(CBSNewYork)- The Jets are the last winless team in the NFL and coming off a bye week, they’re looking at a seven game stretch to end the season in which five of their seven opponents hold records above .500. Any hopes of the playoffs are long since dashed and the focus is on what the team can look like moving forward into 2021. But, starting with this Sunday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, the team still needs to finish out the season and there are several key things to watch for in the home stretch.
Perhaps the most important one is the health and development of Sam Darnold. The Jets are likely to have, if not the No. 1 overall pick, close to it in April’s draft. Considering that Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields are looked at as almost “can’t miss” prospects at quarterback, the organization will have some decisions to make. However, that starts with Darnold being back on the field.
“You’re also hoping you can get Sam Darnold back at some point and build on the rest of the season where you can see some steady improvement and see if he is the quarterback of the future,” said NFL on CBS analyst Rich Gannon in an interview with Ryan Mayer.
Darnold, in his third season, is a difficult quarterback to evaluate, more difficult than a normal third-year QB would be. Injuries play a factor in that, he’s missed four games this season due to a shoulder injury. So does his supporting cast, which as Gannon pointed out, is not filled with Pro Bowl players. The biggest area of improvement that Gannon needs to see if Darnold returns to the field in the final seven games is taking care of the ball.
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“The hard thing is, it’s hard to evaluate players at that position because so much of what happens at that position is impacted by what’s going on around them. It’s hard to be ultra critical of him,” said Gannon. “But, the turnovers continue to be an issue and they were an issue for him at USC. He turned it over 37 times in 26 games in college and that’s what’s holding him back. The ball security, decision making, the accuracy all areas where he has to improve. That’s why these remaining games, if he can get back out there is important in terms of the evaluation process going forward.”
While Darnold’s play will determine what the team chooses to do at the quarterback spot come next season, there are still plenty of other questions to answer. For Gannon, that begins first with the mindset the team shows in playing out the rest of its games.
“I would also say that you’re looking for a sense of resolve and committment from the group as a whole. We find out a lot about the character and the mindset of a football team not necessarily in the good times but in the bad times,” said Gannon. “Is this team going to fight to the finish? How competitive are they going to be?”
The former quarterback is on the call this weekend for the Jets matchup in Los Angeles against the 2-7 Chargers. One thing that he stresses for the players on the Jets roster is what they put on tape now will be seen by whatever coaching staff likely takes over next season.
“What the players need to understand, this is very important, they’re being evaluated every day they walk into the building. It’s easy to say yeah we’re going to get rid of the coach and we’ll have different coaches next year but you may not be part of it. You may be gone. The new coaching staff that comes in is going to look at all 16 games,” said Gannon. “They’re going to say is this guy putting forth the effort? Is this guy the type of person is he the type of player we want in our organization. They’re going to try and change the culture and the environment. Are you part of the change? Or are you part of the problems and part of the past? That’s something you’re looking for as well. You’re looking for steady improvement week in and week out.”
After the Chargers, the Jets have the Dolphins (6-3), Raiders (6-3), Seahawks (6-3), Rams (6-3), Browns (6-3) and the Patriots (4-5) to end the year. Wins may be hard to come by. But that doesn’t mean improvement can’t be found.
The Jets meet the Chargers in Los Angeles this Sunday, November 22 at 4:05 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS.