Let’s take a look at Sam Darnold’s first quarter passing attempts in last week’s preseason game against Washington.
1-10-NYJ 20 (9:19 1st) (Shotgun) 14-S.Darnold pass short right to 83-E.Tomlinson to NYJ 22 for 2 yards (36-D.Swearinger)
The Jets started Darnold out by going to an empty backfield. The Redskins try to disguise their look a bit.
The spread look forces Washington to tip its coverage. The Redskins show that they are going man to man, but there is some deception. The guy in yellow is lined up across from Eric Tomlinson. He actually is a blitzer, however. He is not covering Tomlinson.
Darnold then gives a hard count that makes the defender move just a little bit to tip that he is blitzing, and linebacker number 53 starts to move in Tomlinson’s direction.
This is going to make Tomlinson’s route difficult to cover. He is running to the flat, away from where the man covering him is aligned (yellow). Jermaine Kearse (orange) is also creating a rub.
This was a nice little presnap game of cat and mouse. It could have led to a nice first down gain. Unfortunately, Tomlinson has zero playmaking ability so the Jets settle for a two yard gain.
2-8-NYJ 22 (8:44 1st) 14-S.Darnold pass incomplete short right to 11-R.Anderson.
The Jets are running a bootleg. The fake run is attempting to get everybody to flow to the left side of the offense.
The hope is to get Darnold on the move to his right and slip Tomlinson with him to set up an easy completion.
The edge defender is unblocked by design. The hope is he will run himself out of the play chasing the fake handoff.
He does a nice job staying at home, however.
Darnold does a great job of escaping and throwing it away to save yardage.
3-4-NYJ 46 (3:29 1st) (Shotgun) 14-S.Darnold pass short middle to 7-T.McBride to WAS 41 for 13 yards (23-Q.Dunbar).
Mark Schofield did a great job breaking down the cat and mouse nature of this play on a Twitter video. Rather than try and reinvent the wheel, I will simply refer you to his breakdown.
Sam Darnold winning the cat-and-mouse game. A quick breakdown. pic.twitter.com/1beqlszhzu— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) August 17, 2018
1-10-WAS 41 (2:53 1st) (Shotgun) 14-S.Darnold pass short right to 10-J.Kearse pushed ob at WAS 35 for 6 yards (31-F.Moreau).
Washington gives Darnold a bit of an ambiguous presnap look here.
The NFL doesn’t publish all 22 film for preseason games. Without the benefit of that view, I can’t say with 100% certainty, but it looks to me like Washington rolls into a cover 3 shell after the snap.
Josh Norman is responsible for the deep third of the field to the right of the offense. Because Tre McBride (red line) is running a vertical route, Norman has to sink deep (red circle). Norman was lined up as the outside corner at the snap. This leaves the defense vulnerable if the outside receiver runs a short hitch, which is what Jermaine Kearse does.
Darnold finds him for a 6 yard gain.
This isn’t particularly sexy stuff, but it is a 6 yard gain. I’ll take that every single time on first down. And it was good work deciphering the coverage postsnap. The presnap look Washington showed suggested the possibility of cover 2, which could have left Norman to drive on Kearse and take that throw away.
3-4-WAS 35 (1:41 1st) (Shotgun) 14-S.Darnold pass short left to 7-T.McBride to WAS 24 for 11 yards (96-P.McPhee).
The Jets were stopped for no gain on a second down run play, which set up a big third down play. They were right on the edge of field goal range so this was a pretty important snap. A first down means you get into makeable field goal range and come away from this drive with at least 3 points. Failure to pick it up means a dicey long field goal attempt or punt. Taking a sack means a punt.
Darnold gives a hand signal for McBride to come in motion tighter to the snap.
As McBride comes in motion, the corner travels with him. The Redskins have been forced to tip that they are in man coverage.
As the corner drops to the first down marker, the Jets essentially have him beaten.
Andre Roberts (orange) is running a route that will rub out McBride’s man.
Darnold finds McBride. It was easy. Most of the work was done presnap finding the matchup and the route.
1-10-WAS 24 (1:01 1st) 14-S.Darnold pass short right to 29-B.Powell pushed ob at WAS 15 for 9 yards (24-J.Norman).
The Jets again fake a run with their offensive line flowing left. They are trying to get the defense to flow in the same direction.
As the play flows left, the Jets try to slip Bilal Powell out to the left as a receiver.
The misdirection catches Washington defenders out of position.
All Darnold has to do is get the ball out quickly so Powell can catch it and turn it up the field before the defenders have a chance to recover.
Over the last decade, Jets quarterbacks have turned messing up plays like this into an art form. I can’t count how many times a quarterback held onto the ball too long and didn’t leave the back enough room in front of the sideline to turn upfield with the ball.
This play is successful, though. The ball is thrown early enough to give Powell plenty of daylight as he picks up 9 yards.
The playcall was the real hero this time. It was a nicely designed play that created an easy competion.