At what point should the New York Jets be concerned that maybe quarterback Sam Darnold‘s development has stalled? The offensive line cannot pass block if their lives depended on it. All of the injuries to this offense are too much to overcome. A faltering run game thanks to poor communication leaves more defenses playing in coverage. The team’s head coach shows no desire to alter the gameplan. All these excuses contribute to the poor performance of Darnold over the past three weeks.
How Concerning Is Sam Darnold’s Recent Play?
Coming out of college and through his rookie season, Darnold was known for trying to extend already dead plays. He would force the ball into tight windows or hang onto it for too long, and ultimately get strip-sacked. But this was an issue seemingly solved through the final quarter of his rookie season. He put together a solid four-game stretch of 931 passing yards, with six touchdowns to two turnovers.
This smarter, more professional play carried through his first two games of 2019 against the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys. Yet it seemingly vanished over the past three weeks against the New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Miami Dolphins.
Darnold has resorted back to the erratic throws and forcing the ball into alarmingly tight windows he did in college. Except it is even worse. Take his throw in the red zone against the Dolphins this past Sunday for example. It is one thing for a quarterback to throw an interception for a jump ball – but Darnold simply threw up a prayer right to Dolphins corner Jomal Wiltz.
These heaves Darnold has been throwing have been a large part of his eight interceptions from Week 7 to Week 9. This should be an easy fix for Darnold, especially since he has shown he is capable of moving away from this static play. However, the question remains, is it entirely his fault?
The Offensive Line
The front office and coaches knew the offensive line would be the downfall of the team. Former general manager Mike Maccagnan never invested draft capital or big money into fixing the line. Instead, he relied on rentals and band-aids to do so. Kelvin Beachum has been solid at left tackle through his three-year deal, and the same for right guard Brian Winters.
However, they were never going to get away with Jonotthan Harrison or the aging Ryan Kalil at center. The Kelechi Osemele experiment was also set up to fail from the beginning. Alex Lewis has been decent as his replacement, but not great. Meanwhile, Brandon Shell and Chuma Edoga have been a disaster opposite of Beachum or as a fill-in when Beachum has dealt with injuries.
The offensive line has and never will get in sync or communicate well enough to function properly. The pass blocking has been horrific, giving up 37 sacks through eight games. Similarly, the run game has not been effective once so ever, no matter how elusive superstar running back Le’Veon Bell is.
Darnold has a habit of throwing off his back foot and not stepping into throws dating back to high school. While it has led to turnovers, it had begun to fade into impressive throws and smart play until recently. With the poor pass blocking in front of him, he has no time to step into throws. Instead, he is forced to throw off his back foot, leading to these lobs into the air. The offensive line certainly is one cause of Darnold’s apparent stalled progression as a player.
The New York Jets have had one of the longest injury reports in 2019, featuring numerous starters on both sides of the ball. Veteran receiver Quincy Enunwa only played one game before going on IR with his second major neck injury in three years. Robby Anderson was banged up earlier this season, as was Jamison Crowder and Demaryius Thomas. And promising tight end Chris Herndon has yet to play in 2019 after an injury pushed back his debut following a four-game suspension.
Along the line, both Beachum and Kalil have missed time with injury, and the Osemele situation has stirred things up. Not to mention, Darnold himself has missed games with mononucleosis, as well as practices with toenail surgery and a sprained thumb. It is impossible to deny the fact injuries have affected Darnold’s play and that of the weapons around him.
It has come to a point with Darnold’s lack of development this season that head coach Adam Gase‘s coaching ability must come into question. Dubbed an “offensive guru” and “quarterback whisperer,” it seems as if Darnold performed better as a rookie under former defensive-minded head coach Todd Bowles.
Gase has not changed the gameplan once to adapt to the faltering offensive line and how it has affected the offense as a whole. He also has yet to accept the notion that he must fix the new level Darnold’s old habits have reached. With Gase’s inability to lead this team to wins by changing things up, it is clear how little he has done to help Darnold’s game.
Last Word on How Concerning Is Sam Darnold’s Recent Play
Darnold, the former third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, just turned 22 in June. He has the prototypical size, arm strength, and tools to succeed in the NFL. In 18 games, he has 3,942 yards passing, 23 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. Nobody is perfect. Peyton Manning most certainly was not through his first two seasons for the Indianapolis Colts.
To give up on Sam Darnold now would be foolish. He has provided fans with something they have not had in years – hope. His struggles might not end soon, concern over his recent play is warranted. But there is still light at the end of the tunnel. It is not a matter of if Darnold will figure things out, but a matter of when. Hopefully, for the sake of Jets fans sanity, it will be as soon as possible.
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