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A Complete Pass Failure

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

You might have been frustrated with some of Sam Darnold’s inaccurate throws and poor decisions on Sunday. It certainly was not a good day.

There were even deeper issues, however. Even a number of the passes that were completed didn’t do the Jets much good.

Years ago the folks at Football Outsiders created a stat called Failed Completions. It tracks completed passes that fail to gain 45% of yards needed on a first down play, 60% on a second down play, or 100% on third and fourth down plays.

The logic behind it is simple. A 2 yard completion on 1st and 10 or an 8 yarder on 3rd and 9 might count on the stat sheet as completed passes and help the quarterback’s completion percentage, but they don’t really help the team.

With the help of the Pro Football Reference Play Index, I went back to look at Darnold’s completions on Sunday. I found that 8 of Darnold’s 21 completions were failed completions. That 38% (8/21) rate is exceptionally high. It would top the league over the course of a full season. So would the 22.9% of Darnold passing attempts that resulted in failed completions.

Of course there is never a definitive answer whether the play calling, the quarterback’s reads, or the defense are most to blame when something like this happens. I think it should be noted that Mike Tanier warned back in May 2019 that Adam Gase’s quarterbacks tended to have abnormally high rates of failed completions. It should also be noted that Darnold’s rates rose appreciably in 2019 after he posted some the lowest rates in the league as a rookie in 2018.

Something worth highlighting was that Chris Herndon led the Jets in failed receptions with 3.

NextGen Stats notes that Herndon was only an average of 6.1 yards down the field per target. That with the 10 yard average he had during his productive rookie season in 2018. The Bills suffered injuries at linebacker during the game and were forced to play backups. The Jets also lacked the ability to create much impact at the wide receiver position, which logically could lead to the tight end playing a bigger role. For some reason the Jets didn’t test those Buffalo linebackers vertically by targeting Herndon on seam routes. When they went to Herndon, it tended to be plays with minimal upside.

I don’t think anybody can fairly suggest only targeting Herndon deep would cure all of the problems in the Jets’ passing game. Many of the issues came from Darnold’s erratic play and a general lack of pass catching talent. Herndon himself is a major question mark coming off a lost season, a player of potential more than proven production.

Still this story seems to be at the root of why the passing game is so unproductive. The Jets ran way too many passing plays that did them no good even when they worked. Especially when the team is undermanned, it needs to maximize its upside.

Is it a philosophical thing with Adam Gase that needs to change? Is it Sam Darnold making better reads? Is it receivers doing more to help? Is it all of these things?

The Jets need to figure it out quickly and change course.