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How the Jets almost scored before halftime vs. the Dolphins but then didn’t

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New York Jets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

A critical sequence in yesterday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins occurred right before the end of the first half. Miami had just scored a touchdown to take a 20-0 lead. The Jets got the ball back on their own 25 with just 41 seconds left in the second quarter. They did have a pair of timeouts, however.

In those 41 seconds, the Jets got 74 yards. The problem was they needed 75.

Let’s take a look at how the Jets came close to scoring but ultimately failed.

1-10-NYJ 25(:41) (Shotgun) 14-S.Darnold pass deep middle to 16-T.Pryor to MIA 31 for 44 yards (20-R.Jones).

The first snap of the drive put the Jets in business as Sam Darnold found Terrelle Pryor for a 44 yard completion.

The Dolphins come out in man coverage with a single high safety in Cover 1 and a linebacker in the middle of the field to take away crossing routes.

Man coverage is frequently about identifying the right matchup. The Jets have three receivers on the top side of the picture but only Pryor on the bottom. Space is good in the passing game so in a 3x1 set, it frequently makes sense to target the isolated receiver and trust him to win one on one.

In the last minute of the half, defenders also tend to play conservatively because they are afraid of getting beaten over the top. A smart offense can make a defense pay for its conservatism. Take a look at the cushion Pryor is getting. His man is giving away all leverage against an in breaking route.

Add in the deep middle safety taking a lousy angle to Pryor, and suddenly there is a big running lane for him to scamper to the Miami 31.

This was a nice job by Sam Darnold reading the coverage and taking what the defense gave him. It was a nice job by Pryor making the defense pay for its mistakes. And it was terrible defense by the Dolphins.

The Jets used their second timeout after the play, which was a no brainer. After such a big gain, they couldn’t waste the time necessary to get everybody 44 yards down the field.

1-10-MIA 31 (:30) (Shotgun) 14-S.Darnold pass incomplete short right to 11-R.Anderson (28-B.McCain).

On this play Darnold gets fooled. Robby Anderson bails him out by knocking the pass down. It otherwise would have been an interception.

Presnap it looks like the Dolphins are either running a Cover 2 or a Cover 4 look.

Darnold thinks he has the right combination on the bottom of the picture. It’s a smash concept with Quincy Enunwa running a corner route, and Anderson running a hitch. Against a Cover 2/4 look, all Darnold has to do is look at the outside corner. If he sinks to Enunwa, the throw goes short to Anderson. If the corner drives on Anderson’s route, Enunwa will be open deep.

The corner sinks deep on the snap, which should leave Anderson open.

The problem is the Dolphins disguised their look presnap. They actually were rolling into a Cover 3 look, which has a flat defender move out to Anderson. It leads to both routes being covered.

Darnold would have been better off looking to the other side where Pryor is running the outside corner and the flat defender off and creating space for Bilal Powell to get open underneath.

With his route covered, Anderson essentially morphs into the role of cornerback and does a nice job breaking up the interception.

We can file that under a rookie looking like a rookie.

2-10-MIA 31 (:26) (Shotgun) 14-S.Darnold pass short left to 89-C.Herndon to MIA 14 for 17 yards (28-B.McCain).

If the last play showed Darnold looking like a rookie, this one shows the kind of special potential he has.

His blind side pass protector, Kelvin Beachum essentially gets beaten off the snap, forcing Darnold to abandon the pocket.

What follows is a scramble drill with Darnold keeping his eyes down the field and Chris Herndon breaking his route to come back to the football.

I think this is the type of play you can’t teach. A quarterback either can do something like this instinctualy or he can’t.

It’s a great job by Darnold, but this play drives me crazy for a couple of reasons. First, Herndon easily could have fallen out of bounds to stop the clock. By not doing so, he forced the Jets to use their final timeout, which would prove costly.

In addition, this play is probably a touchdown if Beachum doesn’t miss his block. The Dolphins are in a Cover 3 look.

At the snap, the deep middle safety starts shading toward the top of the picture.

He’s vacating the middle of the field before Darnold leaves the pocket. Pryor is running a post route, and he’s going to be wide open for an easy touchdown if pressure doesn’t flush Darnold to his left.

1-10-MIA 14 (:16) (Shotgun) 14-S.Darnold pass incomplete short right to 81-Q.Enunwa.

Miami has a Cover 2 look here.

Darnold looks left and wants Herndon on the corner route but ultimately decides the window is too tight.

A golden opportunity emerges as he looks back to his right as two defenders fail to communicate. Both follow Robby Anderson and he breaks in, which allows Quincy Enunwa to slip behind the defenders wide open.

Unfortunately for the Jets, they squander the opportunity this bust in coverage creates as Darnold airmails his pass to Enunwa out of bounds.

2-10-MIA 14 (:10) (Shotgun) 14-S.Darnold pass short middle to 89-C.Herndon to MIA 2 for 12 yards. FUMBLES, and recovers at MIA 2. 89-C.Herndon to MIA 1 for 1 yard (28-B.McCain).

Now we get to the play that ended the half. With no timeouts and only 10 seconds left, the Jets send all five of their receivers to the end zone trying to stretch the defense horizontally. The ball eventually goes to Chris Herndon on a skinny post.

The Dolphins are in man coverage across the board.

In addition to four defensive linemen, they also blitz two linebackers. This means there are six pass rushers against five offensive linemen. Darnold knows he has to get the ball out quickly.

I’ve seen this play debated quite a bit. Some people have argued that Herndon should have fought his way in. That was my initial thought.

Others criticized Darnold for throwing to the middle of the field with no timeouts. After studying the defense, however, I think Darnold made the right read. The ball has to come out quickly when the defense has more blitzers than the offense has blockers, and when the blitz comes from the middle, that’s where the opening is.

I think the issue is just really with the accuracy of the throw. If Darnold hits Herndon in stride it’s a touchdown.

Instead the pass is a little behind Herndon. The tight end has to slow down to adjust to the throw, which allows the defender time to make the tackle.

And because the Jets had to use their final timeout two plays earlier when Herndon did not fall out of bounds, they had no way of preventing the clock from running out.

In the end, the drive had some promise, some positive things, some errors, and zero points.