For all of his talent and poise and maturity beyond his 22 years, tough questions are being asked about Sam Darnold in the wake of his past two performances that have produced seven interceptions and just two touchdowns.
They are fair questions.
If you base your assessment of Darnold strictly on the numbers he’s posted in his 17 career starts, it has not looked very good.
Sunday’s 29-15 loss to the Jaguars in Jacksonville — in which Darnold was sloppy, throwing three interceptions — left him with a 5-12 career won-loss record. He’s thrown 22 touchdowns and 23 interceptions and is averaging 216 passing yards per game.
These are not the numbers you want or expect from the No. 3 pick in the draft.
Of course, there is more to this: Darnold has been playing on bad teams with questionable coaching and unquestionably bad pass protection.
This is not to completely exonerate Darnold from his football sins. It is, however, designed to point out that Darnold has not — and is not — getting enough help around him to develop into the kind of quarterback he can become, which I believe is a top-10-in-the-league quarterback.
For starters, the front office failed him in the offseason by miscalculating the rebuild of the offensive line, which might be the worst in the league this season. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers would struggle to find a rhythm behind this line.
What’s maddening about Darnold is how good he looked three weeks ago in the Jets’ win over the Cowboys when he completed 72 percent of his passes for 338 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
On Sunday, when Darnold completed his first seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Griffin — the first time in 31 games the Jets scored a touchdown on their opening drive — you had a feeling that Darnold might be headed for a similar sterling performance to the Dallas game.
And then the rest of the game took place.
Three interceptions later, the Jets were losers of their sixth game in seven this season.
“I’ve got to learn from my mistakes,’’ Darnold said Monday. “I can definitely be a lot smarter. The first [interception] was the one that stung the most, because our defense did a great job of getting the ball back and for me to turn it over definitely hurt a little bit. On that instance, just throwing the ball away would have been a better idea.’’
You know what a better idea would have been?
Better pass protection for Darnold, who was sacked a career-high eight times.
And better coaching.
Jets coach Adam Gase simply has to do a better job helping Darnold. He can do that by figuring out a way to utilize running back Le’Veon Bell, who’s the best player on the team, and playing better to Darnold’s strength, which is having him throw on the move.
Bell, who’s healthy and hungry to do whatever he can to help the team win, took nine handoffs (for 23 yards) and caught three passes (for 12 yards) on Sunday. Of the 53 offensive plays the Jets ran in the game, he had 12 touches.
How is that helping your second-year quarterback who’s under constant pass-rush siege?
Twelve touches for Bell in any game is unacceptable.
Twelve touches for Bell in a game against a Jaguars defense that was missing three starting linebackers is curious.
Twelve touches for Bell when your quarterback has been struggling as much as Darnold has is bordering on coaching malpractice.
“We’re always trying to find ways to get him the ball, to get him touches and get him involved in the offense to where he can produce for us,’’ Gase said Monday. “Right now, its been really hard to get him any room to [run]. We’ve got to keep working on that’s and find a way.’’
Gase humbly acknowledged that he needs to be better finding ways to get Darnold out of the pocket on designed rollouts, which would play to his strengths of throwing on the run.
“That’s a big yes,’’ Gase said. “I’d love to get him out of the pocket more often than what we had. This last game, there was more opportunities to do that. I wish I would have done more of that. That is something that I need to make sure we do a way better job of, giving him an opportunity to get on the move more. That’s would help protection-wise as well.’’
Right now, Darnold, who obviously needs to be better himself, needs all the protection and help he can get.
For more on the Jets, listen to the latest episode of the “Gang’s All Here” podcast:
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