Sam Darnold has an impressive grasp of passing concepts for a 21 year old.
No matter how good he is, however, it still is unwise for a team to put its entire playmaking burden on a rookie quarterback for obvious reasons. There are a number of ways an offensive coordinator can help ease the workload for the quarterback. Let’s take a look at some of the ways this was on display against the Lions.
Run-pass options are all the rage in today’s NFL, and Darnold ran plenty of them at USC.
On this play, the Lions are showing a bit of an ambiguous look on defense.
The fact there is a cornerback on the bottom of the picture and a safety over the top of Quincy Enuwna suggests it is zone coverage. Why would you have a safety play man against Enunwa and a corner line up on the side of the field to match up with a tight end otherwise?
But Detroit could be in some sort of cover 2 zone.
It could roll into a cover 3 look.
There are a number of other possibilities. For the sake of brevity, we won’t go into all of them. Just know they exist.
Defenses are going to force Darnold to make complex reads all season. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Jets could give him an occasional break to create a few easy plays for him to run? Fortunately they can, and they did.
No matter what happens, that safety is not in position to take away an inside breaking slant.
The only defender who conceivably could take it away is the linebacker.
This linebacker becomes the key player to the run-pass option and the only player Darnold needs to read postsnap.
The run option is flowing away from Enunwa. If the linebacker follows it, there is going to be a huge window for Darnold to throw the ball.
If he flows to Enunwa, however, he runs himself out of the run play. The Jets have a blocker for every other defender in the area. There is an opportunity for a big run if nobody blows his block.
The linebacker ends up flowing to the run option, and Darnold hits Enunwa for an easy 15 yard gain.
Life is not so hard on the quarterback when he only has to read one defender.
Here the Jets use a formation to make Darnold’s life easier. There are similarities to the first play, but the Lions are far less ambiguous about their presnap look.
There are three wide receivers for the Jets and three cornerbacks for the Lions. The three receivers are all on the same side of the field, while only two of the corners are. This is an indicator of zone coverage. If you saw three cornerbacks on the same side of the field lined up directly across from three receivers, it would be a sure sign of man coverage.
There is never 100% certainty with presnap looks in the NFL, but the way the Lions are aligned strongly suggests they are in cover 3.
Beating a zone defense in the passing game frequently comes down to one thing, carving out an area of the field where the offense can put one more receiver than the defense can place a defender. On this play, the Jets are putting their three receivers into two zones.
The deep defender has to take Robby Anderson’s vertical route. The underneath defender has to take Quincy Enunwa, and this leaves Terrelle Pryor open.
Pryor has a ton of room in front of him as he catches this ball because of the design and scampers for a 12 yard gain.
Darnold was helped here by the formation, which allowed him to decipher the coverage presnap. It also helped sticking his three best receivers in his line of sight in such a compressed area. The less field he has to read, the easier the play is to execute.
On this third down play, Enunwa comes into motion. The defender originally across from Quincy does not follow him, which tips Darnold off that the Lions are in some sort of zone coverage.
Obviously that defender would have followed Enunwa had the Lions been playing man coverage.
But that isn’t the end of the story. The Jets get creative. Enunwa doesn’t motion to the slot or the other side of the field. He motions into the backfield and is lined up as a running back at the snap.
Enunwa’s route is a running back route. Darnold already knows it is zone coverage because of the aforementioned motion, and it becomes clear postsnap that the zone defender is a linebacker.
A linebacker might be equipped to cover that route against a running back. Against Quincy Enunwa, the story is different. This is a total mismatch. The Jets totally outscheme the Lions, and the result is a first down as Enunwa toasts the linebacker.
Darnold is capable of making impressive plays, but nobody can do it all by himself. These are some of the ways the Jets help out their young quarterback.