Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
In the Jets' Week 7 loss to Minnesota, Sam Darnold ended up with an unforgiving statline, completing 17-of-42 passes for 206 yards and three interceptions. However, there were extenuating circumstances -- notably the blustery conditions, the decimated receiving corps and the pressure from Minnesota's formidable defense.
Let's look at some specific examples before we draw conclusions...
1st quarter, 11:16. Jets trailing 7-0. 2nd-and-7 at the Jets' 27
This play was an example of how the Vikings were able to shut down the over-the-middle routes to Jermaine Kearse which the Jets had been able to lean on heavily in Week 6.
Kearse and Neal Sterling were tightly bunched on the right side. Sterling ran out to the flat while Kearse looked to break to the inside. Unfortunately, the defender up at the line was able to disrupt Kearse's route before following Sterling out into the flat. This forced Darnold to hesitate for a half-beat before trying to force the ball in between two defenders, with Harrison Smith coming up fast to contest the throw over the middle.
That play could have worked one of two ways. Either Kearse slows up the defender as an effective rub route, leaving Sterling open in the flat, or Kearse gets a cleaner release and can break across the middle earlier. The Vikings played this about as well as you can to deny both options.
1st quarter, 1:05. Jets trailing 7-0. 1st-and-10 at the Indianapolis 12
The Jets have been gradually introducing read-pass options or RPO concepts into their passing game over the course of the season. While previously watching these closely gave the impression that Darnold was making up his mind whether or not to hand the ball off based on a pre-snap read, they ran a few on Sunday where he was intently eyeing his primary target's release off the line before opting to pull the ball out.
The Jets ran one here operating out of a three tight-end formation. Darnold got the read he likes as Chris Herndon released off the line with inside leverage on Harrison Smith, so Darnold knew that if he pulled the ball out and got the pass away quickly, Herndon should've been open over the middle. Darnold's throw was on the money for the touchdown, giving him an impressive red zone conversion for the second week in a row.
For what it's worth, had he handed the ball off, Bilal Powell likely breaks though the defensive line, but would have been met by an unblocked linebacker in the hole.
3rd quarter, 8:08. Jets trailing 17-7. 1st-and-10 at the Jets' 33
After a good first quarter, Darnold completed just seven of his next 27 passes as he had several misses and was let down by some drops. However, his first interception didn't come until midway through the third quarter. From a three-wide set, Darnold didn't step into his throw which was intercepted by Smith off a carom.
Given the situation, Darnold took an undue risk on this throw and probably should have simply checked it down to Isaiah Crowell, who would have had a realistic chance at making a first down.
4th quarter, 2:46. Jets trailing 37-17. 3rd-and-3 at the Jets' 31
This play was a good example that the game was moving a bit too fast for Darnold on Sunday. Against a soft zone, Darnold had Chris Herndon open for an easy first down over the middle, but hesitated, then tried to run for the first down before pulling up and trying to find Herndon, who by now was covered. Having stepped up, all four of the other receivers were available but Darnold didn't keep his eyes up to see them.
As it turned out, the Jets got the first down anyway on a roughing the passer call, but Darnold needs to be more decisive -- as he had been in recent games -- to keep the chains moving in such situations.
While there are obvious reasons why Darnold found things tougher in Week 7, these are things he needs to overcome if he's going to become one of the league's best quarterbacks. For example, Kirk Cousins was struggling with the conditions too as he was just 12-for-23 in the first half. However, he regrouped to complete 13 of 17 passes after halftime. Also, in Week 6, Andrew Luck was without his two best pass-catchers and still passed for over 300 yards and four touchdowns.
Had this performance come earlier in the season, before some of Darnold's recent good performances, then there perhaps would be a bigger cause for concern. However, this game presented Darnold with the kind of hurdles he's going to have to learn to deal with over the course of his career. And the hope is that this will be a learning experience that will ultimately serve him well.