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Sam Darnold against the Falcons: First drive

New York Jets v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Let’s take a look at the throws Sam Darnold made on his first drive of Thursday’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

2nd and 6; NYJ 38

On this play Darnold is likely able to decipher man coverage presnap because of Chris Herndon’s motion.

A linebacker follows Herndon back and forth to tip man coverage.

Also worth noting presnap is the Jets bunching Quincy Enunwa and Jamison Crowder at the bottom of the picture. Desmond Trufant has Enunwa in man coverage, but the bunch forces him to play with a big cushion. Otherwise he would risk getting caught in traffic.

Trufant’s positioning leaves him vulnerable to Enunwa running a route that breaks in. That is exactly what Enunwa is doing.

The Falcons do have a safety lurking in the middle of the field to help on this route, but Darnold just has to wait for Enunwa to clear him.

The end result is a 15 yard completion.

1st and 10; ATL 47

This play is really just Darnold making something out of nothing. Robby Anderson is blanketed on this play by Isaiah Oliver.

Oliver has coverage over the top so Darnold just throws behind the corner.

Anderson hauls in the pass for a 21 yard gain.

Darnold throws Anderson open here. I frequently say that one the biggest distinctions between average quarterbacks and elite quarterbacks is what happens when nothing is there. Average quarterbacks are capable of taking what the defense gives them. If the coverage call leaves a receiver open, an average quarterback will complete the pass. Elite quarterbacks create plays on their own even when the defense gives them little. A play like this is an example.

1st and 10; ATL 12

The Jets have something working at the top of the picture. Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder are running a route combination that will create traffic for the cover guys and potentially leave Crowder open in the end zone.

However, Darnold is unable to look in this direction. Chuma Edoga loses to Vic Beasley off the edge, forcing Darnold to abandon the pocket.

I’m now going to rewind to presnap here because the Jets’ alignment creates a favorable matchup. Chris Herndon is split as an outside receiver, while Quincy Enunwa is in the slot.

The Falcons play man coverage. The decide to have Trufant take Herndon and safety Keanu Neal take Enunwa. The Enunwa matchup is a good one for the Jets. Wide receiver vs. safety favors the offense. The Falcons presumably wanted to avoid putting Neal opposite Herndon where he would essentially be playing as an outside corner. Safeties typically aren’t comfortable doing that. In exchange for that comfort, however, the Falcons end up with a wide receiver against a safety. Herndon’s receiving skill should allow the Jets to exploit this frequently through the season.

Enunwa ends up getting a step on Neal.

However, the pressure on Darnold forces his throw to be a little off target, and Enunwa cannot haul it in.

The play ultimately isn’t successful, but I see a lot of things to like here from the play design to a great matchup created by the presnap alignment to Darnold avoiding what could have been an easy sack and almost making a highlight reel touchdown. This play lost because Edoga lost his assignment, but he’s a raw rookie who isn’t supposed to see the field once the real games start.

3rd and 4; ATL 6

This third down play is simple. It’s a simple criss cross between Anderson and Enunwa to create traffic on the goal line.

Darnold hits Anderson sliding under Enunwa for a 5 yard gain and a first down.

When executed properly it’s very difficult to prevent an offense from picking up a few yards on a play like this. It doesn’t ask the quarterback to do much heavy lifting either. For these reasons this is a good play call for third and short in the red zone.

My only issue is that Enunwa is a much more difficult receiver to bring down with the ball in his hands so I think he should have the role of the pass catcher with a head of steam. This play resulted in a first down, but Enunwa’s physicality after the catch would have increased the odds of a touchdown.