The New York Jets’ not-nearly-as-close-as-the-score-indicated 27-17 loss at Buffalo on Sunday wasn’t only about the shortcomings of head coach Adam Gase and quarterback Sam Darnold, but those were the focal points of the post-game narrative.
And yes, those two both can be at fault for different reasons, even though a significant portion of the Jets’ fan base would prefer to believe the fault lies with Gase and with the failure of second-year general manager Joe Douglas to provide Darnold with a solid offensive line and an explosive corps of wide receivers who get separation from defensive backs early and often. And there is truth to some of that, yes.
There are a lot of things that need to be fixed before the Jets face San Francisco at home Sunday, with both teams needing a victory to avoid an 0-2 start. Here’s the perspective of Gase and Darnold Monday, now that they had a chance to digest the game film.
Same old Darnold? Darnold displayed the usual problems that have plagued him in his first two inconsistent NFL seasons. His mechanics, particularly his footwork, were not good, which caused many of his throws to be off the mark.
“I think it’s just me just missing throws. I looked at the tape and I know where it’s coming from,” Darnold said. “My feet need to be aligned with my eyes and I just need to be better with my footwork and that’s really it.”
He also did not throw with anticipation, which has been a problem throughout the third-year quarterback’s NFL career. In other words, he waited too long to deliver the ball, wanting to confirm that his receiver was open, rather than trusting his eyes and letting it rip.
What that, and the inaccuracy, resulted in was a lot of incompletions. A case in point occurred on the final drive. Chris Hogan was open in the end zone on first-and-goal from the 2. Darnold was on the run to his right, on a designed rollout. Hogan was wide open, but by the time Darnold let fly, the veteran wideout was trying to gather in the ball and keep his feet inbounds. Hogan couldn’t finish the juggling act successfully and the pass was incomplete.
Granted, it didn’t matter, because it was garbage time and the Jets scored a consolation-prize touchdown on the next play anyway. But the point remains—had Darnold thrown the pass a split-second sooner, Hogan likely has more room in the end zone and makes the TD catch.
Yes, Darnold sometimes was harassed by the opposing pass rush. In fact, the NFL’s Next Gen Stats calculated that New York and its revamped offensive line allowed pressure at a rate of 44.7 percent, the highest of any offense in the pre-Monday games of opening weekend.
Still, Darnold said Monday, “My timing needs to be better. I did hurry some things at the beginning of the game. I just have to relax, take a deep breath, ease myself into it and make the throws when they’re there.”
Gase said, “I’ve just got to get him more in rhythm early in the game.”
Same old Gase? OK, for all you Gase haters, here’s what you came for. Darnold’s inaccuracy isn’t necessarily Gase’s fault, although certainly one can point the finger at both Gase and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains for his poor mechanics. Still, it didn’t help that the Jets (and the rest of the NFL) didn’t have any spring practice because of the coronavirus. That was the time when Darnold and the coaching staff could’ve worked on his mechanics.
But Darnold has nothing to do with the playcalling. When asked Monday on the conference call if he regretted any of his playcalls, Gase said, “With what they were calling defensively, no. There are some things that I look back at practice that I wish we would have maybe repped more of.”
Gase’s legion of critics certainly would disagree. Granted, he was hamstrung, literally and figuratively, when running back Le’Veon Bell had to leave the game in the third quarter because of a hamstring injury.
The Jets were starting to have some success by splitting Bell out wide and creating mismatches, including one play which went for a 30-yard reception, but his injury took that part of the gameplan away. Apparently, Gase didn’t trust third-year back Josh Adams to thrust him into that role, and it doesn’t suit 37-year old Frank Gore at this stage of his career.
Instead, Gase kept dialing up screens to his backs, tight ends and wideouts, but chose not to employ two-tight ends sets that often, even though Buffalo had its own injury woes at linebacker, losing two starters to injury.
Gase called solid plays in the first half. The problem was that Darnold couldn’t connect with his receivers. But as the game wore on, Gase did not adjust. Despite the Bills having those injury problems, backup tight end Ryan Griffin was in for only 18 snaps and had zero targets. The Jets had 56 offensive snaps—tight ends Chris Herndon (40), Griffin and Trevon Wesco totaled 66 offensive snaps, meaning the Jets employed multiple-tight end sets no more than 10 times.
For the game, according to Next Gen Stats, seven of Darnold’s pass attempts traveled only to the line of scrimmage or behind it, and another nine went within 5 yards past the line. Of course, some of that dinking and dunking was a necessity because of the Buffalo pass rush and Bills’ blitzes, and Buffalo’s ability to shut down the deep ball.
But it also makes one wonder whether Gase didn’t trust Darnold to throw further downfield after the early misfires, instead choosing safer throws.
Will the gameplan be much different against the 49ers? In Arizona’s upset win over San Francisco, coach Kliff Kingsbury just as many downfield shots with QB Kyler Murray than did Gase with Darnold, but Murray went 0-for-4 on passes of 20 yards or more downfield. (Darnold was 1-for-4.) In fact, Kingsbury was even more conservative eventually, with 11 of Murray’s 40 attempts targeted at or behind the line, per Next Gen Stats. Another eight were within 5 yards of the scrimmage line.
It is quite likely Kingsbury wanted to protect Murray from sack specialist Nick Bosa and Co., and now Gase faces the same problem. With Bell out for this game, Gase will have to use Gore as a receiver and likely will have to promote Adams to the active roster again because it is unclear when rookie fourth-round pick La’Mical Perine (ankle) will be ready to play.
Gase can do better, no doubt about it. But so can Darnold. Both of them need to start doing so.