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2018 Opponent Scouting Report: Jets offense, can Sam Darnold elevate the players around him?

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Denver Broncos v New York Jets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Overview

On October 14, 2018 the Indianapolis Colts will travel to take on the New York Jets. In this week six match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our new look Colts.

Since 2012 the Colts are 1-2 in games against the Jets. The last coming in December of 2016 when our Colts absolutely destroyed the Jets 41-10. Andrew Luck went 22 of 28 with 278 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. The Colts defense also racked up three interceptions. A lot has changed in the past two years, let’s just hope that the outcome looks the same.

Let’s figure out what we can expect in week six.


Offensive Scheme

The word on new Jets offensive coordinator, Jeremy Bates, before the season was all about the West Coast Offense and zone blocking scheme he would be bringing with him. Bates was regarded as something of a boy wonder, supposedly he was set to be the next big thing as an NFL coach when he took over as offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos at just 31 years old in 2008.

Things didn’t work out for Bates the way so many had predicted and he spent 2012-2016 out of football and hiking the Rocky Mountains. Seriously.

I’m not sure what Bates learned during his days and nights in the mountains but so far, it doesn’t look like he had any revolutionary ideas about offensive football strategy. Regardless of his successes or failures in his first few games as offensive coordinator of the Jets, it’s important to note that he wants to run a true West Coast system spreading teams horizontally, relying on yards after the catch to move the ball down the field. Also as a Mike Shanahan disciple he naturally gravitates towards a zone blocking scheme in the ground game.

This is a classic route combination that stresses zone coverage. The back runs a five yard out while the receiver runs a 15 yard in. The Jaguars are in quarters coverage (cover 4) and the combination of routes puts stress on the linebacker who lines up nearest the bottom of the screen.

In this case the linebacker stayed with the back running the out instead of dropping further into his zone. It’s a mistake that cost the defense a few yards, with that said it’s a good read by Sam Darnold on this play. He sees the linebacker cover the flat, realizes he has a busted coverage and takes what the defense gives him.

The Colts run a lot of quarters coverage, so far they’ve been good about giving up the underneath throw while covering the deeper routes. Had the Jags linebacker dropped instead of following the back into the flat, Darnold probably throws to that back in the flat who would have been stopped for a short gain. If the Colts can play with the discipline they showed in their first handful of games of the year, passing concepts like this will be far less effective on Sunday.

This play highlights one of the biggest issues the Jets have had this season; why in the world are you calling this play on 2nd and 6?

This play call doesn’t make any sense.

This is a call you make on 3rd and 30 when the defense is a solid 15 yards off the ball at the snap. Maybe you can get some blockers out in front, maybe the tight end can make a guy miss and maybe you luck into a long first down play. Instead on 2nd and 6 when you should be trying to either pick up a first down or set up a very, very manageable 3rd and short, you call this play that sets up a 3rd and nearly 15 yards to go.

Just awful play calling here.

I included this clip for a few reasons. Reason number one: This is a zone run, what the Jets will look to do most of the day on Sunday. You see at the snap the line all take a step to their left, this is known as a zone step.

Reason number two: It shows you a little of what the Jets backs have had to work with for much of the season.

Reason number three: Watch the right guard. Now watch his feet. The only thing I could think of watching his feet was this:

The defensive lineman made Brian Winters look, Lord-of-the-Dance-level silly.

I included this play for a couple reasons. Reason number one: Brian Winters redeems himself. Ultimately Winters diving redirect of the flowing linebacker springs the running back for a big gain. It was a nice play from a guy I just compared to a cheesy musical.

Reason number two: this is the type of inconsistency I saw from the offensive line while watching the Jets. One play the offensive line is out of sync from their initial step, playing with no leverage standing straight up, then before you know it they’re going out an opening creases and holes via great individual efforts.

The Jets have shown a lot of passing concepts like the one above. The Jets cross their receivers and create a lot of natural traffic for the defense to try to sort through to continue covering their assignment. Darnold had multiple open receivers on this play but he found the one sitting down over the middle for a 12 yard gain.

The Jets should look to work short and intermediate routes quite a bit against a Colts team that has been content in giving those plays up.

Another thing I noticed that could have a big impact against our defense is the sail concept. The Jets like to use it and it’s a simple read for Darnold.

The sail concept allows a quarterback to shrink the field of play by half. By running all three routes to one side of the field it gives Sam Darnold an easy high-low read, meaning he is most likely (because I’m not in their QB meetings but generally speaking this is how it works) looking to his deep receiver to see if anyone has blown coverage, if the deep receiver is covered then he will look for the intermediate receiver and if he is covered he will look to his short receiver.

This play works so well here because they’ve flooded the zone. There are two defenders trying to cover the three receivers, it’s an impossible task. Further look at how many defenders there are, covering zones with no one remotely close to them.

This play should scare Matt Eberflus and the defensive backs. It’s the perfect play to call against Indy’s mostly zone attack and it isn’t easy to force the QB to take the check down on this play. Hopefully ‘Flus has a good plan.

These Jets use a lot of pre snap motion. A lot of spot concepts. A lot of sail concepts that give Darnold a simple high to low read while using only half of the field. Runs have been hit or miss but they use a lot of zone running concepts. Blocking is inconsistent and some of Crowell’s big runs have been more about good individual effort than the blocking in front of him.

This offense so far has been plagued by ineffective and or downright stupid play calling on early downs. At the time of this writing the Jets are at best gaining nothing and at worst losing yards on first down around 35% of the time. Further they’ve faced 3rd and 10+ 20 times. Anytime you have a rookie quarterback, if you want to win you cannot put him in those kinds of holes.


Quarterback

Speaking of having a rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold became the youngest quarterback in history to throw for 300 yards in a game. Darnold has given Jets fans reason to have hope, at times playing like a guy that looks like he could be a franchise quarterback in the NFL for the next decade plus, but at other times he’s looked like a 21 year old kid trying to figure out how to play football at the NFL level.

The best way I can describe Sam Darnold’s skill set is to say he is kind of a poor man’s Andrew Luck. That’s not a slight on Darnold, he may even go on to have a better career than Luck, who knows? But when watching the two play he is a similar player athletically, every now and then both men will throw a beautiful pass with amazing accuracy and touch and then both men will go out on the next drive and throw the ball right into the arms of a waiting defender, seemingly, without explanation.

The difference between the two is Luck has always been more polished in every aspect of his game. That’s not to say Darnold won’t improve with time, he is after all just 21 years old, but he has yet to play consistently in back to back weeks. Weeks one through four saw the best and worst of Sam Darnold while week five showed the best of what the young signal caller could do:

This is just a beautiful pass against man coverage that Roby Anderson is able to grab in stride. Anderson looks to be a matchup problem for our Colts.

This is the type of pass that’s a back breaker for the defense. You’ve forced a 3rd and 12, you’re in good position to force a punt and you’re giving your offense great field position. Then Sam Darnold goes out and finds a receiver at the sideline with a step on his defender and with only a tiny window he throws a well placed, perfectly timed pass.

This is where a little bit of that athleticism shines. He escapes the pocket, rolling to his right and is able to drop a pass in the bucket to a barely open receiver. This is a big time throw from the rookie.

Then there’s this:

If this doesn’t remind you of a play young Luck would make I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention.

I believe Sam Darnold will be a good quarterback in the league for a long time. The question for this season isn’t if he can be good for the future, it’s will he play with any consistency this season. Week five saw Darnold play great football, hopefully week six he once again plays like a 21 year old.


Running Back

Isaiah Crowell came to the Jets from the Cleveland Browns and the 25 year old from Alabama State has been hit or miss. In week one Crowell ran for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 10 carries. In the next two weeks combined he ran for 69 yards on 28 carries though he did punch in 2 more touchdowns. Week four against the Jaguars, Crowell rushed 4 times for 0 yards. In the same game Bilal Powell rushed 8 times for 26 yards.

Week five gave us a crazy amount of rushing from these Jets, Crowell rushed 15 times for 219 yards and Powell rushed another 20 times for 99 yards of his own.

Remember that bit I wrote above about great individual performances? That’s exactly what this play is. This is a designed inside run, instead Crowell sees nothing but white jersey’s in front of him and makes a bold decision to bounce the run outside. He beats everyone to the edge, makes a couple guys miss and then beats everyone to the endzone for a long touchdown run.

Great. Individual. Effort.

The Jets are going to run inside and outside zone all day long. They may run some man blocking concepts but by and large this is a zone team. As long as the Colts can maintain their gap assignments, set the edge and not allow broken tackles these backs shouldn’t find much room.


Pass Catchers

Quincy Enunwa leads the Jets with 41 targets and 21 catches, Second on the team is Robby Anderson who has reeled in 11 catches on 21 targets. Third on the team is Jermaine Kearse followed by Bilal Powell. Terrell Pryor is on this Jets team but he has only received one target in each of the last two games.

These Jets pass catchers all share similar physical traits, they’re all big and fast. Enunwa is 6’2” 225lbs and ran a 4.45 second 40 yard dash, Anderson is 6’3” 190lbs and ran a 4.34 second 40 yard dash and it shows up on film.

Enunwa is capable of making the kind of plays you want a 225lb receiver to make:

Beyond being big and fast Anderson is a very good route runner capable of getting open:

It’s hard to get a good read on these Jets receivers. They seem to have a ton of talent but they don’t have a ton of production. Terrell Pryor is the only Jet receiver to have ever had more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season but it would be difficult to say these receivers haven’t been held back by their quarterback. The Jets seem to be well on their way to fixing the issues they’ve long had at the quarterback position and we’ll be able to truly evaluate this group of wide receivers.


Offensive Line

From left to right; Kelvin Beachum, James Carpenter, Spencer Long, Brian Winters and Brandon Shell.

Beachum has played well after coming over from the Jaguars. Beachum started his career with the Steelers and is an above average tackle in the NFL. Based on what I’ve seen of Beachum he can struggle against speed to the inside but is solid overall.

James Carpenter has been better in New York than he probably ever was in Seattle. He is an average left guard who should be expected to perform well more often than not. Spencer Long isn’t a great starting center. Frankly I expect the Colts to delay blitzes up the middle and run stunts and loops his way. Brian Winters is capable of playing very well, he also gives up a lot of pressure and isn’t stellar overall as a run blocker.

Brandon Shell will line up at right tackle and has allowed a lot of quarterback pressures but not many hits or sacks. He was a fifth round pick out of South Carolina and he has far outplayed his draft position but is only an average right tackle.

Sam Darnold, like Luck will bail out his offensive line with his mobility but Darnold has a better line at the start of his career than Luck had, with that said they are capable of being beaten by the Colts front seven.


What to Expect from the Colts Defense

More of what you’ve seen so far. The Colts are completely content stopping the run and giving up short underneath throws to set up 3rd down situations. This week will be no different. The key to this game is going to be the Colts ability to shut down the Jets rushing attack. If they can keep Crowell and Powell in check and force Sam Darnold to beat the defense on third and long, there will be a high probability for a Colts win this Sunday.