Sam Darnold has done a lot of things right in his first preseason with the Jets, and after a good week of practice, he was given the start Thursday night against the Redskins.
The Jets were eager to see if Darnold could take off and land the starting job for Week 1 of the regular season. What they saw instead was more evidence that he’s not yet ready to make that leap.
Darnold entered Landover accompanied by the kind of hype that comes with being a No. 3 overall draft pick by a New York team. That hype kept building after his solid debut (13-of-18 passing, 96 yards, one TD, 103.0 passer rating) less than a week earlier vs. the Falcons. He experienced more-typical rookie struggles in his second outing.
NORMAN NOTICES: Washington CB impressed with Darnold after joint practice
He was fine working out of the shotgun in mostly safe mode behind a shaky offensive line, including his throw of the night, a 13-yard third-down bullet on a slant to wide receiver Tre McBride. There was no doubt Darnold (8 for 11, 62 yards, one INT, 48.3 passer rating) looked physically and mentally sharp, that his initial NFL play was a natural extension of what he did as a top college QB at USC.
But in relation to Josh McCown’s experience and familiarity with the offense and Teddy Bridgewater’s unwavering drive, he didn’t do enough to stand out vs. his veteran competition.
TRADE RUMORS: Jets willing to move Bridgewater at the right price
McCown got the night off, which was an indication he still had in the lead going into the critical third week of the preseason. Bridgewater (10 for 15, 127 yards, one TD, one INT), as he did against the Falcons, outplayed Darnold, this time after taking over for the rookie and playing the entire second half.
If the Jets are getting ready to name Darnold as their No. 1 QB soon, it would be because they have already locked into the plan of throwing him into the fire, having McCown as a strong backup and flipping Bridgewater in a trade. If the competition has nothing to do with draft pedigree, then Darnold gave the coaches four reasons Thursday why he should sit.
Turning the ball over in the red zone
Darnold made a bad decision to throw into coverage on fourth-and-1 at the Washington 20, which resulted in an interception. It was his first giveaway since the last of the 43 he committed for the Trojans in two seasons. The Jets project to be a grinding, defensive-minded team with little margin for error in a key fourth year for coach Todd Bowles. There will be little tolerance for such mistakes.
Holding the ball too long
Having overmatched Brent Qvale fill in at left tackle didn’t help Darnold, but Darnold didn’t help himself by taking a sack when he had plenty of time to get rid of the ball. He’s reacting slowly against soft zone defenses, too, which indicates he won’t handle pressure well when it gets dialed up for real.
Being too checkdown-happy
Darnold improved his yards per attempt slightly, from 5.3 in his debut to 5.6, but that’s still an unacceptable number. If this were 2017, that figure would put him behind the league’s worst YPA passers, Brett Hundley and Joe Flacco.
McCown was at a solid 7.4 YPA last season thanks to some Air Raid downfield concepts put in by former offensive coordinator John Morton. Bridgewater’s robust 8.5 mark against the Redskins was a downgrade from the fantastic 10.6 he dropped against the Falcons.
Because of the turnover cloud over him, you can’t blame Darnold for playing it safe or the Jets for putting him in a shell with his throws, but that produced a feel that he needs more development before he can be exposed to real defenses.
Not having total command
The Jets’ offense couldn’t finish a drive and score a touchdown with Darnold in the game. He made some clutch throws but never looked like he was truly in control. In contrast, Bridgewater seemed to light a fire with his aggressiveness and execution.
Entering the draft, Darnold had the best mix of strengths compared to the other three QBs selected in the top 10 — mobile Baker Mayfield, big-armed Josh Allen and pro-ready Josh Rosen, but his tentativeness was his biggest weakness in relation to them.
What’s the rush for the Jets getting Darnold out there when the Browns, Bills and Cardinals have indicated they don’t want to do that with their future franchise passers? If McCown or Bridgewater were face-planting, then the story would be different.
The reality is, it’s hard to ignore that McCown has been pretty good for this team when healthy, which prompted the Jets to re-sign him in the offseason, and that Bridgewater is a viable roster option rather than a trade option. At the moment, they’re the better men for the job.
Darnold will take over in due time, and the Jets bought themselves extra time in 2018 by spending a combined $16 million on McCown and Bridgewater. They should take advantage of that. Darnold doesn’t need to dive in right away and take all those lumps.
If the Jets are committed to the “best man” to help Bowles get wins in the short term, then it makes the least sense to go with Darnold.
Share if you enjoyed this post!