Welcome to the inaugural Negative Sam Darnold Plays, as the young QB led the Jets to victory against the Lions in Week 1. Please don’t panic, this is a relatively short article, and be sure to check out the Positives article to feel better.
Negative Darnold Plays
You have seen this play a thousand times, and it was all over social media 20 seconds after it happened, so I don’t need to harp on it for too long. The issue here starts with the blocking from Neal Sterling because he allows his defender to come up the field. It’s not a terrible mistake, but it makes Sam Darnold roll out further to his right, and away from the safety valve in Powell. The primary read (Tomlinson) and secondary read (Anderson) are both well covered, so Darnold decides to go to his 3rd option, which is Powell. Unfortunately, he’s drifted too far to the right to avoid the defender, which makes this throw extremely difficult and ill advised. Powell is open for the pass, but Darnold leads him too far up the field, rather than just trying to make a completion. It’s a terrible mistake, but you already knew that.
This one is in the negative column for Darnold because of the outcome, but it’s actually pretty smart recognition by him. To start off, this is an RPO pass and Darnold decides to pick the passing option. The problem with RPOs is that, offensive linemen can only block one yard down the field on passing plays, before it’s considered an ineligible receiver downfield. In college, the offensive line has three yards of cushion, so the offense has more choices. When Darnold makes his decision, he sees Enunwa crossing the formation, with a defender trailing behind, which is going to give three receivers for the Jets with two defenders in the vicinity. The safety is playing deep, and therefore won’t be able to affect the play until the Jets gain positive yards. Neal Sterling should block the defender on Enunwa, and Robby Anderson runs the clear out on the outside. It’s pretty much a pitch and catch for positive yards. Why did it go wrong? Brandon Shell whiffs on a block, as he tries to cut down the defender. Shell goes to the floor, trying to get the defender down, but he just steps right over him and into the path of Darnold’s passing lane. The QB doesn’t have any other options on this play, so he throws it to the ground, otherwise risking an illegal receiver downfield penalty as the best-case scenario. It’s a great read and play recognition by Darnold, but Shell missing his block, blew up this play.
I’m going to put this play in the negative section because of the outcome, but it’s not Darnold’s fault at all. In fact, I’m quite impressed by his ability to read the defense here so quickly. First thing to notice, single high safety look, and the defender on Enunwa is giving inside leverage, as he’s about half a yard to the outside. This tells Darnold that Enunwa will get a relatively easy release to the inside since the safety is over the middle. The main issue here is the middle linebacker, which is the same problem as the Positives Play 2 in the other article. If the linebacker falls back, then hand the ball off to the running back, as the Jets have the blockers there to get around the edge. If the linebacker follows the running back, then pull back, and make the throw to Enunwa down the middle. The ball is well placed, but it bounces off Enunwa’s hand for an incomplete pass. In two instances, Darnold has correctly read the defense pre-snap, and then aptly manipulated a key defender post snap. That’s incredibly impressive for a rookie debut performance.
Sam Darnold started off his career in the worst way possible, with a pick 6. However, he rebounded quite well and showed off an excellent array of skills. I don’t know if I’ve been this impressed by a rookie since Andrew Luck. There were guys that had better physical ability, but to be able to dissect defenses and remain calm is quite impressive for the youngest opening day starter since the merger.