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Sam Darnold Isn’t Playing With Confidence

NFL: SEP 27 Jets at Colts Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Much of the attention of Sam Darnold’s poor performance on Sunday against the Colts has focused on his three interceptions.

It makes sense. Turnovers are a big deal. Still they don’t always tell the whole story. There is frequently more to an interception than just what the quarterback did. As I argued yesterday, a bad route was a major contributing factor to the first interception.

While we should pay attention to turnovers, what the quarterback does on a play to play basis also matters.

This is where Darnold’s performance on Sunday left me very concerned. It just didn’t seem like he was seeing receivers quickly enough.

Take this play right here. Darnold’s read had progressed to Frank Gore running a route out of the backfield. Gore was open. Two defenders who made zone drops weren’t near him.

Darnold begins his throwing motion but then pulls the ball down.

Instead he tucks the ball and runs for 2 yards.

This isn’t necessarily a case where a pass to Gore does a lot of damage. It is just an example of Darnold not being decisive in his reads.

It is true even when the reads aren’t particularly complex.

Here is a basic bootleg play where the Jets fake a run one way. Darnold keeps it and moves against the grain while Braxton Berrios slips out in the opposite direction.

Berrios ends up wide open. All Darnold needs to do is throw the ball in his direction.

Instead he takes a sack.

This play is so open that it should be about as easy of a completion as a quarterback could have. If the 49ers ran this play, and Jimmy Garoppolo completed the pass announcers and fans would likely talk about what a brilliant play caller and designer Kyle Shanahan is to give his quarterback something so easy to execute.

Here’s a play from the drive where the Jets eventually scored a touchdown.

Darnold does a nice job escaping pressure and moving to his right.

Chris Herndon broke his route to go deep. He had separation and called for the ball.

Darnold instead tucked the ball and ran even though there was a chance for a touchdown.

I’ll throw two caveats here. First, Darnold did pick up a first down on his scramble to extend the drive. Second, later in this drive he made a spectacular play on a touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios.

Still in the context of everything else that happened Sunday this play stands out. What was the thing that made Darnold a highly desired prospect above all else? I’d argue the ability he showed at USC to turn schoolyard football situations into big plays.

As Brian Baldinger pointed out, Darnold passed on a similar opportunity Week 1 against Buffalo.

As Baldinger says, “Sam is so much better than this.”

That’s something I want to make clear. This isn’t a, “Sam Darnold stinks,” article. This is a, “Sam Darnold isn’t playing with much confidence or decisions assertively,” article. Everything about him is tentative right now.

The Jets need to figure out how to change this and fast.