News & Analysis

Jets’ offense goes from bad to worse with Sam Darnold sidelined

Adam Gase’s debut as the New York Jets’ offensive play-caller was underwhelming. The same guy that hammered smelling salts before a preseason game called an offense that averaged just 2.3 yards per play on its three opening drives and finished the week ranked 22nd in expected points added (EPA) per play and 32nd in yards per play (3.4).

And now he’ll be without his starting quarterback.

According to Ian Rapoport, Sam Darnold will be sidelined with mononucleosis for the Jets’ Week 2 affair with the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football. Gase also indicated Darnold could miss multiple weeks, “leaving Week 5 against the Eagles as a possible return date.”

Darnold didn’t have an outstanding game in Week 1, but he performed well above expectation considering Gase’s conservative play-calling.

According to PFF’s advanced quarterback charting — currently led by former NFL quarterback Bruce Gradkowski — more than 80% of Darnold’s attempts were thrown to his first read. Only Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton had a higher percentage of throws come on his first read in Week 1. That’s a slight uptick for Darnold considering the fact that he ranked 23rd in first-read attempt percentage (62.8%) among the 34 NFL signal-callers with 200 or more dropbacks in 2018.

Of course, a high percentage of first-read throws isn’t inherently a detriment to the offense. The problem was Darnold’s first read was so often within arm’s reach of him.

Darnold’s average depth of target on first-read throws against Buffalo was just 3.7, an NFL-low among all quarterbacks in Week 1. He was at fault for throwing uncatchable inaccurate passes on four of the eight first-read attempts that went over 10 air yards, but Gase still needs more than eight of his quarterback’s first reads to be routes run over 10 yards. Few offenses had fewer.

Attempting just three passes of 15-plus air yards against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, Darnold ranked dead last among the 31 NFL quarterbacks with 20 attempts or more last week in percentage of passes thrown 15 or more yards down the field at 7.32%. He also attempted just nine passes of 10-plus air yards and completed only three of them for 20 yards.

On early downs, New York ranked tied for 29th in average depth of target (5.8), 26th in EPA per play (-0.216) and 30th in total yards per play (3.8). Darnold only attempted one pass of 20-plus air yards on early downs, as well, and only one of his early-down completions went for 15 or more yards. The Jets also ranked just 26th in EPA per play (-0.217) and 32nd in yards per play (3.5) on all passes.

It didn’t help that the Buffalo Bills applied pressure on 30% of Darnold’s dropbacks, but even the Jets’ passing attack from a clean pocket was conservative and, therefore, limited.

Among the 30 quarterbacks with 15 or more clean-pocket dropbacks in Week 1, Darnold ranked 26th in average depth of target (5.3) and 30th in yards per attempt (4.3). Only two of his clean-pocket attempts went for 20 or more air yards, and only six went over 10 air yards. That’s just not going to cut it for an offense looking for explosive plays and high-end efficiency.

And Gase doesn’t have Darnold to blame for his execution on all of the underneath throws. The second-year USC product completed 25-of-27 passes for 155 yards, one touchdown and zero turnover-worthy throws en route to a week-high 91.6 passing grade on such passes.

Gase can’t expect similar success from Darnold’s replacement over the next few weeks.

Veteran quarterback Trevor Siemian, a former seventh-round pick out of Northwestern, has thrown uncatchable inaccurate passes on 21.8% of his attempts over the past two seasons, ranking 38th among the 41 NFL quarterbacks with 300 or more aimed throws in the two-year span. Only Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and DeShone Kizer rank lower on the list than Siemian.

Siemian’s passing grade in the same two-year span (52.0) ranks 41st among the 46 signal-callers with 300 or more dropbacks since 2017. He also ranks 38th in adjusted completion percentage (69.9%) and tied for 36th in big-time throws (15) among the same group of qualifiers.

Darnold is out sick. Quincy Enunwa is on the Injured Reserve. Le’Veon Bell is getting an MRI for his shoulder. And Gase is pulling the strings. It’s safe to say smelling salts are a must for Gase and Jets’ faithful on Monday.

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