Quarterback Sam Darnold must attack the Miami Dolphins defense to control his future with the New York Jets.
The oft-injured quarterback is set to make his return to the lineup this Sunday when the Miami Dolphins come to town, and just in the nick of time, too, as Trevor Lawrence watches from afar.
Conventional wisdom leads many to assume the party is over. No matter the percentage of blame that’s attributed to the organization, the coaching staff, or the man himself, Darnold has never looked worse while playing out his third professional season. Therefore, Joe Douglas must move on.
That’s not exactly true.
The previous sentiment holds true for a team set to pick atop the 2021 NFL draft this spring, which the Jets most certainly are. But 10 games do not make a season. Darnold’s play will go a long way in determining the Jets’ future fate at the position, and if the kid plays so well that the Jets gather multiple victories, uncertainty lies ahead.
Darnold does, indeed, control his own destiny to a point, and it starts with the AFC East-rival Dolphins. What he’ll have to do is attack Brian Flores’s defensive unit. Attack early and often.
Flores, a Bill Belichick disciple, loves variety. In their first matchup with the Jets on Oct. 18, Flores dared Joe Flacco and his unit to beat him over-the-top. And in a shock to the senses, Adam Gase and the offensive coaching staff actually tried to take chunks early in the game.
It’s something we hadn’t really seen up until this point in the season. Defenses were pretty much down the board each week: press on the outside with a single-high safety and aggression. Daring the Jets’ depleted weaponry to beat them downfield was the word around the NFL. Without the likes of Denzel Mims and Breshad Perriman, the feat was tough to accomplish.
Against Miami, the Jets looked deep immediately once they saw Flores’s disrespectful look:
This was Perriman’s first game since he was knocked out in Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers. Clearly, he didn’t meet the challenge early in the contest. Slowing down after separation destroyed this first shot.
Darnold is a naturally conservative quarterback for the most part. He’s always mentioned completion percentage as a big part of what he worries about when quarterbacking. This mentality predated Gase, too. During training camp of his rookie year—with Jeremy Bates as his offensive coordinator—Darnold mentioned completion percentage as a big key for him in August.
Darnold’s presence usually leads to monster Jamison Crowder numbers. Crowder has played six games this season. Of the six, he’s surpassed 100 yards three times, and just one of those games came with Flacco. This means Darnold and Crowder are a perfect two-for-two this season, whereas Flacco and Crowder are just one of four.
Just one play later, the Jets face a third-and-7 situation. You’d think the Dolphins would play the sticks a bit in this situation, especially having just gone press/single-high. But Flores rolls with even more aggression:
Miami rushes six and plays man across the board with the outsides in a firm press. Flacco is late to Perriman and the drive stalls quickly.
On the next drive, the Dolphins were at it again:
This one makes a bit more sense considering it’s second-and-5, but again, it’s a constant theme. Up until the New England Patriots game, this was the defense the Jets offense was forced to deal with on a game in, game out basis (other than Vic Fangio’s extremely soft Cover 4 scheme).
Darnold has struggled when throwing the deep ball. It’s not that he hasn’t found success when throwing deep; he has. Instead, it’s about his touch. Very rarely does he throw the ball with perfect touch when the time calls. Not every 9-route is the same.
A back-shoulder ball is clearly different than a traditional fade route. One allows the quarterback to throw it on a rope behind the wideout, while the other requires plenty of touch and trajectory in the effort of leading the receiver.
The following play happened on Thursday Night Football against the Denver Broncos. Darnold sees 2-deep pre-snap but then realizes one safety drops, giving him the one-on-one with Chris Hogan. Is this a poorly-thrown back-shoulder or poorly-thrown fade?
The idea that it’s hard to determine what the Jets were trying to do here is a major problem. Granted, this is Chris Hogan, who’s a long way off from Mims or Perriman in a situation like this. But Darnold will get his shot against the Dolphins with a full complement of wide receivers this Sunday.
When Flores isn’t showing his aggressive hand pre-snap, he’s usually playing games with the quarterback. The Dolphins defensive-minded head coach loves to load up on defensive backs and play “where are they coming from?” game.
The following play from Miami’s Week 11 loss to the Broncos showcases this scramble-type look:
Darnold needs to call out his protection and trust that the offensive line will do its job when he sees these looks. The most important factor will be determining the coverage as quickly as possible.
Twenty-twenty has been miserable for much of the world, and this, of course, includes Sam Darnold. Luckily, NFL seasons last longer than 10 games. With Denzel Mims, Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder all in uniform together, the New York Jets young quarterback will finally receive a fair shake in Week 12. Now all he has to do is make Brian Flores pay for his aggressive misdeeds.
If he can, and he can lift the Jets out of the top spot in the tank race, nobody knows what will happen at the quarterback position moving forward. But it’s Sam Darnold’s best bet at the moment.