Earlier in the week, we looked at Sam Darnold’s passing attempts in the first quarter of the preseason game against Washington. Today we look at plays from the second quarter.
1-15-WAS 18 (15:00 2nd) (Shotgun) 14-S.Darnold pass short middle to 30O-T.Rawls to WAS 12 for 6 yards (54-M.Foster, 23-Q.Dunbar).
The Jets found themselves in a 1st and 15 after a Brent Qvale false start.
One striking thing about this first half was the way Jeremy Bates used formations and personnel groupings to help Darnold make reads presnap. With the Jets struggling to protect their quarterback, this information Darnold was able to process before the play was run helped him to make quick decisions and get the ball out fast postsnap.
On this play, the Jets have a basic 2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR grouping on the field, but they are all split wide. Darnold is in the shotgun in an empty backfield.
Washington is forced to tip its coverage.
Two linebackers are lined up across from the backs split wide, Thomas Rawls and Lawrence Thomas.
And a safety is across from tight end Eric Tomlinson.
There is only one reason a defense would have linebackers and a safety deployed on those spots on the field. It is man coverage. The personnel and formation gave Darnold what he needed to know before the snap.
Rawls (orange) is running a shallow cross, and because he is lined up so close to Tomlinson (red), he can undercut Tomlinson’s route to create separation.
Darnold hits Rawls and gets back the yardage lost in the penalty.
With a little more speed, this play could have been something bigger.
2-6-50 (7:04 2nd) 14-S.Darnold pass short right to 29-B.Powell to WAS 39 for 11 yards (50-M.Spaight).
Without the all 22 film at my disposal, I can’t say exactly what happened on this play. From the TV view, it does appear Washington’s second and third levels are sinking deep and taking away the initial four Jets receivers on the play.
The defense drops so far that when Bilal Powell releases from pass protection into his route, there is plenty of green in front of him.
Darnold dumps it off to him, and Powell takes it up the field for 11 yards.
1-10-WAS 29 (5:04 2nd) 14-S.Darnold pass incomplete short middle to 87-C.Walford (97-T.Settle).
Once again, ESPN didn’t grace us with the greatest camera angles on this play, but this time they gave us enough to piece together what happened.
The Redskins are in cover 3 zone coverage on this play. The deep middle safety isn’t in the picture, but don’t worry. I represent his zone with a remarkably lifelike illustration.
Essentially, the route combination the Jets run to the top of the picture is designed to create a 4 on 3 for Darnold.
The Jets are stretching the defense horizontally. Lawrence Thomas (red) will occupy one defender with a vertical route. Robby Anderson (pink) with a flat route and Clive Walford (orange) with a shallow cross will draw defenders to the top of the picture, stretching out the defense and opening up a window for Darnold to find Jermaine Kearse (yellow star).
Darnold ends up looking for an open Kearse.
This is a pro read, and it is a correct read. You probably hear a lot about the difference between a college offense and a pro style offense when people talk about quarterback prospects. One of the differences is the difficulty of the reads. College offenses tend to give their quarterbacks 2 on 1’s and 3 on 2’s. Pro offenses mix in 4 on 3’s and 5 on 4’s more frequently, which are more complex.
There is a problem on this play, but it isn’t the quarterback. At the risk of getting overly technical, Spencer Long does a lousy job in pass protection, gets shoved into Darnold’s face, and allows the pass to be batted down.
3-5-WAS 24 (4:15 2nd) (Shotgun) 14-S.Darnold pass short right to 11-R.Anderson to WAS 20 for 4 yards (20D-D.Johnson).
I think Darnold got fooled a little bit on this one presnap. Jermaine Kearse is sent in motion out of the slot from the bottom of the picture to the top and is followed by Fabian Moreau (number 31).
This is a clever disguise because it offers the illusion that Moreau has Kearse in man coverage.
In reality, however, Moreau is blitzing from the slot. The real defender who has Kearse is the safety over the top.
This would have been a big problem for Washington had Darnold saw it because Kearse was running a slant, and the safety covering him was in absolutely no position to cover it. It could have been a big gain, and Kearse might have even scored had he gotten the ball with a head of steam.
Kearse’s man isn’t even in the picture on this next shot.
Instead, Darnold looks for Robby Anderson on a hitch. He connects with the wide receiver, but the play is stopped a yard short of the marker, which isn’t ideal because this was a third down play.
While this wasn’t the best option Darnold had on the play, it still wasn’t really a bad decision. Frankly, this throw should have resulted in a first down. The reason it didn’t was because of the poor route Anderson ran.
Anderson has to take this route deeper so that when he comes back to the ball, he’s making the catch past the first down marker.
If Robby wants to be considered a number one receiver, this is the type of play that has to be converted into a first down.
So on this one there’s some blame to go around.
4-1-WAS 20 (3:26 2nd) 14-S.Darnold pass short left intended for 10-J.Kearse INTERCEPTED by 30-T.Apke (22D-D.Everett) at WAS 16. 30-T.Apke to WAS 20 for 4 yards (29-B.Powell).
We have arrived at Darnold’s final pass of the night, the fourth down interception. I have gone back and forth on this play. When I watched it live, I thought it was a brutal rookie mistake. When I watched it over that night I felt it there really wasn’t much Darnold could have done. With a few days of distance, I now fall somewhere in between.
Again the Jets utlize some presnap motion with Jermaine Kearse, and a defender travels with Kearse, tipping man coverage.
The Jets look to stack their receivers to create a free release for Kearse (red). Robby Anderson (orange) is trying to create space for Kearse who will run a short route.
Washington’s corners do a good job communicating off the snap. The corner who takes Anderson (red) (Yes, Anderson is now red.) was the guy who originally had followed Kearse in motion and then backed up when the Jets stacked their receivers. He was in better position to take away Anderson’s vertical route. The corner who originally had Anderson at the line was in better position to take Kearse’s short route (orange) (Yes, Kearse is now orange.) so the two switched. This probably made the coverage tighter, condensed Darnold’s passing window a bit, and made the play easier to defend.
We’ll back up a little bit now. Darnold fakes a handoff to his left, which ends up condensing his view of the field.
His first look is Lawrence Thomas in the flat, who is covered and hasn’t gotten to the sticks. That isn’t where he can go with the football.
His second look is Kearse on the short route. We have a few things happening here.
Bilal Powell has to throw a block to prevent Darnold from getting sacked.
That frees up the man covering Powell to jump the pass as Darnold looks for Kearse. And you can see that he is coming from the part of the field Darnold could not view at the snap. Now this is not really much of an excuse for Darnold because he still should be able to see the defender at this point, but it probably contributed a little bit. The later you pick up a defender on a play, the easier it is to miss him.
Lots of things went wrong for the Jets on this play, but I think what ultimately doomed it was one of the biggest weaknesses scouts put on Darnold at the time he was drafted.
Look at the way that elbow is bending down as Darnold is loading up to throw the ball.
You heard frequently through the scouting process that Darnold had a bit of a windup to his throwing motion and lacked a quick release. You might have wondered why that mattered. A play like this is a good example.
That small, subtle downward motion delays the time it takes to get the ball out just a little bit.
Nobody can say for sure, but for everything that happened on the play, it looks to me like there was still a window to complete this pass to Kearse as Darnold is in the process of throwing this football.
A quarterback with a lightning quick delivery might be able to complete this pass. That isn’t Darnold. It’s just something the Jets will live with. He brings plenty of other playmaking assets to the party. Plays like this aren’t going to be among them.
Ultimately one might say the play came down to a defender making a heck of a play on the football. He recognized he didn’t have to cover Powell and read the play well. When combined with everything else that happened, it led to an interception.
I think a play like this really shows how important context is. This is a brutal mistake on a first down play if Darnold tries to fit that throw in from that spot on the field. There would be no need to take that chance with a couple more downs to play with.
On fourth down, it’s really not a bad decision. You have to give yourself a shot. Plenty went wrong, including some notable contributions from Darnold, but that certainly is the time and place to take a chance.
Every quarterback just has certain plays he just isn’t capable of making. The one we saw is one of Darnold’s.