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Sam Darnold and the narrative of throwing the deep ball

There is a narrative about that New York Jets quarterback Sam  Darnold has been hesitant to throw the deep ball. Let’s break down that narrative.

Being New York, there will always be a heightened level of criticism. Add that it is the New York Jets and it involves a quarterback, that criticism increases just that much more.

As expected, Sam Darnold has been scrutinized to the highest order through the first five games of his career. Every throw that he makes comes under a microscope and everyone has an opinion.

That being said, there has been a narrative from some factions of the fan base with opinions on why Darnold isn’t throwing the deep ball. Is it Bates? Is it Darnold? Why are they not pushing it down the field.

That narrative took a hit this past Sunday with three touchdowns of over twenty yards through the air. But, let’s take a look at it, with stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

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First of all, let’s remember exactly what the West Coast offense is, and more importantly, what it isn’t.

The West Coast offense was actually designed while Bill Walsh was with the Bengals, for a quarterback named Virgil Carter.

He recognized he had an accurate quarterback that didn’t have the greatest arm strength. So, he developed a style that used the field from sideline to sideline.

The offense makes the defense play horizontally as well as vertically. There are options at all passing levels.

So the offense isn’t geared towards the deep ball. That simply isn’t the focus. Can it be modified based on the QB? Sure. But it’s not the main goal.

That being said, Darnold has actually fired it down field more often than some fans think. Take a look at this stat from our friend Michael Nania of Turn on the Jets:

So he does push the ball down the field fairly often. Darnold just does it, I don’t know, when the guy is OPEN. He is making throws that he feels confident in.

Is that really a surprise with a rookie?

Now a very interesting insight when we look at Darnold’s performance based on how much time he has in the pocket.

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When Darnold has less than 2.5 seconds in the pocket, he has completed 60% of his passes. He has also thrown five touchdowns versus only two interceptions.

Conversely, when he has had more than 2.5 seconds in the pocket, his completion percentage drops to 71.9%. He has also thrown four interceptions.

That stat tells more to the indecision of a rookie than to the play calling. 2.5 seconds or more gives deep routes the time they need to develop. However, giving a rookie that much time can cause them to question what they are seeing, and to not trust themselves.

Less than 2.5 seconds requires the quarterback to play based on instinct and that plays to a young player’s strength. The information processing is what takes longer and that is what comes into play with a lot of time in the pocket.

The Jets are pushing the ball down the field when they can. As Darnold matures, fans will notice it more.



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