I have been 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 Week 14, as he led a memorable comeback victory on the road in Buffalo.
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.
In Week 15, Sam Darnold returned to MetLife Stadium for his first appearance at home since a loss to the Vikings in Week 7. Continuing the momentum he began building the prior week in Buffalo, Darnold looked like a much different quarterback than he did the last time he took the field in New Jersey.
Let’s take a look at the numbers behind Darnold’s tremendous outing against the Texans.
Texans 29, Jets 22. Darnold: 24 for 38, 253 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions (100.0 passer rating, 6.7 yards per attempt)
- Before we get into the second game of Darnold’s four-week hot stretch to finish the season, let’s make it clear: the Jets were not making things any easier for him over this stretch than they were over the rest of the season.
Against the Texans, Darnold had to deal with seven penalties by the Jets offense, four dropped passes, three sacks, two missed extra points, and a run game that lost a fumble and picked up 55 yards on 25 carries (2.2 YPC). Right tackle Brandon Shell was knocked out mid-game and replaced by Brent Qvale, who struggled mightily in relief. Finally, the Jets were without Bilal Powell, Isaiah Crowell, and Quincy Enunwa. Darnold faced all of these deterrents while playing against an eventual 11-win team. The circumstances were certainly difficult.
- The main reason for Darnold’s success in this game was his sublime accuracy on short and intermediate passes. He didn’t go crazy with bombs that night — he completed only 1 of 6 passes thrown 20+ yards, with the one completion going for exactly 20 yards — but he was smoking hot on everything else. On passes thrown under 20 yards downfield, Darnold completed 23 of 29 attempts for 233 yards and 10 first downs. Three of the six incomplete attempts were dropped. Especially on throws outside of the numbers, Darnold had beautifully precise touch on his throws all game long.
- The Texans gave Darnold some of the most exotic blitzes he saw all season. They dropped defensive linemen, brought defensive backs from everywhere, and ran stunts/twists galore throughout the game. Sure enough, Darnold had no problem carving up those looks. Of the rookie’s 38 passing attempts, only 22 were against a four-man rush. Darnold threw ten passes against 2 or 3 rushers (yes, Houston brought two rushers on one play) and six against 5+ rushers. When facing a number of rushers other than four, Darnold completed 12 of 16 passes for 107 yards and eight first downs, including both of his touchdown passes.
- Darnold played one of his most aggressive games of the year against Houston, as he set a new season-high in average attempt depth with a mark of 11.2 yards. Impressively, Darnold still posted an adjusted accuracy rate (accounting for drops and throwaways) of 80.0%, his third-best mark of the season. An accuracy rate that strong coupled with such a high level of aggressiveness is extremely impressive.
- A primary reason for Darnold’s high average pass depth was the lack of easy attempts underneath. In addition to only throwing one checkdown pass (on the last play of the game), Darnold threw only two screen passes in the Houston game. This lined up with a drop in screen attempts from Darnold a week prior against the Bills, as he threw only one screen pass in that game. It definitely could be a sign of the increased confidence the coaching staff had in Darnold with more seasoning under his belt towards the end of the year.
- Another continued trend from the Buffalo game was Darnold’s wildly increased amount of improvised production. Against the Bills, Darnold attempted a season-high five improvised passes, after trying only about 1.3 of those per game over his first nine outings. The following week against the Texans, Darnold would again set a season-high for improvised attempts, throwing a whopping seven off-schedule passes. He was very successful with those, completing four of the seven attempts for 66 yards and four first downs, one of those a touchdown. Of the three incomplete attempts, two were dropped and another was tipped by a rusher to prevent what likely would have been a big gain.
Here is the aforementioned touchdown. Darnold and Robby Anderson hooked up for a backyard-style connection in the red zone for the second straight week.
- It was all about two particular throws for Darnold against the Texans — the curl and the out. Of Darnold’s 35 non-throwaway attempts, 19 were one of those two route types. He completed 10 of 12 curl route attempts for 102 yards and six first downs, and 5 of 7 out route attempts for 55 yards and two first downs. Both of Darnold’s incomplete curl route attempts were dropped potential first downs, as was one of the two incomplete out route attempts.
- A season-high 70.0% of Darnold’s passing yards against the Texans came through the air, demonstrating just how much of the work he was doing on his own in that game. Generally, in Darnold’s best performances of 2018, he was doing the majority of the work with his arm rather than simply benefiting from after-the-catch yardage. The opposite is also true. In Darnold’s worst games, YAC often helped mask his accuracy struggles.
Darnold’s ability to carry the offense through air yardage seemed to be a key to success. Seen below is a comparison between the amount of points scored by the Jets offense in each game versus the portion of Darnold’s passing yards that came through the air (through Week 15). When the Jets scored 20 points or more, Darnold always had more air yards than YAC yards. When the Jets scored fewer than 20 points, Darnold usually had more YAC yards than air yards, with the exception of the Bears game.
Here is a look at Darnold’s route type breakdown through his first 11 games of 2018.