Scouting the Enemy: How Broncos Stop QB Sam Darnold From Repeating History

The last time these two teams met, Sam Darnold tossed a few touchdowns and obliterated the Broncos. How can Denver prevent that from happening again?
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Many questions surround the New York Jets right now, including the future of head coach Adam Gase and many big-ticket free agents, but one player that shouldn’t be a question mark now or into the future is third-year quarterback Sam Darnold.

Currently, Darnold is playing with the worst supporting cast in football, but somehow the former No. 3 overall pick has made it work, playing some productive football over the last few years.

Unfortunately for Darnold, his individual play hasn’t been enough to lift all boats as New York is just 11-18 in 29 games started by the former USC star. That doesn’t mean it’s been all bad for Darnold individually. In fact, the third-year signal-caller continues to put some impressive tape out there.

On the Move

One area of strength Darnold has shown is his arm strength and accuracy on the move.

Early in the 2020 season, Darnold has made some incredible throws on the run after extending plays with his legs in collapsing pockets.

In Week 2, a game in which the Jets were absolutely boat raced by the San Francisco 49ers, Darnold flashed late with this insane throw on the move racing to his left, throwing across his body with pinpoint accuracy to wide receiver Braxton Berrios for the score.

I’m not sure you’re going to see a better throw than this in the 2020 season. Look at the arm strength and the ball placement on a throw that comes across his body.

The problem for Denver on Thursday night will be containing Darnold in the pocket to take away extended plays in which coverage can break down leading to scoring plays.

The Colts blew out the Jets in Week 3, largely due to turnovers by Darnold, but his feel for pressure in the pocket, his ability to keep his eyes downfield while extending plays, and his arm strength and accuracy are serious strengths for Darnold.

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Play-Action Passing

While Gase has been an overall dumpster fire as a head coach, he’s done a good job making Darnold comfortable early in games (for the most part) by utilizing play-action to get his quarterback settled in.

Darnold certainly doesn’t have any real weapons to work with, but he has good timing and rhythm on play-action passes and really shows confidence ripping footballs into receivers.

He’s unfazed by pressure in his face too.

He puts this ball where only Chris Hogan can get it, and it just jumps out of his hand with a flick of his wrist.

Even when utilizing play-action, Darnold is really good at moving in the pocket to buy time and then reset his base to fire strikes. I love the subtle little slide to his left to avoid the rush and then quickly reset to throw a strike here.

With Darnold’s arm strength and accuracy, he’s really developed a feel for timing routes in Year 3, especially the sideline hole shot overtop of the corner and underneath the safety.

In Week 3, Darnold threw an absolute dart to Berrios down the right sideline against the Colts, recording an explosive play in the process.

This play requires perfect timing and high-end arm strength to get the ball there before the safety can get to the catch point.

How Broncos Win

For Denver to pick up its first win of the season Thursday night on the road, the Broncos are going to have to get after Darnold early and often, making him uncomfortable in the pocket. If they can do that, they should be able to get out to a big lead, which in turn will force the Jets to throw the ball, which will lead to Darnold mistakes.

He’s turnover prone in 2020, which has more to do with the Jets playing from behind early than anything else.

Make no mistake: Darnold is a good, young quarterback with borderline elite traits. If he’s allowed to get into rhythm, he could pick apart the Broncos, even without an NFL caliber supporting cast. 

Follow Josh on Twitter @ByJoshCarney and @MileHighHuddle