I wanted to take a quick look at a pair of plays from Sam Darnold that were misrepresented in the box score - one positive, one negative.
This first clip is Darnold’s third interception of the game. Spencer Long delivers an awful snap that is wide right. Darnold is impressively able to snag it one-handed, not only saving a potential turnover or defensive touchdown, but allowing the play to continue as planned. He then launches an accurate throw to the slanting Charone Peake for what should be a first down. Instead, it bounces off of Peake’s chest and into the hands of Trae Waynes.
Darnold gets credited with an interception and his box score takes a gargantuan hit because of it. Whereas in reality, Darnold put out a very positive effort on this snap, saving a turnover and perfectly executing his role in attempting to convert a first down. Two mishaps by his teammates help make him look bad in the history books.
At the same time quarterbacks can make great plays that are misrepresented as awful ones on the statsheet, they can also make huge mistakes that are glossed over as harmless incomplete passes.
This next play is the opposite of the first one we went over. On that play, Darnold saved a turnover and created yardage he shouldn’t have been able to - and got credited with a turnover as a result.
On this play, Darnold put the ball at major risk of being intercepted, and left a lot of yards on the field that he should have easily picked up. He is lightly penalized with an incomplete pass.
It’s 2nd & 7, the Jets have the ball early in the third quarter down 3 at their own 38. Here’s a look at how this play is going to transpire. The Jets overload with three tight ends on the right side. All three are going to run vertical routes. Robby Anderson will run a dig towards the middle, Crowell, highlighted in yellow, will run to the flat. The Vikings play two deep safeties with a linebacker covering the middle of the field, while the rest of their defenders take the 3 tight ends and Anderson in man coverage.
Nobody can account for Crowell. With the Vikings playing man across the board and the will linebacker playing zone in the middle of the field, Crowell is going to have all the free grass in the world in front of him out in the flat. However, Darnold fails to recognize it.
Pre-snap, this could easily be a zone look. Mike Zimmer’s Vikings defense is known for its ability to mix and match exotic coverages. The work needs to be done post-snap. Once Darnold sees all three tight ends being carried up the field and no defenders staying home underneath, he should know that he has Crowell in the flat. With all three tight ends covered and a safety lurking over top on that side of the field, the Vikings have the man advantage on a deep attempt. Darnold makes a blatant error choosing an unfavorable option over his most favorable one, and is very lucky he is not picked off.
It’s all part of the growing process as a rookie. Sometimes, you just have to let the Alex Smith inside of you take over. Identifying where your mismatches and advantages are on the field is extremely important, and it’s something that a 21-year old rookie probably is not going to excel at off the bat. More reps on tape like the one above will certainly help him learn through experience how he can improve his decision-making and post-snap thought process to maximize each play.