by Ben Muth
Sam Darnold's spleen has shrunk bank to a normal size, and as a result, things are looking up in New York. After a three-week stretch of truly offensive offense, the Jets showed a little life in a win on Sunday over the Dallas Cowboys. It's amazing how much better the offense looked with a real NFL quarterback under center.
Don't get me wrong, there are still some serious issues on that side of the ball for the Jets. The run game looked anemic, and the right tackle and center did not play very well. But they at least were able to move the ball and there are some positive things to point to moving forward.
One thing in particular that stood out is how firm the Jets interior offensive line was in pass protection. They gave Darnold plenty of room to step up in the pocket and make throws down the field.
This is the big play of the game, a 92-yard touchdown. As you can see, the offensive tackles aren't great here. Right tackle Chuma Edoga (75) is getting beat around the edge and only gets the defensive end (DeMarcus Lawrence, 90) to around 7.5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, which is too tight for a play-action pass like this. Kelvin Beachum (68) at left tackle is trying to help everyone, but at the end of the day, he has to know that he needs to focus on helping the tight end (Ryan Griffin, 84) if he can. He has played enough football to know who is more likely to get beat here.
But the interior three guys are rock-solid. Neither defensive tackle gets more than a couple yards of penetration, and that gives great depth of the pocket (even though Griffin is getting beat inside). Right guard Brian Winters (67) in particular is in great shape here with inside hands and totally bench pressing the defensive tackle (Antwaun Woods, 99) away from his body. He looks like he's driving a car, hands at 10 and 2. Darnold did most of his best work stepping up into the pocket the Jets interior provided.
Here the Cowboys are running a little tackle/nose twist and the Jets handle it with ease. Winters and center Ryan Kalil (55) line up on different levels (at different depths) so they can't pass it off, but each handles his man one-on-one. Kalil wasn't great on Sunday but he's very good redirecting on this play to carry the defender across his face. Winters does a nice job of driving his feet and carrying Woods well past the quarterback when the rusher makes his inside move. Darnold moves off his spot here, but because of the good work done inside he has plenty of room to do so and still make a play.
The Cowboys clearly had seen the Jets struggle with defensive line games like the one they ran above and came into this contest with a plan to run a ton of them. New York wasn't perfect picking them up, but they were so much better than the last time I covered them in this space.
That's a really good job on the left side. Darnold decided to take off here, but that's how you pick up a tackle/end twist on the man side of a protection. Left guard Alex Lewis (71) does a good job of punching the defensive tackle (Woods, again) to widen him into Beachum at left tackle without chasing or throwing himself off balance. That allows him to come back inside on the looping defensive end (Robert Quinn, 58) and run him by the quarterbak. It's not perfect and there is a little leakage, but this is so much better than what the Jets put on film in Week 2. That said, there was still room for improvement on these games.
Here Edoga just sets too flat and makes it impossible to pass off the twist with Winters. This looks like a designed quick passing game concept so it wouldn't be surprising if Edoga was planning on a jump set all the time and figured that if the defense runs a game, the ball would be out anyway. But if you're going to jump set on a three-step concept, you cannot get beat inside. Make the defender run around the hoop to the quarterback.
Speaking of jump sets, I LOVE what Beachum does here at left tackle. This is a little delayed jump set and you can see he really catches the rusher (Dorance Armstrong, 92) off guard. He takes his initial set like it's a regular pass set, but then he closes the distance and throws a quick accurate punch into the defender's shoulder. Then, when the defender tries to use his hands, Beachum takes his own hands away and swipes down to let the rusher's own momentum take him into the turf. It only lasts like three seconds, but there are four awesome things Beachum does. This a great example of a veteran tackle changing up his pass set to keep a pass-rusher out of rhythm. Great stuff and it's too bad Beachum left with an ankle injury in the second half.
Before we go, I did want to touch on something that isn't offensive line-related. That's Sam Darnold's pocket movement, which was really good. Part of that, as we highlighted, was because the offensive line provided some decent pockets, but Darnold also has a knack for moving around while always being ready to throw.
That's tremendous by Darnold. A couple of weeks back I highlighted Kyler Murray's tendency to be in either throw or escape mode, and how he could switch back and forth on the same play, but he couldn't do it quickly. Here, Darnold feels the defensive end (Kerry Hyder, 51) penetrating from his right and causing discomfort. He tries to escape outside, but that's right where the looper is (the Jets line didn't do a good job on this twist). So Darnold has to slide back in a step, and as he does, he delivers a strike down the field. This is so difficult and so impressive. He's moving around but he's always ready to throw; he's not moving just to escape and worrying about throwing safely later. It's a subtle difference that is tough to describe, but you know it when you see it.