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Jets QB Sam Darnold's performance during Week 3's loss to the Browns was frustrating, especially early on. The Jets ran an extremely conservative gameplan, which enabled them to build a lead but also seemed to prevent Darnold from being able to get into any kind of rhythm. They seemed reluctant to trust their protection, so Darnold was primarily asked to make quick tosses and throws on the move.
It wasn't until late in the first half that he made what you might call a "normal" throw where he dropped back into the pocket, scanned the field and found a receiver -- and that was just a short gain to Chris Herndon in the flat.
Let's look at some specific examples before we draw conclusions...
2nd quarter, 13:31. Jets ahead 7-0. 1st-and-10 at the Jets' 37.
Darnold is under center with three tight ends on the left side of the formation. Having played things close to the vest in the first quarter, the Jets obviously want to try to get Darnold going so they run a familiar concept which they've used extensively since last season.
It's a sail concept, which means Darnold can roll right and have three options -- one short, one intermediate and one downfield -- ahead of him in his immediate eyeline. It's the same look they used on the play where he threw the pick-six against Detroit and also the first pass of last night's game that was blown up for a loss.
As the receiver runs a go route and one of the tight ends runs an under route into the right flat, Darnold rolls right and tries to hit the intermediate option, Eric Tomlinson, on the crossing route. It's a bad read and he's lucky not to be intercepted by Joe Schobert stepping in front.
4th quarter, 13:46. Score tied 14-14. 2nd-and-10 at the Browns' 45
The Jets line up in a four-wide set with three receivers on the left. It's an "RPO" (run-pass option) and, based on his initial read, Darnold opts to pull the ball out and look to throw.
The primary option appears to be Terrelle Pryor, who runs an in-route from the outside. However, the slot corner passes his man off to the outside cornerback and jumps the route. At that point, Darnold could perhaps have dumped it underneath or to the flat for a short gain, but he tries to extend the play by rolling out. Ultimately, he seems to throw it away, but Leggett comes down with it, albeit landing just out of bounds.
This perhaps doesn't seem that significant, but the fact that the Browns laid the trap for Darnold there and he didn't fall for it is a positive sign.
4th quarter, 9:42. Score tied 14-14. 3rd-and 12 at the Browns' 19
This is basically the same formation again, albeit spread out a bit more. Against a five-man rush. Darnold instantly makes the correct read and throws to his hot read, Jermaine Kearse, down the middle. Unfortunately, the pass is slightly behind him and Kearse is stopped short of the marker, forcing the Jets to settle for a field goal. This is notable because the same thing happened in Week 2, on an almost identical play. That was when Chris Herndon failed to score right before the half and, in each case, hitting the receiver in stride would have likely made the play a success.
4th quarter, 1:27. Browns leading 21-17. 1st-and-10 at the Jets' 37.
JOE SCHOBERT WITH THE TAKEAWAY‼️ pic.twitter.com/tDO6d7R4Aa- Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 21, 2018
From the same formation again, Darnold throws his first interception, inexcusably forcing the ball into traffic. The NFL Network crew correctly indicated that Spencer Long got driven back, collapsing the pocket, but the throw should have already been out before the pressure got in Darnold's face -- with Kearse clearly open at the marker. This must be one of the bad reads Darnold admitted to after the game.
Darnold ultimately completed less than half of his passes with the two late interceptions. While he made his share of bad reads and inaccurate throws, you get the sense the gameplan -- which seemed to be built around countering the threats of pressure from the Browns' defense -- didn't help.
While the protection didn't always hold up on more conventional pass plays, Darnold was able to display some of his creativity in those situations -- something he's good at and comfortable with. The Jets should be wary of overprotecting Darnold, because had they given him more chances to make things happen, he probably would have settled down a lot sooner.
If things continue in this vein, the Jets might have to consider turning back to Josh McCown, as he is perhaps better equipped to run a more varied offense against a team like the Browns right now. However, the Jets will hope Darnold bounces back from this.