Can Sam Darnold handle the pressure?
Darnold’s performance against Jacksonville was a big step forward from what he showed the week prior against New England, but that really is not saying much. Almost anything would have been a step up from that. Against Jacksonville, Darnold still made some crucial mistakes that he cannot be making now that he is beyond his rookie season.
Most of those mistakes came under pressure. Darnold is playing behind a historically terrible offensive line – one that allowed him to be sacked eight times by the Jaguars. Life is tough on him, but he has to do a better job keeping his cool and staying away from game-breaking mistakes.
Early on, Darnold threw his first interception on an ill-advised attempt. After dodging a sack that would’ve resulted in a huge loss, Darnold took a shot at Robby Anderson on a short comeback, but came up short and was picked off. It was a play where he should have thrown the ball away. He had already netted the offense about 10 yards by avoiding the sack. On first down and in opponent territory, there was no need to risk a turnover for the opportunity at a short gain.
Darnold’s second interception came in the fourth quarter with the Jets looking to drive for the tie. It was second & 24 and the Jets were backed up inside of their own 10. Darnold tried to find Vyncint Smith deep, but badly misfired, overthrowing the ball and placing it too far outside. He was not in danger of being sacked, but the pressure was in his grill, making it tough for him to properly step into the deep throw.
The third interception came on the Jets’ last-ditch attempt to cut Jacksonville’s lead to one score. Darnold tried to find Anderson on an out route, but simply missed him, putting the ball way too far inside as it landed in the hands of Tre Herndon (not the Herndon that plays for the Jets).
Despite the interceptions, Darnold was mostly sharp throughout the game when kept clean. His accuracy was mostly on-point outside of those plays. The Jets put together two of their best drives of the season when they were getting the ball out quickly.
Darnold deserves some slack, as his terrible offensive line has done him zero favors. The 13.7 percent sack rate allowed by the Jets is the worst in the NFL this season.
However, dealing with pressure at an effective level is part of a quarterback’s job. If Darnold is going to be the man for the Jets long-term, he is going to play a lot of games in which his offensive line is dominated. Good offensive lines are few and far between in the NFL today. Over the course of their careers, many quarterbacks spend the majority of their time playing behind a shoddy front five. Only the luckiest ones get the privilege of enjoying consistently great offensive line play.
The Jets need to do a better job going forward of building this offensive line, something Joe Douglas will surely be putting a focus on. At the same time, Darnold needs to do a better job of mitigating the pressure. Learning when to take a shot and when to admit defeat is crucial in the development of a young quarterback. After showing great progress in this area near the end of 2018, Darnold has taken huge steps back over the last two weeks.
Try not to be too harsh on Darnold right now. He is playing behind an all-time bad offensive line, one that has made the 2019 Jets the first team in NFL history to run for fewer than 500 yards and allow more than 30 sacks through seven games. On most of his snaps against the Jaguars, he had absolutely no chance of making anything happen.
But do not let Darnold completely off the hook, either. As leaguewide turnover rates continue to dwindle, ball security is only becoming more and more paramount. The teams that keep the football the safest will tend to win the most games – and the quarterbacks who best master the ability to live for the next down will be the ones leading those teams.
Hopefully for the Jets, these last two games will serve as a learning experience for Darnold that he can use to get back on track towards stardom.
Will Robby Anderson stay or will he go?
The NFL trade deadline is near, coming at 4 p.m. Eastern Time on October 29th.
The Jets are one of many teams that have been constantly mentioned in trade rumors. With their playoff chances spent and a new general manager preparing for his first draft, the Jets are a prime candidate to ship away any players of value in exchange for future draft ammunition.
Robby Anderson has been a popular name brought up in Jets trade talk. I think the Jets would be unwise to part ways with their speedy wide receiver unless an extremely tasty offer came up – I’m talking a first round selection.
Think about the depth the Jets have at wide receiver. If they traded Anderson, their best outside wide receivers would be Demaryius Thomas and Vyncint Smith – two players who were not even on the roster at the start of this season. Thomas will soon be 32 years old and is a shell of himself. Smith is a practice squad level talent.
Would it be fair to Sam Darnold to take his best weapon away and force him to throw to perhaps the league’s worst group of outside receivers? How could the coaching staff and front office properly evaluate him in that scenario? Darnold already has to throw behind a terrible offensive line. Taking away his best receiving weapon would make his life miserable.
Plus, Anderson isn’t just the best receiver on a bad team. He has showcased legitimately high-level upside when his starting quarterbacks have been healthy. In addition, he has been building a great rapport with Sam Darnold. Over his last eight games with Darnold, Anderson has caught 36 passes for 537 yards and four touchdowns. Those totals would put him on pace for 72 catches, 1,074 yards, and eight touchdowns over 16 games.
Teams need to think about the holes that will be left behind when a player is traded. The Jets can afford to part ways with a player like Leonard Williams, because they have plenty of depth on the defensive line that will allow them to adequately replace him. Trading Williams can be a net positive for the team since losing him will most likely not have a huge impact on the performance level of the defensive line. Quinnen Williams, Folorunso Fatukasi, Henry Anderson, and Steve McLendon among others are there to pick up the slack. The Jets would add a draft pick and most likely get the same level of performance from the defensive front. That’s a win.
At wide receiver, that is not the situation. Anderson may attract a nice draft selection, but his exit would open up yet another gaping hole that the team will need to use assets on to fix. Nobody is there to take Anderson’s place. The position would get substantially worse in the present, potentially hampering Darnold’s development. Long-term, wide receiver would become yet another need for a Jets team that already has an infinite number of them.
The Jets need to think long and hard before parting ways with Anderson. He is one of the best deep threats in football, and has developed into a solid all-around starting receiver. Having him around is a huge help for Darnold and the entire offense. Getting rid of him would create a new problem to solve.
Anderson is quite simply a good young player. Those are hard to find.
Joe Douglas and company need to think long and hard before parting with one of their few potential building blocks.