NY Jets’ quarterback Sam Darnold had a bit of a bounce-back performance in Week 2.
The NY Jets‘ struggles this year have amplified the many, many problems with the organization. But other than perhaps their head coach, no individual has been put under a microscope quite as much as quarterback Sam Darnold.
It’s truly amazing to see just how quickly the narrative around Darnold has shifted. Just over two weeks ago, you would have been exiled and cast off as an anarchist if you even uttered a word about the Jets possibly moving on from Darnold in the offseason.
Now, it almost seems to be the popular take.
Has Darnold really played that bad? Is it time to give up on his future? Those are both complicated questions — questions we’re not here to analyze today.
Instead, we’re simply going to look at his most recent performance and assess whether he played well or not so well.
After a disastrous showing in Week 1, Darnold came under fire by fans and media alike for his rocky performance.
Box scores aside, the Jets’ 2020 opener against the Buffalo Bills might have been Darnold’s worst performance as a professional. At the very least, it was certainly bottom-three.
For that reason, he needed a bounce-back showing in Week 2 to prove that he still can be the guy for this franchise to build around. And while the latter remains very much in doubt, the former did end up happening.
Once again, the stats are a little misleading here. Darnold finished 21-of-32 for just 179 yards and a touchdown — not exactly eye-popping numbers. But it became pretty apparent to anyone watching on Sunday that Darnold was the least of the Jets’ issues in that game.
The third-year signal-caller took care of the football and didn’t turn the ball over once, nor did he really have any turnover-worthy plays. He wasn’t given a chance to do much, but he rediscovered that patented “Sam Darnold flair” that he was missing in Week 1.
Trailing 24-3 in the third quarter, Darnold found himself under pressure, rolled out to his right, and fired a bullet on the move to an awaiting Chris Herndon in the corner of the end zone.
It was one of Darnold’s most impressive throws of the short season and it closely resembled another tight-window, on-the-run throw he had made to Jamison Crowder last season against Baltimore.
Crowder caught his pass. Unfortunately, Herndon did not as the ball bounced right off his chest and fell incomplete. That’s an incompletion on the stat sheet, but in reality, it was arguably’s Darnold’s best play of the day.
Later on the Jets’ final drive of the afternoon, Darnold was pressured almost immediately up the middle after right guard Greg Van Roten whiffed on his block.
Instead of panicking, Darnold stepped to his right to avoid the sack, and then rolled out left to scramble away from more pressure. The young QB kept his eyes downfield and fired a strike 30 yards to an awaiting Braxton Berrios for a touchdown.
Darnold’s throw was on the move, across his body, while rolling out to the left. That’s an insanely difficult throw for any quarterback to make and it’s further evidence of the play-making improvisation skills that Darnold has shown throughout his career.
Those plays were absent in Week 1, but they were evident this past Sunday. This doesn’t mean that Darnold had a picture-perfect afternoon, however.
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The NY Jets also saw Sam Darnold’s struggles in Week 2.
His mechanics are still out of whack and this was apparent in the first quarter when Darnold, sitting in a perfect pocket, danced around as if to avoid non-existent pressure and fired an errant pass to his check-down, Frank Gore.
The Jets’ offensive line did a good job of creating a pocket for Darnold to sit back in. In reality, he had a good five or more seconds to scan the field and make the correct read.
Instead, his first and second options were covered, he panicked anticipating pressure that never arrived, and threw an off-balance five-yard incompletion to his check-down over the middle.
If Darnold’s feet are set here, this is an easy completion for around a five-yard gain. Or better yet, he can wait in the pocket a little longer and maybe try to extend the play after his initial reads were covered.
But Darnold has clearly been shaken by the pressure he’s received in the past. He’s come to expect it, even when it’s not there. When people talk about Darbold’s mechanics regressing, that is what they’re referring to.
We saw more good than bad from Darnold in Week 1. His offensive gameplan didn’t allow him to throw downfield more than a handful of times, but the majority of the Jets’ offensive struggles in Week 2 didn’t fall on him, unlike the previous week.
These are the kind of outings that still have Jets fans believing in Darnold, even if the box score doesn’t support that notion. For the record, Pro Football Focus rated Darnold as the seventh-best QB in Week 2 and the Jets’ best overall player.
Tape and context matter more than stats and box scores.
Sam Darnold wasn’t perfect on Sunday, but he put forth a substantially greater performance than in Week 1. And his final grade represents that.