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November 20, 2018

Sam Darnold’s inexperience, play-calling and other takeaways from Jets’ latest loss

November 5, 2018

The Jets’ second three-game losing streak through the first nine weeks of the season has plenty of people searching for answers. Here are five takeaways from Gang Green’s 13-6 loss in Miami on Sunday.

1) Sam Darnold looked every bit like a rookie




Move over, Week 3. This was clearly the quarterback’s worst performance of his young career. Darnold, frankly, simply didn’t see the field well. He was unsure, tentative and making poor choices for the better part of the game.

It’s difficult to fully explain the root of the issues, but he looked every bit like a newbie. He’s going to kick himself for missing open teammates when he reviews the film. His biggest challenge right now is being more decisive and clear with his second and third reads.

Jets QB Sam Darnold holds on to the snap against the Dolphins, Sunday. (Wilfredo Lee / AP)

2) It might be time for the Jets to streamline the playbook for Darnold

Don’t get it twisted. I’m not calling for stripping away the essence of Jeremy Bates’ scheme, but there’s clearly a divide that needs to be bridged. The Jets had to burn timeouts early in both halves because the play clock was winding down.

There are only two reasons why that happens:

A) The play caller isn’t relaying the play fast enough to the quarterback.

or

B) The quarterback isn’t relaying the play call efficiently and/or fast enough in the huddle.

Neither explanation is good.

It’s great that Darnold attacked and absorbed the full playbook this summer, but it’s evident that there needs to be a more streamlined in-game flow between Bates and Darnold from play to play.

Here’s something that will annoy Jets fans: Bates dialed up a terrific play-call before one of those timeouts was called. You saw a glimpse of it before the play was whistled dead. It was a screen pass to Chris Herndon in which it was essentially three Jets vs two Dolphins defenders. It was destined to be a big gainer. The Jets are going to rip their hairs out when they watch that on film.

3) Is there an offensive scheme issue?

I’m no Bill Walsh, but I can tell when players aren’t pleased with play-calling. Look no further than Robby Anderson’s words when asked whether there was an offensive scheme issue: “I feel like we have a lot of talent on offense and we’re not capitalizing and… using each other in ways that we can use our talent and our skillset to… our advantage, honestly.”

I realize that Anderson has been frustrated with his usage this season, but this is a stinging indictment of Bates.




Is Anderson’s critique warranted?

Look, I know it’s so easy to second-guess play-callers. There are countless Barcalounger Sean McVays out there. It’s a hard job that becomes infinitely harder when dealing with a rookie quarterback.

As I noted earlier, Darnold missed open guys yesterday. The film will reveal that.

His first interception on a pass intended for Deontay Burnett should have been an easy pass to a wide-open Isaiah Crowell out of the backfield. Again, this goes back to Darnold being better at moving to his second and third reads. Darnold admitted that he didn’t see linebacker Kiko Alonso drifting back after the snap, but there wasn’t much disguising done on that play. Darnold should have seen Alonso. And he knows it.

Here’s another telling play that is a clear reflection of the quarterback’s inexperience: On a 2nd and 6, the Jets dialed up a draw play to Eli McGuire. On the surface, there was nothing truly wrong with the play call.

But here’s what went wrong: Darnold should have checked out of the play since the Dolphins had dialed up a run blitz. Running a delayed handoff into that defense was tantamount to suicide.

A more experienced quarterback would have properly identified the defense. I believe it was a zone dog blitz (linebackers blitzing with zone coverage behind).

A veteran signal caller would have seen it and audibled.

I don’t know the play calls in the huddle, but Darnold would have been wise to kill that run and gone to a secondary play if it were available. I’m operating under the assumption that Darnold can kill plays (ie – check from a run play called in the huddle to a pass play called in the huddle). I don’t think that he has the freedom yet to change/audible to an altogether new play.

The Jets aren’t the Rams, but I still can’t believe that they weren’t able to score a single touchdown against one of the worst defenses in the league. The Dolphins were gashed for 436 rushing yards on 6.2 yards per carry the previous two weeks. I thought it would have made sense to commit to the run early to set up deep shots through the air. That never happened though.

One parting shot from Anderson after I asked him about the team’s good week of practice in the run-up to the loss: “Practice is practice. It’s not the game. We don’t get paid to practice. We get paid to play in the game and win games.”

Agreed.

Jets head coach Todd Bowles addresses the media following an Jets' 13-6 loss to the Dolphins Sunday.
Jets head coach Todd Bowles addresses the media following an Jets’ 13-6 loss to the Dolphins Sunday. (Lynne Sladky / AP)

4) What happened to the takeaways?

Full disclosure: I know that I’m nitpicking here. This was one of the best defensive performances I’ve seen in the Todd Bowles era. In fact, the Jets allowed the fewest yards (168) in the 57 games that Bowles has been in charge. But they failed to get a takeaway for the third consecutive week.

“You don’t play well when you lose ball games,” Bowles said. “So, we got to get turnovers and do a little more.”

I appreciate and respect that mentality, but you should win a game when your defense holds the opponent to 3.1 yards per play and 3 for 16 on third down.

5) Will this fracture the locker room?

The general frustration and annoyance were palpable, prompting inquiring minds to ask about keeping an offense vs defense locker room split. Players don’t think that will happen, but it’s a fair question given how history is littered with examples of one side of the ball turning on the other.

“(You) just stay away from it as much as you can,” cornerback Mo Claiborne said. “Be honest, be real with each other. If you see stuff like that creeping in, it’s good to get that under control. Because we’re human. Stuff like that happens. You got so many different personalities around here… But I feel like we got a close bunch. Everybody hears everything that’s going on. Everybody talks about everything. So, I don’t feel like that will be a problem.”

Said left tackle Kelvin Beachum: “No division at all.”

The bottom line that this team as currently constituted isn’t nearly good enough. Darnold’s natural evolution will help things in the years ahead. But at the very least, there needs to be an influx of more talent moving forward.




In the meantime, the players are left to searching for answers that might not exist for the rest of this season.

“I don’t know if it’s going to change,” safety Jamal Adams said. “I don’t know when it’s going to change. We got to figure it out as a team. As an organization, we have to figure it out. I don’t have all the answers. But we will find out.”

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