With the long-awaited return of second-year quarterback Sam Darnold finally set to take place this weekend against the Dallas Cowboys, things should begin to open up for the New York Jets offense.
2019 was supposed to be the year for Sam Darnold.
While the future appeared to be bright for the New York Jets as a whole, that was especially true for the 22-year-old Darnold, who was drafted out of USC with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to be the Jets long sought after franchise quarterback.
And there was good reason to believe that Darnold would have a breakout year, as he performed well over the final quarter of his rookie season and was reportedly progressing throughout training camp leading up to the start of this season.
During a brutal 17-16 Week 1 loss to the Buffalo Bills, however, Darnold looked a bit off. He wasn’t necessarily bad, as he finished 28-of-41 with 175 yards and one touchdown, but he also didn’t blow spectators away with his performance.
Just days after the loss, it was reported that Darnold was out indefinitely after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. His subpar performance in Week 1 suddenly made sense, but perhaps more importantly, the diagnosis spelled doom for the Jets and their offense.
Against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2, Trevor Siemian got the start, but he was forced to the sidelines after suffering an ankle injury that will keep him out for the remainder of the season. Replacing him was Luke Falk, who prior to this season had never started an NFL game.
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In the three games without Darnold, the Jets offense has been downright brutal, scoring just one touchdown during that timespan. They have been in the red zone just twice in the past two games and according to Football Outsiders, the unit currently ranks 31st in team offense.
Throughout the stretch, head coach Adam Gase has been heavily criticized for his lack of creativity and poor strategy and game planning.
Personnel wise, Robby Anderson and Ty Montgomery have been near nonexistent. The offensive line has been disastrous. And while Le’Veon Bell has performed relatively well and has clearly given his all, it’s hard to find success with little help.
Now, it’d be incredibly naive to believe that Darnold’s return will fix all of the issues that have infiltrated the Jets offense, especially given the fact that it’s unknown what type of shape he’ll return in after dealing with such a severe illness.
But, Darnold’s return should slowly but surely begin to open things up for the struggling unit.
In regards to Gase, much of the criticism aimed at the new Jets coach has come out of frustration. Fans were expecting a big year and the season couldn’t have started any worse than it has.
In fairness, however, it likely isn’t all that easy for Gase to implement his scheme and find offensive success not only without his starting quarterback but with a quarterback who lacks starting experience.
With QB1 now back in the picture, Gase should feel more comfortable opening up the playbook and putting to use the creative and strategic offensive scheme that led the Jets to hire him in the first place.
In addition, Darnold’s return should help mask some of the offensive line issues the Jets have been dealing with. Typically, the center and the quarterback are the two players most responsible for making protection adjustments.
Against the Eagles last weekend, the Jets let up 10 sacks and 12 hurries against the Eagles. Now, some of those were obviously due to a struggling offensive line, but some were due to Falk’s lack of experience and his tendency to hold onto the ball too long.
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Darnold’s return should at least fix some of those issues. The return of the 22-year-old signal-caller should also benefit some of the team’s playmakers such as Anderson, Jamison Crowder, and Bell.
Anderson, for example, has struggled immensely in the absence of Darnold, as he’s totaled just 11 catches for 131 yards and no touchdowns. In the last two games combined, he brought in just four receptions for 27 yards.
Towards the end of last season, Darnold and Anderson began to form noticeable chemistry. Expect Anderson’s performance to steadily improve with Darnold back under center.
Throughout the offseason, Crowder was shaping up to be a favorite target of Darnold’s and that proved to be the case in Week 1, as he totaled 14 catches for 99 yards.
Since then, however, he’s caught just eight passes in three games for a total of 75 yards. Like Anderson, Crowder’s production should go up with the return of Darnold.
And finally, some of the pressure will likely be taken off Bell, who despite all of the team’s injuries, has played his heart out over the course of the season. With Darnold and a respectable pass attack back, more holes should open up for Bell.
In addition, Gase should find more ways to get the 27-year-old involved in the passing game. Ultimately, it’s quite possible that Darnold’s return takes Bell’s play to the next level.
Simply put, the Jets have a plethora of issues they’re currently dealing with. The return of Darnold certainly won’t fix them all, but it will undoubtedly help.
And at this point, that’s all the New York Jets can ask for.