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Even if you are skeptical of Adam Gase, Sam Darnold should do really well in his offense

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NFL: Green Bay Packers at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Are you bummed about the Jets hiring Adam Gase? Trying to talk yourself into this but find yourself unable to do so? I know how you feel. This article goes out to you.

There probably isn’t much you can say that would convince me Adam Gase is the right hire for the Jets. It will take more than words. It will take more than one win. It will take more than one winning streak. It will even take more than one good year. When the Jets are a perennial winner, and coaching is moving the needle in a positive direction, I will be convinced.

But that doesn’t mean the hire lacks any redeeming qualities. In fact, I think some of the flaws I saw in the search process actually might have created fertile ground for Sam Darnold to thrive.

It seemed to me that in looking for a head coach the Jets were really searching for the qualities a team would find in a good offensive coordinator. I don’t like that because the jobs are very different, and a head coach is more important.

It seemed to me that the Jets were looking for a particular type of offensive coordinator, one who would develop Sam Darnold. Again, I think this is flawed thinking. I don’t agree with the idea that Darnold is in desperate need of somebody to develop him. Sam was a blue chip prospect. That’s why the Jets traded up for him. Sure, I think there are a few mechanical things that need to be drilled into him, but I don’t think you’d trade up to the third pick in the NFL Draft for a guy who could only be salvaged by a brilliant coach.

I think Sam will be fine once he physically matures a bit and gets experience against the speed and complexity of NFL defenses. Near the end of the year we saw this start to happen, and Sam thrived in a Bates system with Maccagnan talent surrounding him.

Because of these things, I have believed since the coaching search began that unless the Jets found a great, great coach, the guy they hired would end up benefiting more from working with Sam Darnold than Darnold will benefit from working with him.

And this is a good thing because if the Jets were looking for a good teacher, once again I think they failed.

I think about something Dolphins analyst Travis Wingfield told me last week on the Locked on Jets podcast about Gase’s offense.

It’s up to the quarterback to make sight adjustments, make presnap adjustments and get himself into the right play.

Even at this early point of my dive into Gase’s system, I can see examples of this. Take this play from the Dolphins’ first game of 2018.

The Dolphins have Albert Wilson (orange star) essentially uncovered in the slot. The defenders are all either blitzing (red lines), nowhere near him on the same side of the field (yellow box) or on the other side of the field (pink)

If Wilson slides into the flat, he’ll have nobody near him.

That’s exactly what he does, and Tannehill finds him.

If you watch the full video, you can see this was clearly supposed to be a run play originally because the offensive line is blocking down, and the running back is moving as though he’s expecting to receive the ball on a handoff. The quarterback simply saw a better opportunity at the line of scrimmage and had the freedom to take it.

This is relatively advanced stuff. If you are looking to develop a quarterback from scratch, it might not make sense to put that all on his plate.

This might help to explain Gase’s failure with Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill always struck me as a raw quarterback prospect who wasn’t able to handle a lot of the responsibilities at the position. I can tell you that while Tannehill read that play correctly at the line of scrimmage, you’d struggle to find many more examples of him wisely using the latitude Gase provided him.

Not everybody can be a general like Tom Brady at the line of scrimmage deciphering everything the defense does presnap and postsnap. Jim Harbaugh famously turned Alex Smith’s career around with the 49ers by simplifying the way Smith read and reacted to blitzes.

And when you are developing a quarterback, it’s probably wise to keep it simple at the start. Once the confidence level starts growing, you can build from there.

One of the best ways to keep it simple for a quarterback is to manufacture easy completions where you scheme the quarterback’s first read open quickly off the snap. Complex reads tend to come on long-developing plays. Simple reads allow the quarterback to get the ball out quickly.

Take the Philadelphia Eagles for example. They transitioned from Carson Wentz to Nick Foles. Foles might be a Super Bowl MVP, but he is a more limited passer. How did the Eagles help Foles out?

According to PFF, their proportion of quick passing attempts (ball out in 2.5 seconds or less) skyrocketed from 49.1% under Wentz (21st in the league) to 58.4% under Foles (second in the league). I’m not trying to take credit away from Foles success, but he got an assist from a coaching staff that understood it had to adjust how it did business with a more limited passer.

This year, only 48.1% of Tannehill’s attempts were of the quick variety (25th in the league).

It’s ideal if your quarterback can take control of everything at the line, but that just doesn’t always work. When Gase was hired, it was a hot topic of conversation that Tannehill would have the freedom to audible at the line based on the look the defense was giving him. When Jay Ayjai averaged 5.5 yards per carry against eight man boxes in 2016 (source: Sharp Football Stats), it probably didn’t matter when Tannehill failed to audible to a passing play against a loaded box when he should have. The Dolphins were able to finish 14th in offensive DVOA (source: Football Outsiders). Without that benefit this year, Gase might have needed to simplify things a bit to help his quarterback out.

What must be especially infuriating for Dolphins fans is that Gase actually can effectively design plays to scheme people open. Tannehill had a 109.4 passer rating on those quick passes, which was sixth best in the league. That’s a credit to Gase’s ability to design. They just weren’t called frequently enough.

I’m not sure Gase is the guy you want teaching the basics to a quarterback. Heck, even the team CEO who hired Gase conceded that Gase has never developed a young quarterback.

But I don’t think Sam Darnold needs simplicity. I think he can be entrusted with a complex offense unlike Tannehill, which might make him a better fit for Gase and take advantage of the opportunities the scheme provides.

Let’s take a look at one play.

The Dolphins get a receiver in motion toward the top of the picture. A cornerback follows the receiver. This is a dead giveaway the defense is in man coverage.

Here I diagrammed all of the routes for you.

In particular I want you to take a look at the running back’s route here. He is going outside on a wheel route. Again, the presnap motion tipped man coverage, and the guy lined up against him is a linebacker (yellow). But the play design has created traffic. The tight end’s route is taking him up the field. He will combine with the safety covering (pink) him to set a pick on the linebacker as he goes out to cover the running back.

You will see the congestion here. If Tannehill correctly had read this presnap, he would have recognized the advantage he had.

The end result is a wide open receiver. These are the little nooks and crannies that were missing from Jeremy Bates’ offense. Instead of forcing every receiver to win a one on one battle to get open, the Gase offense has clever designs like these to scheme receivers open. Tannehill wasn’t capable of taking advantage because he didn’t see it. I think Darnold will be. This is a touchdown with a good throw.

Instead, Tannehill is looking at the crossing routes in the middle of the field. I’ll take you back to the presnap routes just to remind you what was going on.

Even though Tannehill missed the presnap read that presented him with the easy throw to the running back, the second option isn’t bad either. A pair of crossing routes over the middle of the field are really tough to defend because the traffic creates separation.

However, Tannehill goes to the crossing receiver who doesn’t have separation (red).

This third down play is a completion, but it is stopped short of the sticks. Even so, the play was so well-designed that the third best option produced an eight yard completion.

I think this is a touchdown with Sam Darnold’s presnap mastery.

Look at how he beat the Green Bay defense Week 16.

The quarterback has to determine which of these defenders are blitzing and which are dropping into coverage. This is not easy.

But through his film study, Sam knew exactly what was going to happen. While most of the defenders were blitzing, one was going to be in man coverage against Elijah McGuire. And he would be totally out position if McGuire ran to the flat. And the slot corner who might have been able to help on McGuire was going to blitz and run himself out of position.

This easy throw was open.

On TV this looks like a basic dumpoff to the running back, but it’s pretty high level presnap thinking that got it to look so easy.

I compare this with a similar play from Tannehill. It’s a blitz from a linebacker instead of a corner, but it’s coming from a similar spot on the field. Tannehill has a tight end leaking out to a similar spot where McGuire was.

This is also open.

However, Tannehill doesn’t even notice it because he’s looking the other way. This doesn’t end well.

Darnold has the smarts to make plays like this work. The freedom to run the offense at the line will help him. The great Robby Sabo noted during the season that the Jets had problems in 2018 because Darnold lacked the ability to audible from plays where it was obvious the Jets were at a disadvantage presnap.

Giving the quarterback freedom manifests itself in other ways.

On that play I just showed you, Tannehill might have been lost on the blitz, but he wasn’t totally crazy to be looking where he was looking. There was a pretty attractive option developing from a Gase design.

The outside receiver (red) is breaking in, while the defender covering him is about to be picked by the route of the inside receiver (orange).

This is again separation coming from play design.

There’s so much separation that it could be a touchdown with a well-thrown pass if the receiver is good after the catch.

The quarterback might just decide this is such an enticing option that rather than dump it to the tight end, he’ll keep the tight end in to block the blitzer and give these receiver routes time to develop.

These are the choices now at Sam Darnold’s disposal.

After the Jets hired him, I saw a member of SB Nation’s The Phinsider describe Gase this way.

I have a lot of friends who remind me of Gase. Smart guys who take their jobs seriously but just really can’t understand why other people don’t do everything they’re supposed to do.

They get really hung up and frustrated by very legitimate gripes/issues, but rather than try to connect with “problematic” people or adapt to other people’s styles, they’d honestly rather just fire people who don’t live up to their standards or even quit teams/projects to avoid working with people they don’t mesh well with or respect. Rather than upper management roles, folks like Gase tend to do best when they’re able to control a process from start to finish, and they deliver really good results when that happens. Or, if they have to work with people, folks like Gase can make things work when they have a small number of people to manage and if that inner circle are already reasonably skilled. In other words, they can lead a B or B+ team to deliver A or A+ results, but they are completely helpless when given a C- crew and just get completely caught up on how “inadequate” their team is rather than focusing on what they have.

That speaks to me.

Another analogy I’d use is that Gase is like a high school English teacher who doesn’t give his students any firm assignments and gives them the freedom to read the books of their choice.

Most regular students would be lost and have no idea what to read. They would benefit from structure and be told to read Dickens and Shakespeare.

But an honors student who loves literature might expand their horizons and use their freedom to explore existentialism. Ultimately the freedom could create a more rewarding experience.

I think Darnold is going to turn out really good no matter who coaches him or what freedom his has. But he is the honors student. This freedom might turn his B into a B+ or A into an A+.

If the Jets are going to work around their other issues, they might as well get everything they can out of their quarterback.