We’re back! 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 15, as he put the team on his back against the Houston Texans. In this edition, we’ll look at his numbers against the Green Bay Packers in Week 16.
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 16, Sam Darnold continued building on the momentum he had been accumulating since returning from injury two weeks prior. He shredded the Green Bay defense from start to finish, going toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers.
Let’s take a look at the numbers behind Darnold’s tremendous outing against the Packers.
Packers 44, Jets 38 (OT). Darnold: 24 for 35, 341 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions (128.4 passer rating, 9.7 yards per attempt)
- Darnold’s performance against the Packers was easily his best from a general statistical standpoint. He posted new season highs in passing yards (341), yards per attempt (9.74), and passer rating (128.4), while having his first game with at least three touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
The receiving group had a solid game, helping Darnold achieve those quality numbers. For the first time since Week 4, I didn’t chart a single dropped pass against the Jets. Darnold also benefited from 5.8 yards after catch per reception, a solid number. Robby Anderson went off, catching a career high nine passes and gaining 140 yards on those, the second best total of his career. Chris Herndon set a new career high with 82 yards, with 15 of them coming on this spectacular play:
- Darnold started the game on fire and never really cooled down. He completed 12 of his first 14 attempts for 180 yards and 10 first downs. Following a stretch of three straight plays resulting in an incomplete pass at the end of the first half, Darnold would complete each of his next nine attempts for 129 yards and seven first downs. He cooled down near the end of the game, completing only three of his final nine attempts for 32 yards and only one first down. However, three of those attempts were throwaways, and two of those completions were one yard shy of the sticks and helped continue drives.
- One trend that was developing over Darnold’s first two games back from injury was his increased total of improvised passing attempts. He set threw 12 of those against Buffalo and Houston, setting a new season high with five against the Bills and another new high with seven against the Texans. Against the Packers, Darnold bucked that trend, as he stayed on-schedule for the most part. He only attempted one improvised pass all afternoon, a 27-yard shot to Elijah McGuire that flew just over his outstretched hands on a diving attempt.
- Darnold had one of his most balanced route diets of the season against Green Bay. The out and curl routes were his favorite, throwing five of those apiece. Each of those two favorites made up 15.6% of Darnold’s non-throwaway attempts, which was the smallest portion taken up by Darnold’s favorite route(s) in a game all season. He also threw for multiple first downs on five different route types, a season high. Here is a look at his route breakdown against the Packers (excluding three throwaways).
- As it was for most of his rookie season, the intermediate range was Darnold’s best friend against the Packers. On his 10 attempts thrown 10-19 yards downfield, Darnold completed eight passes for 121 yards, with all completions resulting in a first down.
- Darnold’s performance against the Packers certainly had its share of eye-popping throws, but I was most impressed by his poise and decision-making in the game. He consistently made smart decisions with the ball, as he quickly accepted easy first downs when the defense yielded them, but also passed up good options for great options when the time was right.
The play below was very impressive. On 1st & 25, Darnold has two wide open options underneath that he could easily get the ball to, but he instead buys a little more time and waits for Robby Anderson to break free deeper down the field. Darnold throws a strike and picks up 20 yards to make up for the offense’s previous penalties.
It’s just a great display of willingness to maximize a down, and strong awareness to understand that the safe choice wasn’t the best option in this instance. You have to love a quarterback who is willing to take a greater risk to increase the reward. Of course, the key is striking a healthy balance on those gutsy shots — learning when it’s smart to avoid the safe play and when it’s smart to take it. The play above is a perfect example of Darnold understanding that balance, and he had many other throws like that one in the later portion of the season. It’s a positive sign of hope, hinting that Darnold just might be able to make a strong career out of his gunslinger mentality.
Here is a look at Darnold’s route type breakdown through his first 12 games of 2018.