Under The Hood – Sam Darnold

We’re back with episode #2. This week we will take a look at a guy I’m rather reluctant to comment on.  It’s no secret that I have been overly critical about Sam Darnold’s ability to fit into coach Blue Print’s system; and how his lack of athleticism would make him early1 season trade fodder for the 1-read and go Coach.  I’ve even sided with some of the other analytical personalities that gave the New York Jet’s absolutely 0 chance of making noise; especially with Darnold at the helm. But here we are, in week 8 of the Red Zone 53rd season and the Jets are very much in the thick of the early season playoff race.  And yes, the play of Sam Darnold has a lot to do with the team’s successes.  So, while I try not to swallow on my own tongue, let’s dive right in and see what makes this guy so enamoring and a crowd favorite, by going Under the Hood with Samuel Richard Darnold.


Darnold has his team playing at high level and competing for an early playoff spot

As mentioned earlier, Darnold has far exceeded the expectations anyone in the media had for him coming into the season.  Most media outlets had the Jets finishing the season with 8 wins, at best. Currently heading into week 8 with a 4-2 record, the Jets have proven thus far to be the only New York based team worth mentioning.  With the Bills struggling with personnel issues and having their coaching staff becoming reacclimated with league nuances, and that other NY team being well ….. just about what everyone expected, the Jets have emerged as a North East contender that only a few were willing to give chance to.  I had the pleasure of sitting down with Darnold, his head coach and their QB coach to see what makes this team believe in THIS guy.

DM5:  “Thanks for meeting with me today.  Usually I do this in a 1-on-1 setting but we’re changing things up today because …. well this is my show and I said so. But welcome Sam (Darnold), Coach (Miles) Rachal and Coach (Randall) Cunningham.”

SD/MR/RC:  “It’s our pleasure”

DM5:  “Man it still feels crazy calling you ‘Coach’ Cunningham because you are one of the guys that I looked up to and admired growing up. You helped pave the way for me as a black quarterback. I want to start by saying ‘thank you’. Secondly, what’s it been like coaching this guy sitting next to you?”

RC:  “Honestly, it’s been a joy and surprise.  Coming into this project I did not know what to expect.  I knew he could spin the ball but he is so cerebral, and nobody talks about that.  He will gladly get out of the pocket and throw it away or even take the sack as opposed to making bad decisions while throwing the ball.”

DM5:  “What’s been your biggest surprise while working with Sam?”

RC:  “Easily it’s been his athleticism.  When you look at him he resembles a Brady or Rivers type of passer. But the kid has got some wheels.  I know it doesn’t seem like it, but he has the instincts to know when to tuck and run.  And that’s all him.  We encourage him to control the pocket and make the correct reads, but his improvisation has been a welcome surprise to say the least. I know that everyone is gonna flip when I say that because he has less than 100yds rushing in 6 games, but they are all timely and extend the drive, not to mention he has a TD run to his credit early in the season.”

DM5:  “Coach Rachal. I know that you and coach Blue Print have a long history between the two of you.  How tough was it to come coach this team when he called?”

MR:  “Not at all.  I actually thought he was joking when he first text me.  But when he immediately followed up with a call on my house phone, I knew it was for real.  He never calls me on the house line unless its serious.”

DM5:  “How tough has the transition been of going from being a mobile QB to coaching a team led by a pocket passer?”

MR:  “That’s the thing.  I was never considered a mobile QB.  Even after the Combine before my rookie year, nobody had me on the radar for Coach Blueprint and the Raiders because they said I didn’t possess the running ability he requires form his QB.  So when I got to camp and dove into the playbook, I really saw so many opportunities to make things happen with my legs based on the design of the plays.  So instead of fighting to system, I went with it and was able to make a few magical plays happen.  But make no mistake, I am, and always was a pocket passer.  That’s what got us into the playoffs and past the Falcons in the first round. That’s what won me the Rookie of the Year and League MVP.  And that’s what I was absolutely excited about when coach called.  The opportunity to help groom a young and talented passer.”

DM5:  “Sam, how does it feel to hear these iconic players at your position bestow you with such high praise?”

SD:  “Honestly, I am more than humbled and speechless.  I want to go hit the practice field and get better right now, just to help me earn some of what they have said about me.  Let’s be honest, it doesn’t hurt to have the league’s best RB lined up behind me.  He has the tools to do whatever we need to get the win; whether that’s rushing for over 100 that game or catching the ball out of the backfield and making big plays out of nothing.  I’ve been blessed with weapons at every position, especially this defense.  Man those guys get looked over every time I read about top defensive units.  But they are the real deal and help to make my job easier.  It sucks that I get the credit when we win because I could not do anything without the other 52 guys out there. Ya feel me. NOTHING!!!”

MR/RC (in unison):  “See what I mean?”

DM5:  “But what about your poise in the pocket and your lack of throwing interceptions this season?  How have YOU been able to continue to lead these guys, even when facing teams you are overmatched against.”

SD:  “That’s just it.  We are NEVER overmatched.  The guys in that locker room can compete with any unit around the league on any given Sunday.  After we lost that close game to the Patriots early, I felt so bad that I almost blew a rotator cuff getting in extra throws immediately afterwards.  Jamal (Adams) and C.J. (Mosley) came to me and said “Bruh, you balled your ass off.  We didn’t make the big plays we needed to.   We’re better than that and you deserve better.”  Honestly, when you got a group of guys that have your back, believe in you and are willing to stand in front of a firing squad for you, even when you’re guilty, how can I not succeed? I mean, they held Tom Brady to 16 points and we still loss.  2nd time around they doubled up and held him to 16 points again.  This time they forced 8 turnovers, giving me opportunities to help lead them to scoring situations.  Seriously, that’s all a QB needs.  And let’s not forget about my big brother Lev (Bell). Dude leaves it on the field every damn day.  He got hurt early in the 3rd quarter against the Pats and was already over 100 yds on the ground with 2 TDs.  How do I NOT succeed with teammates like this?”

DM5:  “So you’re telling me that I’ve given you the floor to stroke your own ego and all you do is talk about your teammates?  Man, are you for real?”

MR:  “He is Donovan.  The Real F*cking Deal.  I’ve gotten assurances from Blue that he’s gonna continue to surround Sam with the pieces and weapons needed to be successful.  All we have to do is get him prepared.”

DM5:  “What about the rumors that your president and GM, coach Bluleprint was shopping Sam early this season and during training camp? Was that all fool’s gold?”

MR:  “Not at all.   BP was simply answering inquisitions about Sam.  And since so many teams inquired about him, he decided to gauge what the interest, as a whole around the league was/is.  All good GMs, whether they truly intend to move a player, at some time or another likes to get a sense of how valuable their assets are.  As far as being ‘fool’s gold’, I think had he been positioned with the right deal, then maybe something would have come of it. But trust me, This guy right here would cost the farm and then some.”

DM5:  “So realistically, what are your expectations for the remainder of this season?  Sam, let’s start with you.”

SD:  “The ultimate goal would be to help lead my guys into the post season.  That’s something that we all, as an organization and team have worked very hard for and the fans deserve it.  Personally, I would like to finish the season above 65% completions, over 3,000 passing yds and a positive TD/INT ratio.”

DM5:  “Coach Miles?”

MR:  “A deep playoff run.  I don’t see why we can’t be there at the end. Top to bottom we have a solid unit on both sides of the field.  Difference will be execution and effort.  I want them to describe my team the same way they described John Wick. ‘Focus, Commitment, and sheer F*cking will power.’ ”

DM5:  “And finally, Coach Cunningham?”

RC:  “Well, we have a young gun slinger that happens to be a helluva leader.  I would like to see Sam reach his own personal goals while leading our guys a 12-4 record as a 2nd year player.  There are NO QB controversies over here. Sam IS our guy.  He’s proven he deserves to be QB1 of the New York J-E-T-S …. JETS, JETS, JETS, JETS!!!!”

DM5:  “I was wondering which one of you was gonna hit me with it. Well, I want to thank you all for taking time to talk with me. Congrats on your early season successes and good luck the rest of the way.”

Let’s take a look at some film and see how Darnold impacts his team (both good and bad) while on the field:

The Good:

Play #1


Darnold shows off his passing ability as he uses a finesse pass to get Bell into space down field.


Play #2

Another example of Darnold having the utmost confidence in his guys. He puts this pass high enough for his tall receiver to go up and make a play on the ball.


Play #3

Darnold displays the ability to extend plays and give his receivers the time to find the open creases in the zone and then shows off the precision to place the ball where only his guys can get to it.


Play #4

Coach Cunningham spoke on Darnold’s spoke about his QB’s ability to recognize danger and use his legs to help move the chains. Here he does just that; scrambling for the 1st down in the Red Zone.


Play #5

This pass was all about timing, accuracy and velocity; and Darnold commands all of them here.


The BAD:

Play #1

Classic case of not sensing the pressure. Garrett is a star and commands the respect of double teams on every snap. Darnold cannot lose track of a game-changer like that. EVER!!!


Play #2

Darnold gets ‘happy feet’ and sails this pass over the intended receiver instead of leading it out to the sideline. This inconsistency in control has to be corrected in order to take the next step.


Play #3

Sam is gonna have to learn that a positive play is only positive if you hold onto the ball.


Play #4

While he normally makes the right decision with the ball, Sam’s gonna have to not try to prove his accuracy and squeeze the ball into openings that simply are not there.


Overall I am learning to appreciate the job that Sam Darnold does for this team.  Is he an upper echelon QB?  Not in my opinion.  Can he be the answer to Coach Rachal’s needs in this run first offense? Most definitely.  Truth is, Darnold is asked to be a game manager in between run plays and stingy defensive stops.  This should be a short order as he possesses the skill set to be so much more.  And with the unbridled support of his coaching staff, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them open up the play book in the 2nd half of the season and actually make good on that playoff appearance prediction they all seem to be in tuned with and focused on.



Red Zone member since season 1 .... Head Coach of the Virtual New York Jets

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