I recently began re-watching all of Sam Darnold’s throws from the 2018 season, going game-by-game charting his production by route type.
In addition, I’ve broken down his numbers based on a few different factors, including field side, number of rushers, and throw depth. I also decided to track the frequency of select notable occurrences, such as a tally of Darnold’s total “improvised” production (a revered staple of his), and a count of drops, among other things.
Previously, I ran through a few of the most notable statistical tidbits I found from tracking Darnold in his Week 3 and Week 4 outings, against the Browns and Jaguars. Today we’ll move on to his fifth and sixth games, a pair of memorable victories at MetLife Stadium against the Broncos and Colts.
Before we start diving in, here is a look at the collection of route types I’ve been tracking.
Obviously, there is a seemingly infinite number of complex route concepts that could not possibly fit in that picture. I went with a simplified collection of 15 route types. I thought this lineup was perfect for having enough variety to capture every throw while not going overboard with specificity.
It’s sometimes difficult to tell exactly what route a receiver is trying to run. Other times, there will be instances where a receiver will run a more complex route that features a combination of multiple routes seen above, such as an out-and-up or slant-and-go among others. I assigned route types based on the nature of the throw for Darnold. Whichever route type best matched the angle, depth, and overall essence of the throw Darnold had to make, would be the one I’d go with.
Weeks 5 and 6 marked the only winning streak of the 2018 season for the Jets, and Darnold’s only set of back-to-back games throwing for 9.0+ yards per attempt. Let’s take a look at some of the numbers behind Darnold’s performances against the Broncos and Colts — two teams that finished top-ten in defensive DVOA.
Jets 34, Broncos 16. Darnold: 10 for 22, 198 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception (98.1 passer rating, 9.0 yards per attempt)
- Darnold’s performance against the Broncos was all about one thing: the connection between he and Robby Anderson on the left side go route. Darnold hooked up with Anderson on a pair of deep routes along the left sideline, with each one resulting in a touchdown. Those two completions combined for 111 yards.
The first of the pair was a 75-yarder, the longest passing play recorded by the Jets since Mark Sanchez hit Braylon Edwards for an 80-yard score against the Colts in the 2009 AFC Championship.
The second of the two was a beautiful 35-yard dime over the shoulders of Anderson.
- Darnold didn’t get much going outside of those two throws. On all other attempts, he was only 8 of 20 for 87 yards and just five first downs. With that said, he really didn’t play as poorly as those numbers might suggest. The Broncos defense clearly entered the game with a focus on getting their hands up at the line, and that approached yielded some results. Four of Darnold’s incomplete passes were batted at the line of scrimmage, including his only interception of the game. Another two of Darnold’s attempts were dropped, with Eric Tomlinson and Quincy Enunwa guilty of one each.
- Darnold punished Denver’s five-man rush. When the Broncos rushed five, Darnold completed 5 of 7 attempts for 139 yards and four first downs, including both strikes to Anderson. He was also particularly good against man coverage, throwing all three of his touchdown passes to receivers covered man-to-man.
- The average completed pass thrown by Darnold in this game traveled 11.8 yards downfield, an insanely high number that is about double the NFL average.
- Ultimately, akin to his debut against Detroit, this was a game where the Jets didn’t need a whole lot out of Darnold. They rushed for 323 yards, the best single-game total by any team in 2018 and the second-best total in Jets history. Darnold dropped a trio of 20+ yard scores, becoming the first Jet to do that since Brett Favre accomplished it against the Cardinals in 2008. In addition to his pair of bombs to Anderson, Darnold found Terrelle Pryor for a cake-icing touchdown late in the fourth, as Pryor assisted Darnold with a very nice one-handed catch. A handful of splash plays and no costly mistakes (one unlucky tipped interception aside) would be all the Jets needed from Darnold.
Jets 42, Colts 34. Darnold: 24 for 30, 280 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception (113.9 passer rating, 9.3 yards per attempt)
- While Darnold’s performance against Denver was centered around the deep ball, his outing against Indianapolis was all about consistency and efficiency in the intermediate game. On throws traveling less than 20 yards downfield, Darnold completed 23 of 25 attempts for 258 yards and 11 first downs. He was particularly adept with the slant route, completing all five slant attempts for 83 yards and four first downs. Darnold also found success with shallow curls, as he completed all five curl attempts for 33 yards and three first downs.
- Darnold finished this game completing 24 of 30 passes, an 80.0% completion percentage that would wind up as his best of the season. He only had three truly inaccurate passes on the afternoon. Of his six incomplete attempts, one was a spike, one was thrown away, and another was dropped by Robby Anderson on a would-be 22-yard touchdown. That was arguably Darnold’s most eye-popping throw of the game, but it unfortunately went for naught due to a rare Anderson slip-up (this was his first drop of the season).
- Darnold was clutch on third down. He completed 8 of 10 attempts on third down for 83 yards and six first downs. The total of six conversions ended up tied for his largest number of third down conversions in a game (along with Week 16 vs. Houston).
- The Colts were primarily a zone team, but when they shifted to any sort of man look, Darnold had no problem identifying favorable matchups. When targeting receivers covered man-to-man, Darnold completed 8 of 9 attempts for 131 yards and five first downs.
- There weren’t really any “wow” throws from Darnold in this game. It was a showcase of very solid accuracy, smart decision-making, and clutch third down play. Darnold was consistently taking what the defense gave him, usually choosing the best available option and keeping the chains moving with tremendous accuracy. While Darnold’s throws weren’t very difficult, he made the best of them, almost never forcing his receivers to break stride or adjust at odd angles. The Jets needed him to continuously answer back to Andrew Luck, and he did just that.
Here’s a look at Darnold’s route type breakdown through his first six games of 2018.
Weeks 1-2 (@ Detroit and vs Miami)