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 7 and Week 8 outings, against the Vikings and Bears. Today we’ll move on to his ninth game, a rematch with the Dolphins in Miami.
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.
Darnold’s Week 9 bout with the Dolphins was his last appearance prior to a three-game absence due to injury. I’ve been breaking down two games at a time throughout the series, but this game will be an exception. Darnold’s four game stretch to finish the year showcased a different quarterback than the one we saw in South Beach. I thought it would be best to move that final run into its own pair of two breakdowns, separating them from the rookie’s struggles in Week 9.
Let’s take a look at what went wrong for Darnold in what was arguably the worst performance of his rookie season.
Dolphins 13, Jets 7. Darnold: 21 for 39, 229 yards, 0 touchdown, 4 interceptions (31.8 passer rating, 5.9 yards per attempt)
- Yet again, there was a lot going against Darnold when he took on Miami. The offensive line had one of its worst performances in pass protection. Spencer Long also launched an unfathomable 13 inaccurate snaps, and Darnold saw a huge dip in his productivity on those plays. In spite of these circumstances, Darnold still struggled mightily to work around them. The pressure rattled him and led to poor pocket presence, field vision, and downfield accuracy. It was trial by fire for the rookie.
- Don’t be fooled by the decent yardage total Darnold posted in this game. His average completed pass traveled only 4.2 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, a season low. Only 38.4% of his passing yards came through the air, also a season low. While it can sometimes be the smartest move for a quarterback to rely on a lot of yards after the catch, in this case, it’s just a signal of how much Darnold struggled to push the ball downfield.
- On passes thrown 10+ yards downfield, Darnold completed only 2 of 11 attempts for 49 yards and four interceptions. He missed on all six of his attempts thrown 20 yards or further.
- Darnold threw four picks in this game, but he also had another pair of very easy interception opportunities dropped by Miami defenders. Three of the “interceptable” passes were overthrown. On two others, Darnold somehow didn’t see a defender underneath in zone coverage. One of the actual interceptions was a prayer into the middle of the field on 4th & 15.
- I tracked Darnold attempting five corner routes in this game, after attempting only six on the season coming into the game. All five attempts fell incomplete, including a pair of interceptions.
- Perhaps the lone positive for Darnold in this game was his continued success with the slant route. He completed 4 of 6 slant attempts for 55 yards and three first downs. For the second straight week and the third week out of four, it was his top producer of both first downs and total yardage. On the downside, he did miss Elijah McGuire to the inside on one slant, hitting the chest of a Miami defender. Fortunately, it was dropped.
- Last week, I mentioned how Darnold had been having more success on in-breaking routes when throwing to his right rather than to his left. That continued in Week 9. Darnold completed 3 of 4 slants and digs for 37 yards and three first downs to his right. To his left, he completed 2 of 4 slants and digs for 26 yards and one first down, including the aforementioned near-interception.
- An update on Darnold’s “improvised” production. Through nine games, on throws in which Darnold escaped the pocket and targeted a receiver that broke off their initial route, I have him completing nine passes for 126 yards and five first downs. In addition, three passes were dropped, two on potential first downs. Quincy Enunwa has caught the most of those passes, with three. Chris Herndon follows him with two improvised catches.
- Let’s close with a stroke of optimism! Darnold’s best throw in Miami was easily this 28-yarder to Chris Herndon in the first quarter, the biggest play of the afternoon for the Jets offense. Darnold drops it in beautifully just over the fingertips of Kiko Alonso, who is sitting in his underneath zone.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t a sign of things to come. Alonso would get his fingerprints all over the football sitting in that underneath zone throughout the game, causing lots of havoc for Darnold.
Here is a look at Darnold’s route type breakdown through his first nine games of 2018.