Sun, 29 Nov 2020

Jets vs. Bills Game Preview: Sam Darnold Looks Ready to Roll

New York Jets
24 Oct 2020, 17:56 GMT+10

Jets WR Denzel Mims Might Make NFL Debut Against Division-Leading Bills Eric Allen

After a two-game absence because of a shoulder injury, Sam Darnold hopes to be in line to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Jets (0-6) host the Bills (4-2) on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. It's been three weeks since Darnold competed in a game, but he led the first-team offense in practice this week and didn't feel worse for wear.

"I feel good," he told reporters on Thursday. "The last two days have gone really well. I've thrown the ball and I've recovered pretty quick. Obviously, it's still to be determined what's going to happen Sunday as to who is starting, but I've felt really good the last couple of days."

With Darnold out, backup Joe Flacco wasn't able to catapult the Jets offense out of its doldrums. The Jets totaled 1o points in losses to the Cardinals and the Dolphins, and the Green & White were shutout last Sunday in Miami while converting on 2-of-17 third downs. Flacco was frequently under duress in South Florida and the Jets need to get better across the board to jump-start a unit that ranks 32nd in scoring (12.5 Pts/G), and third-down (30.2%) and red-zone efficiency (23.1%). The unit's lack of production runs much deeper than inconsistent play at QB.

"He wants to be the guy that does everything the right way, puts a lot of pressure on himself to go out there and play well and take care of all those things," Flacco said of Darnold this week. "I also think that he's a guy that once he gets out there, when he lets it loose and he kind of plays mentally free, he's got a ton of talent and he can really sling it. I think he's been great; I think he's been great to be able to be here with and experience what he is all about because he loves the game and wants to do it the right way."

The Jets have a need and the opportunity to evaluate the younger players on the roster and, at the same time, do everything they can to win games. Good cultures are created by competitive environments that lead to success on game days. While Darnold is 11-19 as an NFL starter, the Jets are 0-8 in games quarterbacked by his backups from 2018-20.

"I don't think I've played well enough to win,' Darnold said, referring to this season. "That's just shooting it straight. We haven't won any games yet, so obviously I haven't played well enough."

A quarter of any season doesn't provide enough time to properly evaluate a player and his progress or decline. Over his first four starts, Darnold connected on 59.4% of his passes for 792 yards with 3 TDs and 4 INTs. But look beyond the numbers in that quartet of games and you find that slot wideout Jamison Crowder, who torched the Bills in Week 1 for 7 catches, 115 yards and a 69-yard TD, didn't play in Games 2 and 3 because of a tight hamstring. Breshad Perriman, a starter on the outside, went out with an ankle injury against the 49ers and didn't suit up against the Colts and the Broncos. Rookie Denzel Mims, an expected starter across the way, didn't practice once in training camp and has yet to play an NFL game. Rookie LT Mekhi Becton, already the team's most impressive offensive lineman, left both Games 3 and 4 with a shoulder injury. The Jets have yet to get TE Chris Herndon going in his third season and RB Le'Veon Bell, who missed half of the opener plus Games 2-4 with a hamstring injury, was recently released.

"I look at it as how many games has he had with the group we put together to start the season," Head Coach Adam Gase said of Darnold. "We still haven't seen what it looks like with the group we drafted and signed, where it was Mims, Perriman and Crowder and Herndon. We haven't seen that yet."

But for the first time in 2020, it's possible that Darnold (or Flacco) will operate against the Bills behind a line that includes Becton and the Jets' top three receivers in the lineup at the same time. But even if that happens, patience will be required. The reality is Darnold could be shaking off some rust Mims remains raw after a handful of NFL practices; and Crowder, the team's most productive player, is still feeling residual hamstring tightness.

"It seems like every other week, an important key to the offensive scheme is either hurt or injured," said veteran OLB Jordan Jenkins. "And as soon as one guy comes back, another guy goes down. I'm excited. ... It's good to see guys you've never really played with, never really worked with - it's good to see those guys out there making plays. I heard a lot about Perriman, I've heard a lot about Mims, but now I'm actually seeing them make plays."

While Perriman had 4 catches for 62 yards receiving against the Dolphins, Mims' NFL debut is finally in sight and Darnold could be back distributing the ball if his shoulder continues to respond positively. As the outside noise continues about the Jets' draft position for 2021, Darnold remains focused on one thing.

"We're just worried about getting a win," he said. "We have to worry about this week and Buffalo. They're a really good team, so we're worried about this week."

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