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Sam Darnold’s comfort level grew against the Colts, and so did the Jets’ coaching staff’s trust in Darnold

Indianapolis Colts v New York Jets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

During Sunday’s victory over the Colts, the CBS broadcast crew noted Sam Darnold had really taken command of the Jets offense over the last two weeks. At least that what the coaching staff was saying.

After an excellent performance against the Colts, it certainly seems like a fair assessment.

A couple of plays stand out that display Darnold’s increasing confidence and comfort level.

First let’s look at Darnold’s 24 yard completion to Chris Herndon. Specifically, take a look at where Herndon is relative to Colts safety Malik Hooker as Darnold is throwing the ball.

Nothing about the leverage on this play suggests Herndon is open.

Sometimes analyzing what happens requires a degree of interpretation. If you are attempting that throw, there are two broad possibilities.

  1. You are making a poor decision.
  2. You have a ton of confidence in your ability to make throw with pinpoint accuracy, and you trust your receiver to win against the defender.

These two possibilities aren’t always mutually exclusive either.

It is easy to nitpick and say this is a simply poor decision. But I see enough throws like these from Darnold that make me believe it was about growing confidence and trust in his receiver.

Most importantly, he does indeed have the ability to hit this pass with pinpoint accuracy.

Later in the first half, we see a similar decision as Darnold targets Robby Anderson in the end zone. Again, there is little to suggest Anderson is going to be open based purely on the leverage the defender has on Anderson.

Darnold just trusts his ability to throw a tough pass to perfection, and again he does just that. Anderson doesn’t even win his matchup, but Darnold still hits him in the hands. Robby failed to haul in the pass, but that’s not on Darnold. The quarterback part of his play was perfection.

As I watched the game, it felt to me like Darnold was being more decisive than he had been in past games. The touchdown pass to Terrelle Pryor was a perfect example. The pass was thrown, and the ball was on the way to Pryor before the receiver was even looking for it. It had to be that way. It was a tight window that was rapidly closing.

Sure enough, there are numbers backing up the hypothesis that Darnold was more decisive.

Through the first five weeks of the season, it was taking an average 2.70 seconds from snap to pass attempt for Darnold according to PFF. That was one of the slowest release rates in the league (30th of 36 QBs with at least 64 dropbacks).

Against the Colts, Sam’s average release time shortened dramatically to 2.32 seconds. That’s top ten quickest territory.

As much as Darnold was more comfortable and more decisive, it felt to me like the Jets coaching staff put a little more trust in their young quarterback as his success grew in this game.

A coaching staff’s trust level isn’t the easiest thing in the world to quantify, but one area where it might appear is in the percentage of shotgun snaps.

In a very, very general sense, operating from under center forces the defense to respect the run more. The reason is simple. Working from under center makes it easier for the offense to rush the ball. The back is already running forward and has momentum as he receives the handoff.

The shotgun makes it easier for the quarterback to see the whole field, but it also tips the defense that a pass is more likely. (Again, this is speaking VERY generally.)

If you think your young quarterback needs some help, you might call more plays under center since it keeps the defense honest, forcing it to respect the run. If you trust your young quarterback, you might run more plays from the shotgun. Even though a shotgun snap might tip the defense that a pass is likely, you believe your quarterback’s ability to decipher and exploit the coverage is a bigger advantage.

According to Sharp Football Stats, the Jets’ shotgun rate in Week 6 jumped to 69% of snaps, a huge increase from the team’s 51% rate over the first five weeks of the season.

I will leave you with the usual disclaimer. We can only read so much into one game. Darnold’s development is a multi-year process. With that said, this one game showed growth, and that growth made the Jets coaching staff willing to put a little bit more on the plate of the rookie.