The Carolina Panthers successfully exorcised the ghosts of Sam Darnold from the NY Jets – Carolina Panthers blog
CHARLOTTE, NC – The Carolina Panthers are building a new and improved Sam Darnold.
The quarterback, who helped the team off to a 3-1 start, showed the potential many NFL coaches and executives saw when the New York Jets made him the third pick. from the 2018 draft.
Heading into Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles (1 p.m. ET, FOX), he ranks sixth in ESPN’s total quarterback score (62.6) after finishing last in 2020 among 33 qualifying quarterbacks with a QBR of 33.1. His three-year average (40.3) with the Jets was also among the worst.
The 24-year-old ranks 14th in completion percentage (67.8) after an average of 59.8 in New York. His five rushing touchdowns are as many as he’s had in the past three seasons and more than any quarterback in NFL history in four games.
The reconstruction is not complete, however. Darnold’s two second-half interceptions Sunday in Dallas took a toll in Carolina’s first loss and recalled the mistakes – 39 picks, seven fumbles lost – he made in New York.
But the solid overall numbers are enough to suggest the Panthers made the right move in sending three draft picks – sixth round in 2021, second and fourth round in 2022 – to the Jets for a player deemed a failure.
“Sam is definitely ahead of what I think a freshman guy in the system would be,” said Carolina coach Matt Rhule.
ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback, agreed.
“He’s got a really good chance to be their guy in the long run,” Orlovsky said.
Let’s take a closer look, with help from ESPN Stats and Information, where Darnold has improved and where he still needs to improve.
Great improvement in handling pressure
Darnold was under terrifying pressure in New York, especially over the past two seasons when he placed 31st in completion percentage (38.8), 31st in yards per attempt (4.6) and 16th in rates of bag (20.9%). It got so badly wrong in a 2019 prime-time game against the New England Patriots where Darnold said “I see ghosts” after tying a career-high interception with four.
He currently ranks fourth in completion percentage when under pressure (59.5) and second in yards per attempt (8.7).
And he’s still under a lot of pressure. After being pressured on 36.1% of his losses (second most in the NFL) over the past two seasons, he has been pressured into eighth pressure so far in 2021 (34.2%).
But due to offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s friendly system and the best talent around him, Darnold understands pressure better and gets rid of the ball faster.
“Training and choice matter,” Orlovsky said. “Joe did an amazing job playing with Sam’s strength – keeping him moving, using his legs, a lot more playing passes.”
Having one of the league’s best full-backs in Christian McCaffrey, who missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury and is questionable for Sunday, helps. The Jets placed 25th, 31st and 22nd on floor with Darnold.
Matt Bowen, a former NFL security and now ESPN analyst, says Brady’s system and top talent are essential.
“Darnold can see the terrain faster, understand where the windows will be and how to anticipate where the windows will be,” Bowen said. “You can plan shots for him and set readings for him and put him in a position where he plays more in the structure of the attack.”
Red zone and running
Darnold has had four designed runs in the red zone in three years with New York versus five in four games with Carolina, so Brady uses quarterback athleticism.
Darnold has improved in the red zone overall. He only got a 45.1% completion percentage with the Jets, compared to 58.8% in Carolina.
Orlovsky sees the confidence, something he questioned would return for Darnold.
“After the three years he spent in New York, you would understand if he had no confidence in his own abilities,” he said.
The Christian McCaffrey factor
While Darnold has been good under pressure, his sack rate is not good. It ranks 21st.
This is where McCaffrey is a big factor. With the return of the Pro Bowl to the field, Darnold took two sacks out of 69 dropbacks (2.9%). Without McCaffrey, he took nine sacks on 92 drops (9.8%).
All three of his interceptions came without McCaffrey on the field. With McCaffrey? Darnold has two touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Darnold was less bombarded without McCaffrey (27% vs. 36%). However, he was under more pressure (37% to 30%).
So protecting Darnold is key. Carolina did a good job in the first three games with McCaffrey. Without him on Sunday, they allowed five sacks, a season-high, one less than they allowed the first three weeks combined.
“When I look at us overall I have a lot of confidence when we have the ball in Sam’s hands,” Rhule said. “We just have to keep finding ways to protect it. The more time he has, the better and better he will be. ”
Darnold has the second-best percentage in the NFL (82.9%) on passing 1-10 yards. He was 24th on those shots (69.7%) with the Jets.
Part of the credit goes to wide receiver DJ Moore. He’s tied for third in the NFL with 30 receptions and fourth in receiving yards (398). But his biggest impact is yards after the capture. His 155 are ninth.
McCaffrey is 10th in the YAC with 151, and the Panthers are seventh overall.
Darnold didn’t have to throw deep to get big plays like he did in New York. Many of them were like Sunday’s short pass to Moore that turned into a 29-yard gain.
Orlovsky was also impressed with an assist Darnold made against Houston, when Moore finished third in his advancements. Darnold has been criticized in New York for not keeping up with his progress.
“I always said this when they said he was wrong with his progressions: ‘How do you want him to go through his progressions as he runs for his life? Would you go from your number 1 catcher, who is probably the number 4 catcher on most offenses, to your second or third, who is probably on the street? ” Orlovsky said.
“When you have choices, it’s easier to follow progress. “
Room for improvement
Darnold ranks 28th for passes from 11 to 20 yards (46.9%) and 15th for passes over 21 yards (38.5%).
Over the past two seasons, he has ranked 32nd (48.9%) and 33rd (26.4%), respectively, on assists.
Orlovsky and Bowen believe it will improve, although Darnold struggled on some of those same passes in college.
“The next step in his confidence is planning more vertical shooting games for Robby Anderson,” Bowen said of Darnold’s favorite target in New York City, who has just 10 catches of 22 targets this season.
Between the numbers
Darnold still struggles on deep balls outside of the numbers. But Carolina didn’t force him to make those passes that often.
On passes of at least 10 yards down and off the numbers, Darnold is 9 of 26 for 194 yards. This is the third worst completion percentage (34.6) among qualified quarterbacks.
Darnold attempted 53% of his total passes between numbers with Carolina, compared to 44% with the Jets. He completes 77.9% of those assists, up from 67.8% in the past three years.
Once again, surrounding Darnold with better talent in a system that harnesses his strengths has helped.
“And that’s just the start for Sam,” Orlovsky said. “You can see a second year in that system, and maybe a better play on the offensive line, and if Christian is able to stay healthy – you say, ‘Dude, we’re lucky to be really good offensively. . “”