There will always be an urge to measure Sam Darnold, the third overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, against the QBs he was selected with last year, and that certainly includes Josh Allen, the seventh, pick by the Bills and Darnold's QB competitor for at least the start of Sunday's season finale at Buffalo.
"We've been playing a lot of the same opponents throughout the season," Darnold said today about Allen, who's guided the Bills to a 10-5 record and into the fifth seed in the AFC playoff grid. "It's been cool watching him. They're having some good success there. But I haven't been too locked into his stats or anything like that."
That, needless to say, is because Darnold's got his own numbers to worry about. They've been getting better game by game but they're not yet where he or coach Adam Gase or coordinator Dowell Loggains wants them, and there's only one more game to improve them some more before football's long winter/spring nap.
The QB said he's not immersing himself in any 2019 self-scouting just yet.
"I think, first of all, my mindset is to make sure I'm ready to play this game and make sure the offense is ready to execute," he said. "I think when the time comes, I'll think about it and look at it then."
But his coaches have had some thoughts throughout the year, and they remain bullish on Darnold.
"I think every practice, every game, every time we get a chance to do meetings where he's learning and he's preparing, that's a good thing for us," Gase said. "He's just building that library up, he's building that knowledge up every time he takes a snap in a live game, it's more experience for him."
Gase notes how respectful Darnold is after just about two full seasons in the pros but that he's taking the bull by the horns more when it comes to telling the coaches what exactly is on his mind.
"I think there was a point earlier in the season where, in his mind, he was like, 'I'll make whatever work,' " Gase said. "Then I think he got to a point where he was like, 'All right, this is what I really like and no matter what happens, I can make these plays work' and 'Hey, can we lean on this when things get tight?' So, to me, that was always a big statement by him, and each week it's just kind of built and built."
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Loggains was asked about the Jets' low offensive rankings (32nd in total yards, 30th in passing yards, 28th in points), much but not all of which Darnold was a part of (due to his bout with mono).
"In my room, as the quarterbacks coach, I really focus on making sure Sam's getting better each week and maximizing his ability, and I have seen him get better each week," Loggains said. "He's not where we want him to be, but he's getting a lot closer to having the knowledge he needs and he's preparing the right way. He's had the right attitude all year. I think you've seen huge improvement the last seven or eight weeks this season."
The numbers agree with the OC. If we take something funky like analyzing Darnold's passing numbers for every seven-game stretch of his career, 19 such stretches in all, including stretches over the end of '18 and the start of '19, his stat line for the seven most recent games is the best of his career in terms of TD-to-INT ratio (12-to-3), fewest sacks (13), passer rating (96.0), and of course wins (5). To paraphrase Loggains, room for improvement but we like the trendline.
"I think our offense has come a long way since then. I feel like I've come a long way," Darnold said, comparing himself and the Jets of their opening-day 17-16 loss to the Bills at home with the state of the O now. "Just as a whole, we've gotten better, we've learned from our mistakes that we've made. And that's what it's about, continuing to get better. There's a lot we just need to continue to improve every single week, and this game is just another step in the right direction toward improvement."