New York, NY (CBS New York)- After a brutal 0-4 start to the season, the New York Jets gave fans some hope last Sunday, with a 24-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium.
The game marked the return of starting quarterback Sam Darnold and, not coincidentally, flashes of brilliance from the offense for the first time all season. The 22-year-old quarterback completed 23 of his 32 pass attempts for 338 yards and two touchdowns. While he did throw an interception, the Cowboys failed to turn it into anything, missing the ensuing field goal. Perhaps more impressively, Darnold took just two sacks a week after his backup, Luke Falk, was dropped 10 times in a 31-6 loss to the Eagles.
Darnold’s importance to the team was clear from the opening drive. But what impressed The NFL Today and Inside The NFL analyst Phil Simms was Darnold’s ability to manipulate the pocket just enough to allow time for his receivers to find space in the Dallas defense.
“Like any good, young quarterback, that a team is building around, he shows the ability to throw, players excited to play with him and his little foot movement inside the pocket is truly outstanding,” said Simms. “It went unnoticed by the people doing the game and by a lot of people, but his little movements got people open, stopped people from rushing him and was really the difference in the game.”
In that regard, according to charting by NFL NextGen Stats, Darnold attempted 12 passes of 10 or more yards in the game, completing seven of those, including one that turned into a long touchdown to Robbie Anderson. Compare that with the six pass attempts and only two completions that Falk managed the week prior. Both passers played behind the same offensive line group (outside of the tail end of the Cowboys game, when Kelvin Beachum was replaced by Brandon Shell). Now, it’s clear the pedigree between the two quarterbacks is vastly different, as is the talent level.
But, within the confines of the pocket, the major difference, as Simms points out, is Darnold’s ability to subtly extend plays, via sliding and adjusting to where the pass rush is coming from. That ability clearly makes a big impact on the offense, as the unit scored on four of its nine drives (excluding the end of game kneel downs). Darnold and the Jets offense face a big test in Week 7, with the New England Patriots and their number one-ranked defense coming to town.
The quarterback did not play in the teams’ first meeting back in Week 3, so this will be the first time he matches wits with Belichick this season. He also missed one of the two meetings last season, playing in the season finale 38-3 loss to New England. In that game, he was held to 16-for-28 passing for 167 yards and was sacked four times.
New England’s defense ranks second against the pass in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA metric, and they have racked up 25 sacks so far this season. Simms noted that New England’s defense works differently than most, with the pass rush coming as a result of lock-down coverage on the back end. Getting the ball out quickly is usually the way to negate a good pass rush, and Darnold has been good at that this season, ranking second in time to throw among quarterbacks this season at 2.43 seconds. However, against New England, that is going to involve receivers winning their routes early.
An area that will have to improve from last week is Darnold’s play on third downs. He was just 1-for-6 in the matchup with the Cowboys. The New England defense has been particularly stingy on that front this year, allowing just 10 total third-down conversions and holding opponents to a 14 percent conversion rate so far.
Overall, as Simms notes, Darnold’s importance to the team is clear. And with the young signal caller in tow, the team now has a better chance at stringing together some wins in the coming weeks. This week may be difficult, as oddsmakers project the Patriots as 10-point favorites entering Monday night. But, with Darnold back in the fold, the outlook is rosier for the Jets moving forward.
You can catch Phil Simms along with Ray Lewis, Michael Irvin, Brandon Marshall and host James Brown on Inside The NFL every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.