Watching and rewatching his 92 yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson, I couldn’t help but think back to this.
I went to Sunday’s game and was sitting in the end zone behind the action on this play.
Prior to the snap, the Cowboys had seven defenders near the line of scrimmage against six blockers. On a play like this, it isn’t a good idea to run the ball. By definition, the defense has one more player than the offense can block, making it tough sledding.
But when the defense commits to stopping the run, it leaves man coverage across the board in the passing game.
If you have a run play called, it’s the quarterback’s job to change it to a pass play. That’s where the matchups are here.
From watching it live and listening to some of the cadences on the replay, I thought Darnold changed the play here. Over the last couple of days some folks in the comments have suggested Darnold stated in an interview the play was called. Did he change the play? Was the play already called? I don’t know.
Here’s what I do know. There were a lot of other great things from Darnold on this play.
He signals Jamison Crowder to get in motion.
By moving Crowder to the other side of the formation, he isolates Robby Anderson in a favorable one on one matchup.
At the snap, Dallas appears to be in man coverage with a linebacker playing zone as a help defender in the short part of the field and one deep safety in the middle of the field.
Because of the help in the middle of the field, the corners can play with outside leverage and try to push their receivers inside.
On this play Darnold keeps his eyes in the middle of the field.
Why does this matter? It holds the safety in place. Darnold is looking at Crowder’s route over the middle. The safety might need to help on that. He can’t move. It means there will be no safety help on Anderson on the outside, which creates a window.
Now as all of this is going on, Chuma Edoga gets beat so Darnold has to step up to evade the pass rush.
Because of the pressure he can’t really step into the throw.
But he still drops a perfect pass to hit his receiver in stride 45 yards down the field.
(Note: Robby Anderson deserves some of the credit for this play for shaking his defender with a great double move. People talk about Robby as a deep threat because he’s fast. His speed contributes to his effectiveness, but being a deep threat isn’t only about being fast. He’s also really good at things like stemming his deep routes, setting up his defenders, and tracking the ball.)
I want to be clear that I’m not expecting a 22 year old quarterback to make plays like this on a regular basis. Consistent play comes with experience.
But a play like this shows an unlimited ceiling. This particular play was MVP level execution. He was in total command of the offense. He knew how to get his guys into position to make a play and bait the defense. He was unfazed by a protection issue, and delivered a strike on a throw with a high degree of difficulty.
This is not normal, and I mean that in the best way possible.