Generally speaking, there are two people on any football team whose importance is outsized. They are the quarterback and the head coach.
They are the first people to get credit when the team wins. They are the first people to get blamed when the team loses. There are times where these two probably get too much credit or blame for their team’s fortune.
There is a reason the quarterback and the head coach get so much attention, though. A good head coach and quarterback can lift a team far above its nominal talent level while a bad duo can sink an otherwise talented roster.
Sam Darnold and Adam Gase could not have arrived in New York with different expectation levels.
Fan excitement couldn’t have been higher when the Jets drafted Darnold. Many fans had built their hopes on a bad 2017 season around landing the star USC quarterback. It didn’t look like it was going to happen as the Jets unexpectedly won five games to get the sixth overall pick. Then a trade up with a few Draft surprises gave the Jets their man. He was supposed to be the quarterback to lead the Jets to glory.
The hiring of Adam Gase had the opposite reaction. Fans were irate that the Jets gave their head coaching job to the failed coach of a division rival. Gase’s reputation an offensive mind seemed overrated, and his ability to build a winner seemed questionable.
While the initial reviews diverged, we have reached a point where Darnold and Gase are on the same level. They helped sink the Jets in today’s loss.
Darnold’s first two seasons in the NFL were inconsistent. There were a lot of ugly moments, but there were also promising flashes. These were enough to hope a young quarterback thrust into a terrible environment would eventually figure it out. Perhaps with more experience the ugly moments would recede, and the flashes would happen more frequently.
Unfortunately for the Jets the opposite has happened. The talent that saw Darnold do special things at USC and occasionally during his first two years in the NFL is nowhere to be found. He struggles to execute fundamental plays. The mistakes haven’t gone away, though. It is difficult to understand how a quarterback is incapable of learning how to throw the ball away when nobody is open rather than force it into a team meeting of defenders. Darnold does that frequently, however. On both of his interceptions in this game, it was difficult to figure out what he saw.
In the grand scheme of things today’s game probably didn’t matter much. No matter what Darnold did over the last six games of the season, the Jets were almost assuredly going to draft a quarterback in the first round. A game like this only seems to provide an exclamation point on the close of the Darnold era. Unlike the rest of the season, he had a full slate of receivers today. For one of the rare times in his career, his offensive line seemed to give him ample protection. He also had a few weeks to sit down and put early season struggles out of his mind.
As Jets got nothing from their quarterback to lift them in this game, the head coach also brought nothing to the table.
At this point it’s almost boring to criticize Adam Gase. We comment every week about the disadvantage this team’s coaching provides. The amazing thing is that if you take Gase’s words even he seems to agree.
CBS announcers Andrew Catalon and James Lofton noted in their pregame discussion with Adam Gase the head coach said Frank Gore couldn’t handle a 30 touch workload.
The Jets then proceeded to build their entire first half gameplan around their 37 year old running back. Gore had 16 touches from scrimmage in the first two quarters, almost double the combined touches of the rest of the skill players on the team. Gase then commented on halftime about how the Jets needed more explosive plays. Who would have thought a team that gives the ball to a 37 year old back roughly two-thirds of the time would struggle in that department? It was an offense that simply was not designed to score points.
Like most head coach-quarterback combinations, the fates of Gase and Darnold have been intertwined.
Gase might argue that it isn’t his fault he is stuck with a failing quarterback, but that argument doesn’t have ground to stand on. Darnold didn’t fall out of the sky. He was here when Gase was hired. In fact the entire Gase hiring was based on the vision he sold ownership that he could develop Darnold into a star.
Gase simply can’t walk away unscathed when he failed to deliver on that promise. How good Darnold would be with different coaching won’t be known until he has different coaching. For now it’s difficult to see how coaching is making things better. You see minimal effort made to making things easier for the quarterback. There isn’t any noticeable attempt to build a comfort level with a core passing concepts and grow from there. These things might not turn Darnold into a franchise passer, but there should be some concrete areas where we can say the coaching is improving the situation. Those areas simply do not exist.
This is the type of game that shows how much the quarterback and the head coach matter. Much of the roster turned in a winning effort. An undermanned defense showed a lot of fight and gave the offense a chance with great field position after a couple of turnovers in the second half. Some young building blocks had promising games including Quinnen Williams, Denzel Mims, and Bryce Hall. In the end the Jets weren’t competitive.
This is no surprise. In a way a game like this was anticlimactic. We know the quarterback and the head coach aren’t good enough. We know they will both likely be replaced after the season. Today only provided further confirmation to that which we already knew.