LANDOVER, Md. - The education of Sam Darnold continued with another strong performance from the rookie quarterback on Thursday night. He's done just about everything the Jets have asked him to do so far.
But if the Jets really want to see if he's ready to be their Opening Day starter, they're going to have to ask him to do more.
Jets coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates have been painfully conservative with Darnold so far. All his throws in his first NFL start were short passes in the Jets' 15-13 loss to the Redskins. It did not appear that he was even looking deep. Maybe that was by design. They're trying to get Darnold comfortable and teach him about NFL defenses.
At some point this summer, though, he's going to have to be unleashed.
In the mean time, he's continuing to show signs that he's ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
- He got a taste of NFL pressure on his first drive, playing behind a makeshift offensive line without his LT (Kelvin Beachum) and RG (Brian Winters). He did manage to avoid a sack on the second play, though, when he ran a designed rollout right into Washington's Ryan Kerrigan but he somehow avoided him and threw the ball away.
- When he got time on the second drive he completed five passes for 45 yards and marched the Jets down field for a field goal. The only blemish was a third-down sack where he held the ball too long. It was more of a coverage sack, though. Upon first glace it did not appear he had an open target.
- Despite the pressure on that first series, he stood strong in the pocket and took some hits right after delivering passes. That coverage sack was even an example where he didn't look "skittish" (to borrow an old word from Giants history).
It wasn't all good, though. Darnold did throw his first NFL interception, on a 4th-and-1 from the Redskins 20. He tried to force the ball to a well-covered Jermaine Kearse, and the ball was tipped up by a safety and picked off by another one. It was a bad throw and bad decision. It would've been nice to see how he responded on the next drive, but that turned out to be his final throw.
In all, Darnold completed 8 of 11 passes for 62 yards. Through two games he's 21 for 29 for 158 yards with one touchdown and one interception. That's a completion percentage of 72.4 and a passer rating of 82.2. That's not bad, but it's also an average of a measly 5.4 yards per attempt. His longest completion is 18 yards and he's only attempted one truly deep pass, and that was in the opener and he wasn't even close to completing it to receiver Charles Johnson.
If Darnold wins this job, chances are the Jets will be conservative at the start anyway. They want to win, and it's hard to do that by having a rookie quarterback come out firing. But they'll have to open up the offense a little more, so it would sure help the Jets if they could see whether he could do that.
With two preseason games left, consider that the next big test.
In the meantime, here are a few other observations from the Jets' second preseason game …
- QB Teddy Bridgewater took a shot to the lower legs from Redskins LB Peter Robertson and he bounced right up. That's a great sign, even though it wasn't clear whether the hit was to his bad knee. Maybe more importantly, Bridgewater looked good again. He completed 10 of 15 passes for 127 yards with one touchdown and one interception and it could've been better but his second- and third-team receivers and tight ends didn't do him any favors with some very catchable passes. He still made some big-time plays and throws. There should be no doubt he is still a starter in this league. If any team needs a QB for the start of the season (Hello, Philadelphia?) he's got to be No. 1 on the trade list.
- The Jets are still not getting much of a pass rush, but LB Jordan Jenkins showed some signs that maybe he could be the edge rusher they so desperately need. He got a great rush on Redskins QB Alex Smith on the first play of the game (though he was flagged for roughing the passer when he drove Smith into the ground). He later made a nice tackle to combine on a sack with DE Leonard Williams.
- Rookie DT Nathan Shepard is getting some pretty consistent push in the middle, if not outright pressure. But there are times he still shows that he's a rookie from Fort Hays State. On the second quarter there was a play where he was completely off balance and literally was just shoved to the ground by a Redskins guard. That can't happen to an NFL DT.
- Speaking of being pushed around, that describes the Jets' defense perfectly. Even the Redskins' second-team defense was able to just march down the field on them. They gave up several big plays thanks to some poor tackling and poor positioning - like when LB Darron Lee got flattened on a 30-yard run, and S Doug Middleton just stood in the secondary like a traffic cone on a 25-yard screen pass. Their performance was not a good sign.
- RB Bilal Powell (6 carries, 17 yards, and two catches for 20 yards) looked decent in limited action. The Jets are real hopeful that he and RB Isaiah Crowell, who was out with a concussion, can help them sustain drives in a way they couldn't last year. If they can, that will take some of the pressure off Darnold (you know, assuing he wins the starting job).
- Jets LB Frankie Luvu made two tackles that would've been considered dangerous even before the NFL's new rule against lowering the helmet. On the first, he flattened Redskins QB Colt McCoy right after he threw a pass. He was called for roughing the passer, but it could've/should've been lowering the helmet. When he was flagged for lowering the helmet in the third quarter it was clear he needed a refresher course in tackling technique if the undrafted rookie free agent has any hope of sticking around.