. It’s very impressive that Darnold went through the progressions in the red zone quickly and got the throw off before being hit.
On the downside, the Falcons rushed 4 against 5 offensive linemen, yet the QB was still hit. The Jets need to work on their offensive line.
Now, let’s move onto Week 2, because if you’ve read this far for pre-season film breakdown, you probably read all the film reviews for week 1 anyway.
On the outset, this is not a great play and inconsequential. However, I do think it’s important to break this down, because two things at are work here. The play recognition, and the play calling. The Jets come out with 5 wide look, and notice that 10 defenders are in the box, with a spread indicating man cover including single high safety. Darnold makes a good read, because he sees the linebacker on Tomlinson show blitz. The QB made some sort of audible at the line, and in theory this should be a good call. The defender does blitz, and the middle linebacker slides over to cover Tomlinson. However, the middle linebacker is about 2-3 yards to the inside of Tomlinson, and in a vacuum, that’s a great audible. If you look at the middle linebacker and the pass to Tomlinson, the receiver would easily turn the corner and go for a first down. The play breaks down because the slot defender (guarding Jermaine Kearse) stays home instead of following his receiver, which limits the upside of this play. The Redskins seem to have recognized this play call because the slot defender reads the play before Darnold even makes the throw. If Kearse continues with his route, he will be wide open on the crossing route, but his route is a quick curl. This is where we have the argument of play calling because there is a major difference of opinion for the learning experience on this play. On one hand, Darnold recognizes the blitz from linebacker and calls the perfect hot route for it, therefore you learned that he’s good at diagnosing the play at the line of scrimmage. On the other hand, Darnold audibles to a play without correcting the curl route on Kearse to a crossing route as the back up option. Essentially it becomes a Brian Schottenheimer call, because there are too many receivers and defenders in the same area, short of the first down. Therefore, is this a good read? Or a bad read? The team also needs to take more chances down the field, because defenses are sitting on the short passes. It’s concerning that the Redskins sat on short passes, because they based their game plan on joint practices, and could have picked up on tendencies. I’m calling it now, first series for Darnold in the next game, he will take a shot down the field in the first 3 throws just to re-set defenses.
Horrible play call, and once again the Redskins just aren’t fooled. Darnold does a great job of evading the sack, and the best thing about this play is on the second hop in the backfield. Darnold looks towards Tomlinson again, only to realize he’s covered, and then turns to Kearse running the crossing route as his second read. Therefore, even under pressure, he’s going through his progressions as he’s avoiding the sack. Far too many times, you will see young QBs see pressure, causing them to put their eyes down and escape the pocket before trying to pass again. In this instance, he shows a good ability to focus downfield, while simultaneously avoiding the sack. Great play by Darnold, horrible play call once again.
Watch the right guard on this play, it’s No. 78 Jonotthan Harrison. He’s listed as a center on the team website, and played center in college. He’s at RG on this play, either because of injury or coaching intrigue. Harrison may want to forget this play ever happened, because he gets manhandled by the defender. This is where it’s hard to gauge Darnold’s performance because a subway turnstile with dust on the card reader would put up better resistance.
The broadcast showed two angles of this play, and I’ll take advantage of it here. The first thing to notice is the initial read. Go to the first pass to Tomlinson in this game (should be numbered 2 here) and look at the read. In this case, the Jets call the same hot route with Anderson going on the short route. Remember how we expected the defender on Kearse for that play to follow his man, therefore leaving Tomlinson matched up against a middle linebacker playing well inside of the receiver? Well in this case, there is only an outside receiver, but the Redskins recognize the play and send the safety down to attack Anderson. Darnold’s first read is Anderson, as you can see with his look from the end zone cam, but he moves on when he sees the safety come crashing down. Then Darnold makes a great throw to Tre McBride, for the first down. The second angle is great, because it highlights how the first look to Anderson holds the safety in the middle, allowing more space for the throw to McBride. The Redskins defend this play perfectly, but Darnold makes a great throw for the first down. It’s good to see Darnold making a similar read as the first play, and then adjusting when the throw wasn’t there, which shows in-game progression.
This play doesn’t have much to do with Darnold, but I’ve bashed the play calling far too many times in this article. Therefore, I wanted to take this opportunity to appreciate the play call here because it’s a twist on a common play now. Watch the two receivers to the left side of the formation, because that’s where the play set up is important. The slot receiver is really just running a pick route, which is forcing the defender on McBride to go around him. You will see this play every game with every offense across the NFL. However, the twist on this play is the route by McBride, who turns a crossing route into an out route. It might not be visible in the film, but the defender on him had gone around the slot receiver, to fight the crossing route. However, by going around him, he’s now blocked himself off again to the out route, therefore leaving McBride wide open. I just wanted to point out the ingenuity of this route combination here and give props to the coaches for once.
While giving up a sack with just 4 rushers isn’t ideal, this one is on Sam Darnold. The read here seems to be Jermaine Kearse (I can’t tell for sure from the film angle) in the slot, but Darnold doesn’t pull the trigger. There is a slight window for Darnold to pass to the receiver, but he hesitates. It could be possible that Darnold was scared by having the Redskins jump the short routes, but he should have taken this shot. Darnold being scared of this option, causes this sack.
The interception that caused the Darnold hype train to hit the brakes. However, the fault really lays at the hand of the coaching staff, because this is a horrible play call. The defense sends 5 defenders, but the protection is off because the read here is Kearse and then Powell. Once the play unfolds, Powell is held up because he is trying to block the free defender, which causes Darnold to only have one option. The QB is now forced to make a quick decision, because another defender breaks through causing Darnold to make a decision, take a risky throw or take the sack for a turnover. He has to make the throw because a sack is useless since it’s a turnover. The unfortunate event for Darnold is that the defender spying on Powell sees the running back slowed down by the blocking, and decides to drop back into coverage causing him to be right in the path of the pass. When Darnold makes this pass, he expects a close matchup with Kearse and a defender, but the extra defender cutting across is unexpected. The play design needs to be better because this one was designed to fail from the start. It’s an interception nonetheless, but this isn’t a horrible play, but rather a desperate one, that morphed into an unfortunate one.
In conclusion, Sam Darnold has made quite an impression on the Jets and their fans. I’m quite impressed with his footwork, albeit it still stands to be tweaked on some throws. He’s shown a good ability to read the defense, both at the line and while going through progressions. However, the Jets are limiting his throws to short ones, which is causing defenses to jump on the short routes. It would benefit the Jets to attack defenses down the field, because Darnold has shown a great ability to make the short intermediate throws. Thanks for checking in with us for the Sam Darnold breakdown.