If there is one play that should excite Jets fans from Sam Darnold’s brief appearance in the pre-season, it should be the touchdown throw to Jamison Crowder.
First of all, you hear head coach Adam Gase gushing about Darnold’s ability to throw balls off platform. Essentially, Darnold can throw the ball accurately, even when he doesn’t get time to properly set his foot. Adam Gase loves to run these sort of rub (or pick) plays in short yardage situations, because they are extremely hard to defend.
Let’s look at the Crowder TD and see how the defense can adjust to this pass. Playing man coverage, without switching off, this play is impossible to defend. Look at the path for the slot corner, because his straight line defense won’t work at all. He has a Jets’ receiver and his own teammate in the way, which forces him to choose one of two options. He can go behind his teammate (which is what he did), thus would allow Crowder to be wide open (which is what happened) for an easy TD. He can choose to undercut the route (go behind Crowder) and force Darnold to make a good throw, but Crowder will still be open for an easy pass. The ideology behind the play call (widely used around the NFL and college) is that the defender has to run around (regardless of them choosing to go over or under the route) an obstacle, forcing them to not only slow down, but take the longer route to a certain spot. It’s an easy pitch and catch, when executed against man coverage without switching.
Now, let’s take a look at how the defense can switch. First, please watch this video on YouTube. It’s a channel called QB School, and it provides consistent updates on random plays around the league that, as you may guess, involve the QB. Click Here For Link
As you can see, that is almost a carbon copy of the Crowder TD in terms of route concept. However, in this case the defensive backs switch their assignments, making life harder for the QB. This particular play is a 2-point conversion, but pretty much the same distance. Notice Carson Wentz on the play, and how he makes a throw without setting his feet properly. If he takes more time to set up on the throw, then the CB has time to recover and cut off the pass. On the second level, the outside receiver is running a rub and then corner route. As you can see from the video, if the initial read is gone, the corner route to the edge of the endzone is also open. The Redskins executed this switch almost flawlessly, and still got beat to the end zone.
Carson Wentz is good at throwing the ball outside the pocket, which essentially means on the run. He places this ball exactly where it needed it to be, and the receiver gets the conversion. QBs tend to struggle when throwing on the run because the mechanics are off-base, or it takes longer for them to wind up their throwing motion from a non-set base. Wentz led the NFC East last year in passer rating outside the pocket according the PFF (Click Here).
Who led the AFC East?
This is why Gase is extremely excited about Darnold throwing darts from off-base positions because these 3rd and short rub routes become nearly impossible to defend one on one. As mentioned in the Gase Film Review articles (enter link), he loves these pick plays in short yardage situations. It’s nearly impossible to defend (so much so that it’s technically illegal, but rarely called a penalty) unless the defense sends over extra players. If the defense moves extra players to one side, then it’s a numbers mismatch and the running lane would have one less defender. However, the QB needs to throw well on the run because the movement is shifting the passing window angle. If you go back to the Carson Wentz throw, imagine the same play but with the QB stationary in the pocket. When the CBs switch off, the passing window to the underneath route is all but gone. However, when Wentz moves out of the pocket and backwards, he’s opening the passing window by creating a horizontal shift for the passing lane. If the QB is stationary, then a switch from the defensive backs absolutely kill the play. Therefore, a moving QB is important on such a play, and the QB has to be accurate on the run. As you can see in Wentz’s case, not only was he able to complete the initial read, he had a corner route that looked promising as well in the end zone.
The other aspect of the drive that was interesting was the hurry up nature, with the offense getting to the line quickly. Aside from running plays quicker, the biggest asset from a hurry up offense is preventing the defense from making massive changes. If you go back to the Crowder TD, you will see Darnold scanning the defense at the line of scrimmage. Essentially, he’s reading the defense against the play that has been called. He’s not trying to figure out what each and every guy is supposed to do, but rather if the 2-3 guys that can wreck this play are not in position to do so. If we assume a safety runs over to the right side in the middle of those two receivers, Darnold would most likely check down to a running play and the team would have a blocking advantage. Notice the play was snapped with about 21 seconds remaining on the play clock, which meant that the play was called with Darnold having the autonomy to check out of it and have enough time to audible. The timing indicates an increase in trust level for the young QB, allowing him to make decisions based on reads at the line of scrimmage. If Darnold does audible, the defense has to wait and decipher as to what the audible is showing, and then adjust themselves. Therefore, the play clock timing allows the offense to be ahead of the defense in terms if audibles providing a slight advantage. It may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but the Jets were an offense that missed on these small advantages for years.
Overall, it’s an innocuous play on the surface, but it exudes a substantial amount of positivity moving forward for the Jets. The play concept isn’t innovative by any standards, but it plays to the strengths of Sam Darnold. The overall hurry up nature of the drive shows much greater trust in the second year QB and indicates a mental leap on his part. The hope for Jets lays at Sam Darnold taking a leap mentally in Year 2, and this touchdown to Crowder indicates positive movement towards it.