New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold struggled against the Buffalo Bills. Worst of all, he missed an easy touchdown chance to Denzel Mims.
New York Jets head coach Adam Gase constantly repeats one offensive aspect more than anything: red zone success. It doesn’t matter the number of times his team may have visited the red zone in a single game; capitalizing on those opportunities usually means the world to a football team.
Sam Darnold’s Week 7 tape won’t do anything to help further Gase’s red zone mantra.
On the 11th play of the Jets’ opening drive, Darnold flat-out missed rookie Denzel Mims in the flat for what could have been the kid’s first NFL touchdown.
- Buffalo 11-yard-line
- 8:57 remaining in the first quarter
Marching nearly the entirety of the field on an impressive drive (started at their own 22-yard-line), Dowell Loggains play-calling debut started tremendously. The offensive line—with Mekhi Becton back in action—was moving the Buffalo Bills’ defensive front and Darnold was hitting the right reads.
Nothing was too overly-complicated and, incredibly, Loggains actually worked a little outside zone play-action off of a couple of outside zone calls that really had the Bills defense spinning.
Marching the ball over the goal line here would have been huge.
- Jets offense: 11 personnel
- Bills defense: Nickel
The Jets come out in a shotgun with a bunch look (with three receivers) to Darnold’s left. To his right are two tight ends—one in-line and one in the backfield.
Buffalo’s defense showcases six across (double A-gap show) and five in the secondary.
The corner-flat-cross combination is a common one from a bunch look, as is the corner-out combo on the boundary side. The wrinkle is Chris Herndon in the backfield, which I believe has to be the reason Darnold loses his way on this play.
Look at the lone Bills player graphic shown in the image above. That’s Tre’Davious White, the team’s best defensive back (and probably best defender). He’s an All-Pro cornerback all NFL quarterbacks have to account for pre-snap.
Yet, interestingly, watch Darnold’s eyes and first read from the end-zone view:
He immediately looks to his right. Why?
White’s presence on that side, against two tight ends, should force Darnold to start with the bunch side to the left. Or, at the very least, he should start right and immediately give up upon seeing that it’s just not there.
The second part of why “right is wrong” is that the edge on that side drops. Jerry Hughes, No. 55, drops, making the numbers not work offensively. Ryan Griffin (in-line) is running a corner while Herndon is running an out from the backfield.
With White, Hughes and the safety, it’s a two-against-three situation. Worse yet, there were pre-snap indications that Hughes would drop.
Take a look at the two edge players pre-snap:
Hughes, on the boundary side (right side), is in a two-point stance. On the field side, the other edge is in a three-point stance. Not only is it much more likely that Hughes will drop into coverage, but it would also be much easier for Hughes to drop.
Reading such a thing pre-snap should also force the quarterback to lean to the left side initially. The weak-side A-gap show and strong-side defensive tackle ultimately drop, but the chance that either gets to the flat—where Mims is headed—is slim-to-none.
As the play unfolds, it becomes clear Mims in the flat was the appropriate spot to go with the ball:
A bunch look (three receivers) against three defensive backs will always trump a two-tight end combination against a cornerback and a safety (with a strong possibility of an edge dropping in the flat). The softness of the coverage also deems it necessary to think bunch off the bat. If nobody jumps out on that first-out situation, Darnold should pull the trigger immediately on third-and-4.
Mims may not score, but remember, it’s not third-and-goal. It’s third-and-4, and the depth of the furthest defensive back to that side will make it a tough play. Mims would have a shot to catch it, turn and look to beat the defensive back one-on-one for the score.
Perhaps the Herndon wrinkle in the backfield forced Darnold to think about the right-side combo first. Maybe Gase and Loggains wanted him to look right first. Either way, abandoning that thought as quickly as possible post-snap would have still granted him the opportunity to find Mims.