New York Jets head coach Adam Gase isn’t solely to blame for Sam Darnold‘s incredible regression over the last year and change.
It just never fails. The New York Jets play another game, predictably lose, and that’s just the start. What follows is audio and video that never fails to produce familiar results.
Sam Darnold took the virtual podium after his team’s casual 20-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins Sunday after putting forth one of his worst professional starts. Just 197 yards, plenty of indecision and two terrible interceptions headlined the kid’s return to action.
Peppered by fair yet challenging questions, Darnold remained the perfect professional during anything but a perfect time.
“I made a bad decision,” Darnold said about his first interception that floated inside of Jamison Crowder‘s sideline intent. “I think I could have just put it more toward the sideline.”
There isn’t a solid third-year quarterback who doesn’t throw the ball low and away in that situation with plenty of traffic in the vicinity.
The second interception was even worse. Darnold threw a lazy out-cut to Breshad Perriman that saw cornerback Xavien Howard in perfect underneath position the entire time. The kid had no business throwing that ball.
It’s easy to understand Darnold’s mind here. Despite tight coverage, the quarterback is thinking he can fit the ball in before Howard turns his head. Howard’s leverage should have made this a no-go for Darnold.
The regression is real, and it’s happened under Adam Gase‘s watch. Just don’t, for one moment, think one man is solely responsible for such a disastrous situation. How could anybody believe such a thing after watching those two interceptions?
Consider Darnold’s play down the stretch of the 2019 season. He played solidly after a disastrous three weeks against the New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins.
In D.C., Darnold threw for 293 yards and four touchdowns (121.3 quarterback rating). He threw for multiple touchdowns in four of five games starting with the Washington game and even played a conservative yet professional game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16.
This all happened under Gase. In fact, Darnold’s 2019 season produced a better statistical season than his rookie campaign. His 3,024 yards and 19-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio surpasses his 2,865 yards and 17-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio from his rookie season (13 games apiece).
This season has seen a, “When it rains, it pours,” type of performance.
By no means should Gase be excused from a major slice of the responsibility pie. The man in charge of the football team should always receive a bulkier share of the praise or blame. It’s just the way it is, and when considering his outdated scheme, it’s deserved.
Solutions are nowhere to be found. Gase usually makes this clear without much of an effort in the immediate aftermath of each loss.
“It’s hard to know exactly,” Gase said when asked about what went wrong for his quarterback and offense. “The flow of the game felt one way the first half. I felt like we had an opportunity on one drive, (then) we have a drop. We sputtered after that. We had a couple of plays here and there, but nothing where we sustained any drives. We’ll look at this thing. We’ll correct off it. We’ll learn from it. I felt like he was throwing the ball well. That’s a tough secondary to go against.”
Perhaps the most frustrating part of Darnold’s play is the idea that it’s never been easier to get a quarterback going in today’s NFL. Courtesy of rules that would better suit a friendly backyard game, average quarterbacks often have tremendous statistical seasons.
In 2018, Los Angeles Rams third-year quarterback Jared Goff threw for 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions. This is the same man who looked lost as a rookie and who hasn’t quite carried the “stud” label over the last two seasons.
This season, Buffalo Bills youngster Josh Allen has thrown for 3,028 yards and 22 scores to eight picks. (That’s not even taking into account his incredible contribution in the rushing game.) Despite serious accuracy issues, the Bills’ offensive coaching staff has helped the Wyoming talent tremendously.
Gase surely hasn’t put Darnold in a position to succeed—unlike Brian Daboll and Sean McVay. Let’s also not forget about the organization’s football sin that was not drafting a first-round offensive lineman since 2006. But for it to be this bad means Gase isn’t the only individual to blame.
Veteran Joe Flacco nearly helped the Jets beat the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers. When Jets X-Factor claimed that Flacco would give the Jets a better chance to win in early October, the fanbase nearly lost its collective mind.
Sure, part of it deals with the type of offense the Jets run. Gase’s scheme is a decade-old design that predates the college-principled invasion we’ve seen over the better part of the last decade. This fits Flacco much easier, but another large part deals with Darnold’s reluctance to simply let it fly in the right situations.
On Monday’s regularly-scheduled conference call, Gase told the media what NFL defenses are doing to his offense. They are trying to “choke them in man coverage.” The strategy worked in spades early in the season, especially considering the absence of Denzel Mims and Breshad Perriman. But even when those guys returned, defenses would still play the Jets with disrespect.
Press across the board with a single-high or even zero-blitz look behind it is what these guys see on a weekly basis. Against New England, Flacco immediately looked to counter that with downfield chunks to Perriman and Mims. Only then does the chess match officially start. Only then does the offense finally find breathing room in the underneath game.
Flacco’s attitude and anticipation have far exceeded Darnold’s. Instead of safe options and indecision, the veteran rolled with a let-it-fly game plan that fits today’s NFL. Darnold refuses to own the same mindset, something that leads to a complete washout of a game (as seen against Miami at MetLife Stadium). He’s also always a touch late when deciding where to go with the ball, as seen on one 9-route to Perriman against the Dolphins.
The full complement of weapons was available. The offensive line played, at the very least, well enough to yield success in the passing game. What was missing was a required mindset needed to make a defense pay for its transgressions.
Earlier in the season, some of Gase’s game plans didn’t allow the quarterback to own such a mindset. That’s changed over the last several weeks. Nonetheless, Adam Gase is the No. 1 culprit when attributing blame for Sam Darnold‘s mess of an early professional career, but don’t think for one moment he’s the only individual who deserves blame. Darnold’s return to action is starting to make it clear (to the masses) he deserves a great portion of the culpability as well.
It’s incredibly easy to hop on the popular narrative: Gase stinks and everything is his fault. Easy isn’t the game. If that was the fairy-tale case, every NFL organization would take its share of the overall NFL success.
The difficult thing to do is assess it with an objective eye and hold everybody accountable. This unfortunately includes the man himself, Sam Darnold. There’s just no other way to slice it at this stage of the game.
Can the kid bounce back and make a career of it? Does he have the ability to put up a Josh Allen-type passing year in the NFL? Of course. This NFL that greatly discriminates against defensive football is one that allows every starting quarterback that opportunity.
Again, though, that’s the easy question.
What’s difficult to ask is this: Would Sam Darnold be included in the elite group of quarterbacks that played during a much tougher passing era? Would he have belonged in a group that included the likes of Dan Marino, Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Joe Montana and Warren Moon a quarter of a century ago? Does he possess that type of special ability?
The more you ask yourself the difficult questions, the easier it becomes to obtain the crucial answers.
It can never be just one man when it’s this bad. The New York Jets organization, Adam Gase, Joe Douglas, Mike Maccagnan and the man himself, Sam Darnold, are all currently responsible.