Invigorating. Energizing. Rejuvenating. All of these adjectives apply to the performance that Sam Darnold put forth at MetLife Stadium in his return to action against the Cowboys.
The Jets were nothing without Darnold. They had lost three straight games without him, all by at least 14 points. Over those three games, they scored one touchdown on offense, while mustering a grand total of nine points on the offensive side of the ball. Their one touchdown drive went only 19 yards. Otherwise, they could only march into the red zone a single time.
Zero passing touchdowns. Two red zone trips. Nine points on offense. Over three games without Darnold, that’s all the Jets offense could do.
Darnold was tasked with singlehandedly injecting life into a dormant team. That’s a lot to ask of any quarterback, let alone a 22-year old starting just his 15th NFL game.
But he was up to it. And he didn’t just pass the test – he aced it.
In one of his best performances to date, Darnold completed 23 of 32 passes for 338 yards, two touchdowns, and just one interception, averaging a career-best 10.6 yards per attempt and posting a marvelous 113.8 passer rating.
The Jets’ franchise face was clicking on all cylinders. He dropped the ball in the perfect spot to hit Robby Anderson for a 92-yard score. His screen passes consistently allowed the receivers to take the ball upfield in stride. He dodged the pressure with gusto and read the field brilliantly.
This is a different team with Sam Darnold under center.
Wide receivers Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder
The Jets scored more offensive touchdowns against the Cowboys than they did over the first four games of the season. In addition to Darnold’s prowess, a primary reason they were able to get that done was that they finally benefited from their talented top two receivers.
Jamison Crowder picked up where he left off with Darnold in Week 1. He caught six of nine targets for 98 yards, moving the chains four times. Crowder was excellent making plays after the catch, and showed a nice chemistry with Darnold. His total of nine targets led the team. The only downside – Crowder and Darnold had a miscommunication in the red zone that led to an interception.
Crowder has averaged 10.0 catches for 98.5 yards over his two games with Darnold.
Robby Anderson finally broke through the roof. He had been getting open all season, but the Jets could not get him the football. With Darnold back, Anderson shined. The game-breaker was a 92-yard connection with Darnold late in the first half – the second-largest passing touchdown in Jets history. Anderson added two more first down receptions, and finished the game grabbing five of eight targets for 125 yards.
Defensive line and safeties
Two position groups stood out to me on the Jets defense – the defensive line and the safeties.
Up front, the Jets got good performances from a lot of players.
No. 3 pick Quinnen Williams shined, contributing to five run tackles for one yard or less. That total tied him for the most among defensive linemen in Week 6 (through Sunday), along with teammate Kyle Phillips.
Folorunso Fatukasi was tremendous as well, consistently winning his battles up front and creating penetration in the run game. Perhaps most notably, he split a double-team in the second quarter to stuff Ezekiel Elliott on a 3rd & 2 play in the red zone.
After a silent start to the season, Leonard Williams broke out, creating a lot of pressure on Dak Prescott.
In the back end, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye were strong. Maye tackled excellently, stopping some potentially huge plays in their tracks. Adams was an all-around force, especially against the pass. He made some good plays on the ball in coverage, and picked up a game-winning pressure up the middle on Dallas’ final two-point attempt.
Shaky performance for Roberts, who was beat for a few first downs throughout the game.
It was a favorable matchup for the Jets secondary, as the Cowboys entered the afternoon without Randall Cobb and then lost top weapon Amari Cooper early in the game. The Jets defense mostly took advantage, but the Cowboys were still able to get a few drives going on the strength of its wide receiver core. Roberts was at the core of those struggles.
It was not all bad for Roberts. He made a few strong tackles underneath the first down marker – his bread and butter. His problem continues to be man-to-man coverage on deeper developing routes.
The Jets defense did end up allowing 22 points to Dallas, including 16 in the second half, so things were not all great defensively.
I think the linebackers were a big issue. The Cowboys were able to get things clicking in the third quarter by going to a ground-and-pound approach with Ezekiel Elliott. The defensive line made some nice stops, but the linebackers seemed to be making a lot of mistakes in run defense.
Neville Hewitt was hurt midway through the game, leading to special teams ace Albert McClellan playing some snaps at inside linebacker. That did not go well at all, as McClellan missed a few tackles.
Hewitt returned, but played one of his weaker games this season, struggling in run defense more than usual while allowing some productive yardage in coverage.
Blake Cashman, who seemed to be banged up late in the game, also struggled a bit. The rookie has had some bright moments, but there have been times where his inexperience has led to big plays for opposing offenses.
The Jets offensive line improved as a whole in Sam Darnold’s first game, but it was still a below average performance at best. At the core of those issues once again seemed to be Ryan Kalil.
Kalil has done a poor job as a run blocker, creating little power at the point of attack and missing his spots when getting out in space. On one play in the first half, Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch destroyed Kalil’s open field block attempt and still made the run stuff himself.
Things looked better for the unit as a whole, but the coaching staff needs to keep a close eye on Kalil. If he continues to struggle, a switch to Jonotthan Harrison could be the way to go.
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