Let’s break down the Week 3 performance of Sam Darnold and the Jets, as they lost to the Giants. The focus for the Jets have to be on Sam Darnold, and it’s quite an impressive game for him.
This one is a bit hard to break down, because you can’t see the full route from Enunwa here. The set up is pretty simple, and the Giants actually play this rather proficently. When Neal Sterling goes in motion, the offense is looking at two options here from the defense. Either the defensive end switches from rushing to covering the tight end, or the linebacker (as was the case) switches and takes the coverage duty. If the defensive end takes over, then this is essentially a wheel route from the tight end, and Darnold would lead him as the pass option. If the linebacker switches, then the route by Enunwa is supposed to serve as the pick route so the defender is slowed, and Sterling should see a bit of daylight. Unfortunately, the timing is off and there is no pick aspect happening with the route, so it becomes all on Enunwa. Notice Darnold holding well in the pocket with his hop steps, but what is impressive about this throw is the placement. It’s somewhat hard to decipher from this angle, but Darnold lets this ball go as a linebacker is crossing the target zone for Enunwa. When Darnold releases the ball, the linebacker is directly in the path, but he’s expecting the defender to clear the zone. It’s a great show of anticipation, on a defender that isn’t the primary defender on the receiver. Darnold sees (I assume) the defender, and waits until he clears and then hits Enunwa perfectly for a first down. This is an example of Darnold showing excellent anticipation, although this would look a lot better from the end zone angle.
This would fall under a great read with a decent throw, but miscommunication between Darnold and Robby Anderson. The read on this is easily discernible, first read being Enunwa in the slot. You can see Darnold make the read, as he sees the linebacker break inside to Enunwa, which meant he has to go towards his second read. The most impressive aspect of this play is, once again, the anticipation. Darnold starts his throwing motion, exactly at the same time as Anderson starting his break. This wasn’t one of those “let’s see him break first, before throwing” moments from the QB, but rather exceptional anticipation. It’s hard to see from this angle, but after Anderson makes his break, the receiver starts to slide towards the sideline, instead of a straight comeback route. It looks like Darnold expected a straight comeback route, which is why the throw seems to trail inside. A great read by Darnold here and he once again shows a notable ability to read defenses.
Prior to watching this clip, I want you to go back to Play 2 from last week’s article, because it’s the same exact pre-snap read. Notice how Darnold notices the coverage at the line of scrimmage and makes the last-minute change. The main thing to notice here is the audible to Tre McBride as well. Last week, the slot receiver (I believe it was Kearse) wasn’t given an audible out of his route, which meant his defender stepped up to make the tackle. On this play, McBride gets the audible, and you can see him go into blocking mode quickly, to ensure his defender can’t make the tackle. The read is simple pre-snap for Darnold, as he sees two defenders on his two receivers. Neal Sterling is the in-line tight end, but the possible defender (linebacker) is a good 2-3 yards inside of Sterling. Darnold recognizes the advantage, and audibles into a very similar play from last week, only this time it works out to perfection. I have to say, this might be the best play to watch for the entire pre-season, because it shows great read at the line of scrimmage, a progression from last week’s game, and good ball placement.
There isn’t much to decipher here, I’m just putting it here to showcase Eric Tomlinson absolutely getting destroyed and erases any chance of this play developing. This play is designed to go deep from the get-go, but Darnold needs protection from the offensive line. However, the defender runs over Tomlinson and the play is destroyed.
Darnold shows off his mobility on this play, and how he can save a play with his legs. It’s also worth noting that he shows an ability to slide, which took special instructions from the Yankees for Mark Sanchez. While it’s hard to see here, this shows good restraint from Darnold for possible passing options. Tre McBride gets past his initial defender, but there is a safety waiting for the Giants, so the QB refrains from making the pass. It’s a great run and Darnold’s mobility adds a great aspect to his game.
This is a good play to indicate eye discipline and not giving away his intentions. Look at the left side of the formation, prior to the snap, because there are no Jets players running from that side. The Giants have two defenders in the area, and therefore the slot receiver is going to run into triple coverage. However, Darnold looks at the slot receiver at the top of his drop back, before moving onto Robby Anderson. Why? The middle linebacker. The read here is actually Robby Anderson and then Bilal Powell. The slot receiver is running into triple coverage by design, and therefore isn’t a viable target. Darnold is setting up his second read, by keeping his eye on the slot receiver, because the middle linebacker has to freeze in the middle. The first read is Robby Anderson, and Darnold makes the right read as the receiver is open. The throw is also good in that he makes the throw over a linebacker, and drops it into the arms of Anderson. However, the most impressive aspect of this is the eye disciple with the linebacker. The second read is Powell out of the backfield, but by keeping the linebacker in the middle, it allows for Powell to get an angle to the outside, if he is the target. Notice how the linebacker is following the QBs eye, which allows Powell to get a yard outside. It doesn’t translate on this play, but that is exceptional ability to control the defense to work out secondary reads. Powell becomes the target if the linebacker that has the ball go over his head drops back into the zone, so then the middle linebacker would become the primary defender on Powell. If it’s a one on one match-up for Powell, that eye discipline would have been of tremendous value. I’m thoroughly impressed.
This throw is an example of indecision by Darnold, and probably his worst overall play up until this point in this game. As you can see, the read is a quick out to Isaiah Crowell but Darnold hesitates on the throw. The quick out is open to Crowell, but it’s not a large yardage play, and Darnold looks towards Chris Herndon for a moment. Unfortunately, Crowell turns his head downfield at this point so he’s no longer an option for Darnold, who had returned to the running back as an option. Once Crowell turns his head, it’s a broken play and the QB tries to make a play but Herndon can’t haul in the pass. This is one of those cases where Darnold has to take the easy pass here, backed up towards his own goal line.
This is a pass that Clive Walford must come down with, especially considering that he’s fighting for a roster spot. The play most likely doesn’t result in a first down, but Walford lets the pass hit his hands and hit the floor.
Essentially free yards, and good recognition by Darnold. The Giants are in single high safety look against a 4 wide receiver look, so Darnold sends Crowell to the outside as the 5th receiver. The linebacker on Crowell plays well behind the line of scrimmage because he doesn’t have safety help over the top. If Crowell is well covered, then move onto deeper routes down the field. In this case, Crowell is open, therefore Darnold makes the throw and the running back does the rest to get the first down. This isn’t a complicated read, and I felt it was good that Darnold made the easy read here, after missing Crowell for easy yards earlier in the game.
This is a great throw from Sam Darnold, and an even better recognition as the play breaks down. If we look at the defense, we can see two safeties on the field, as Enunwa goes in motion. Prior to the snap, Darnold sees three receivers to the left side of the formation, with a deep safety, and a linebacker covering Enunwa. As the ball is snapped, the safety to the side falls back, protecting against a deep seam route from the slot receiver. Darnold recognizes that Enunwa gets behind the defender, with no safety help over the top because Tre McBride is running the clear out route. This is a great throw from Darnold as he floats it over the linebacker and into the waiting hands of Enunwa. The level of recognition from Darnold is impressive, as he reads the defense at the line, and then sees the play develop into a positive opportunity. It’s also positive to see the arch on throw as a direct fastball because the linebacker would then get a hand on the play.
A touchdown for the Jets, and a good adjustment by Darnold. The initial read seems to be towards Herndon, but the Giants have too many defenders in the area, so Darnold checks down to Pryor for the pass. Pryor does most of the work on this play, as he runs the crossing route, and takes it in for the touchdown. This is a very safe decision from Darnold, but also a great throw because it leads the receiver perfectly to gain yards after the catch.
This throw is a bad one from Sam Darnold because he misreads the defender as the play develops. The target is towards Neal Sterling, but it goes off the tips of his hand, although it would have been a circus catch at best. The read is all Sterling from the start as Enunwa runs the clear out route. When Darnold is making his decision, he sees the defender right on the heels of Sterling. However, when Sterling cuts up the field, he creates separation from the defender, but Darnold had made his decision by then, partially because he has pressure from the outside. Darnold makes this throw anticipating the defender staying with Sterling, thus he makes it a back-shoulder play. The right throw on this play was up the field, to take advantage of the separation. If the defender had stayed with Sterling, then this would have been a better throw, although it still sails a bit to the outside.
Sam Darnold was extremely impressive in the third pre-season game against the Giants, even if the stats don’t jump off the page. He’s shown a substantial amount of arm talent, but his ability to read defenses at the line and during the play is astonishing for a rookie. I can’t remember a Jets’ QB that has been this good at reading defenses. As much as I dislike Ryan Fitzpatrick’s tenure with the Jets, he was very good with pre-snap reads, but he was atrocious at reading progressions while the ball was in play. We don’t need to go too deep with Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg, Geno Smith, or Mark Sanchez. Would it be Chad Pennington? I wasn’t looking at film then, so it’s hard for me to compare. Darnold shows exceptional ability at reading defenses, paired with a talented arm.
Would you start Darnold for Week 1 or Teddy Bridgewater?