Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
In Sunday's loss to Miami, Sam Darnold came up short as he threw a season-high four interceptions and was sacked a season-high four times.
Let's look at some specific examples before we draw conclusions:
1st quarter, 2:59. Scoreless game. 1st-and-10 at the Jets' 16
Darnold got off to a good start as he completed his first four passes. On this play, he connected with Chris Herndon on a deep over route, displaying excellent touch to loft the pass over Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso and finding a gap in Miami's zone coverage.
This play saw Darnold take the snap from under center with the Jets in an offset-I formation. He gave a play-action fake to the back as the five Jets' linemen each picked up their man on a five-man rush.
1st quarter, 1:04. Scoreless game. 1st-and-10 at the Miami 44
Darnold's next pass again saw him trying to find a gap in Miami's zone. Unfortunately, this time he didn't do a good enough job of looking off Alonso, who was able to step in front for an easy interception that set up Miami's first score.
Once again, Darnold was under center with pro-set personnel, this time in an I-formation. He play-faked to the back again and this time the fullback stayed in to block as the Jets easily picked up a four-man rush.
With plenty of time, this was a badly forced throw by Darnold, who was looking to hit his former college teammate Deontay Burnett down the seam.
3rd quarter, 13:02. Jets trailing 6-3. 2nd-and-8 at the Jets' 38
The book on Darnold is that he learns from his mistakes, and he showed evidence of this on the Jets' first drive of the second half on a well-executed zone-beater. This time -- operating out of the shotgun in a two-tight end set -- Darnold zipped a pass to Robby Anderson in a soft spot in Miami's zone coverage and the speedster was able to turn it upfield for a 17-yard gain.
The Jets ran a route combo on the left side with Darnold initially looking out towards Quincy Enunwa, who ran out to the flat from the slot. Darnold then made sure Alonso was in the middle of the field before releasing a well-timed throw right as Anderson was uncovering near the marker.
4th quarter, 10:56. Jets trailing 6-3. 2nd-and-9 at the Jets' 47
The key moment of the game emphasized how Darnold's development is an ongoing process. He again forced a throw that a linebacker was able to step in front of for an interception and the only touchdown of the game.
Although this was a terrible snap, Darnold still had time to regroup and make a better decision. The one trait everyone has been raving about with Darnold is that he is unflappable and won't panic under duress. On this occasion, he did, and it was the decisive moment of the game.
Darnold needs to trust his protection better, as he could have slid to the left to buy himself more time to hit Herndon over the top or check it down to Isaiah Crowell underneath, depending on how the coverage reacted. However, it's understandable that he didn't because it had broken down so many times prior to that.
4th quarter, 0:46. Jets trailing 13-6. 3rd-and-10 at the Jets' 47
Darnold got the ball back late with a chance to tie the score and moved the Jets close to midfield. On this play, his incompletion to Anderson left the Jets in a 4th-and-long hole that led to his fourth interception on a desperation downfield heave.
Darnold tried to hit Anderson on a deep throw down the sideline, but the safety was rolled over to that side to break it up. The correct read would have been to throw a quick-hitter to Jermaine Kearse going down the seam. He also could have dumped it to Trenton Cannon underneath for a likely first down.
Darnold needs better situational awareness there as 3rd-and-long wasn't the ideal time for a low percentage downfield throw.
While some will blame his protection, the bad snaps, his receivers and the gameplan, Darnold was right to take responsibility himself for his performance after the game. While two of his interceptions came on desperation throws late in the game, he was lucky not to be intercepted on a few other errant throws over the course of the game.
Opposing teams might believe the Dolphins have discovered a blueprint to bait the rookie into mistakes, but for Darnold this is an opportunity to work on an aspect of his game he clearly needs to improve upon. Unfortunately, this might be difficult to achieve in practice because zone defense has not been something the Jets have done well over the course of the season.