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 forgettable Week 9 outing against the Dolphins. Today we’ll move on to the beginning of his sizzling four-game stretch after returning from injury, with a look at his first visit to Orchard Park.
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.
The Jets’ visit to Western New York started horrifyingly, as the returning Sam Darnold quickly left the game before attempting a pass. Thankfully, he returned — and would lead the Jets to a road comeback victory against an elite defense, kick-starting an epic final quarter of the season.
I began this series breaking down two games at a time, but over these final four games, I’ll be doing one game at a time.
Let’s take a look at the weaponry used by Darnold as he became the youngest quarterback to record a game-winning drive.
Jets 27, Bills 23. Darnold: 16 for 24, 170 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception (83.7 passer rating, 7.1 yards per attempt)
- Firstly, let’s take into account just how good the Bills defense was this past year. Buffalo had the league’s second-best defense DVOA. They allowed the third-lowest opponent passer rating in the league, at only 82.6. Among the eight quarterbacks to start at Buffalo in 2018, Darnold ranked fourth in passer rating and third in net yards per attempt, while the 27 points scored by the Jets offense tied for the second-most by a Buffalo visitor. Darnold and Philip Rivers were the only visiting QBs in Buffalo to pick up a victory while also throwing for a passer rating over 80 and leading their offense to over 20 points.
- OK, now let’s get into the nitty-gritty. The top factor that stood out to me from Darnold in this game were his seemingly much-increased feelings of freedom and aggressiveness. I tracked Darnold throwing a season-high five improvised passing attempts in this game. Comparatively, I had him attempting 12 of those over his first nine games. While Darnold only completed two of those attempts for 11 yards, one was dropped, and another was arguably his most iconic play of the season.
Darnold really did seem like a different quarterback upon his return. As evidenced by the increased number of improvised attempts, he started to look comfortable playing that recklessly beautiful style of playground football that he’s come to be known for. The results in this game were mixed, with some godly highs and some dull stretches, but over the following couple of weeks everything would begin coming together. And it all started in Orchard Park, where Darnold appeared more seasoned and confident following his four-week absence.
- Darnold found his touch on the corner route in this game. He completed both of his attempts on corner routes for 39 yards, including a 25-yarder to Robby Anderson and a 14-yarder to Chris Herndon. Both were to the right side. Darnold entered the game only 4 of 11 for 64 yards on corner routes over the course of the season.
- I had Darnold completing a season-high four checkdowns in this game, having previously completed only eight of those on the season coming into Buffalo. Three of those were swing passes out of the backfield.
- The Bills stayed true to their four-man rush throughout this game, as Darnold threw 20 of his 24 pass attempts against four rushers. However, Buffalo had success on the few plays they mixed it up. Against three, five, or six rushers, Darnold completed only 1 of 4 passes for 6 yards and no first downs.
- Darnold didn’t take too many downfield shots against the Bills, but he was very efficient when he did take them. He completed 5 of 7 passes for 100 yards and five first downs on attempts over 10 yards downfield. Darnold’s 71.4-percent completion rate on those throws was tied for his best of the year to date, previously posting the same number against the Colts in Week 6.
- Also take into account how difficult it is has been for young quarterbacks to play up in Buffalo. Before Darnold came along, only four of the 29 rookie quarterbacks to throw at least 10 passes as guests in Buffalo were able to eclipse 7.0 yards per attempt. Darnold became the fifth rookie to do it, and of course, the youngest. The previous youngest rookie quarterback to throw for 7.0+ Y/A in Buffalo? Joe Namath.
Here is a look at Darnold’s route type breakdown through his first ten games of 2018.