How Much Is Sam Darnold at Fault for the Jets’ 2020 Debacle?

The New York Jets’ season continued with another loss on Sunday. The team fell to the Dolphins, at home, 20-3. The Jets have lost their 11th game this year…in 11 tries. Through more than half of the campaign, it’s very clear that the team is bad across the board, and that 0-16 might be the inevitable fate. However, there was a reason for the club to look forward to Sunday’s divisional matchup – the return of Sam Darnold. Needless to say, it didn’t make any person within the organization more positive about the future.

There’s no doubt that the team has failed Darnold in every season since his debut in 2018. This year, the lack of supporting pieces has reached a peak and the team’s record epitomizes the challenges for the former USC product.

The Jets passing game is the worst in the NFL, with even the limited weaponry suffering from injury woes. Meanwhile, the running game has been incredibly tough to watch, ranking in the bottom part of the league in yards per carry. Add to that one of the worst secondaries, and you’ll get a team that many argue is the worst in the history of the post-merger NFL.

Darnold has shown that he can be at least a decent throwing quarterback when he has reinforcements. That was the big reason why the Jets have decided that Sam will end up as a franchise playmaker. This was even though New York hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2015. It was quite obvious that the statistics proved that the ex-third overall pick even overperformed–given the state of the offense in his first two seasons in the Meadowlands.

He was fairly solid in his rookie year in 2018, managing a passer rating of 77.6. Furthermore, Darnold succeeded in improving the following year with a passer rating of 84.3 and fewer interceptions on more passing attempts. He threw away double-digit picks during both campaigns. Yet, evaluators agreed that the Jets’ offense moved the ball consistently when Darnold and his teammates were healthy.

As the offseason approached, and then came and went, if anyone was supposed to put smiles on the faces of Jets fans in 2020, it was Darnold. Or this was the overarching hope and promise, based on his near tremendous first two seasons. However, he now has nine starts in 2020 which have proved different things. With that, the direction of the whole franchise might be set for a change.

A Down Season for Sam Darnold

As already mentioned, the 2020 season has represented a significant down year for the Jets’ QB. His numbers are avid evidence of that. His passer rating has dropped down to 64.0, which is accompanied by an awful TD/Int. ratio of 3-8. These eight picks make for an interception percentage of 3.7, according to Pro Football Reference, meaning he’d be on pace for the most picks in his young career.

Of course, Sam is not nearly the only player at fault this year. The running unit, led by Frank Gore, is averaging just 4.1 yards per run, failing to be productive enough to support Darnold and his group. In such cases, the wise move often is to shift the workload to the more productive air raid. Adam Gase, as underwhelming as he has been, hasn’t had that option this year because NY’s air unit is not just worse than the running unit, it is the worst in all of pro football in 2020.

A passer like Darnold – a pocket passer, with a limited workload due to an injury – needs to put up impressive numbers in order for his team to hope he can be even slightly good in a full season. In the majority of the cases, as the workload increases, the average figures drop. This is a statistical phenomenon known as regression to the mean. Sam Darnold hasn’t been good enough to even be given the benefit of the doubt. He has completed just 58 percent of his throws. This is very poor as he needs to be efficient with the passing unit getting 55 percent of the play selection.

Darnold Gets a Fair Share of the Blame

Darnold returned this past week and immediately showed why he has his fair share of the blame, alongside the other units lacking depth. Throwing two picks, he managed to complete just over 50% of his attempts. Moreover, Darnold had a passer rating of just 51.0. At the same time, he had few to no reliable targets. Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims both caught just four of their eight targets. Furthermore, Jamison Crowder was also unrecognizable with only three receptions. The Jets’ ground game averaged 3.8 yards per carry, less than their season average, on 25 rushes.

It is true that he received no help from his unit because the unit itself is not capable of much. However, Sam Darnold himself used to achieve more with everyone healthy in a similar group. This brings up the question of whether he is beginning to decline or not.

New York was thought to have one of the league’s worst pass-catching groups even before the campaign. However, it wasn’t dramatically better and deeper last year. Jamison Crowder had a breakthrough season and Robby Anderson was still around, but depth was still an issue. Except for Ryan Griffin and Demaryius Thomas, no other wide receiver or tight end had more than 20 targets and a catch percentage north of 60.0%. New York again ranked near the bottom in passing categories, placing 29th in total air yards.

Darnold reached career-highs with weaponry just a slight bit better than his current. Yet, he is now headed for an embarrassing campaign when it’s all set and done.

What Will the Repercussions Be?

It seems highly unlikely that the Jets will have many upsides from this season. It is up to Sam Darnold to improve his play and help NY avoid the 0-16 record fiasco. However, there’s little doubt that the possibility of Darnold playing his last season at MetLife Stadium is already on the horizon.

If the Jets don’t come back to their winning ways, Trevor Lawrence will be the guarantee to start in 2021. That is even if it’s unclear that Sam Darnold is the big problem that the Jets have to find a solution to. It would be much easier to stack talent during a multi-year rebuild. That would put your QB to the test will a real supporting cast. Tampa Bay is a great example – the Bucs built a very deep roster, especially on the offensive side, only to find how inconsistent Jameis Winston was. This allowed them to evaluate their needs and focus on bringing a quarterback to complete the team. Now that TB has a QB with much fewer turnovers, they are competing for the playoffs.

The Jets could use a player on almost any position as nearly every component classifies as a need at that point. They would miss out on a huge upgrade only to get a slight improvement over a bounceback-aspiring Sam Darnold. However, as the Cardinals showed, most NFL front offices don’t look at the draft that way. Sam Darnold has not only played poorly, but he’s also been so bad that he might lose his job. This could set both his career and the Jets franchise back years.

Thanks for reading my article discussing “Is Sam Darnold at fault?”. Follow me on Twitter @TeodorTsenov for more of my content and follow @OT_Heroics!

Come discuss this and much more at the Overtime Heroics forums.

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Teodor Tsenov
Teodor Tsenov is the Jets and Marlins writer for Overtime Heroics, as well as an NFL and MLB writer for Franchise Sports UK. From Bulgaria.

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