The Jets hoped Sam Darnold would have the same career trajectory as Carson Wentz and take a big leap forward in Year 2. They would settle for Darnold taking the same field as Wentz now.
Darnold hasn’t fully recovered from his bout of mono and will miss his third straight game Sunday when the Jets face Wentz and the Eagles in Philadelphia. The way the Jets’ offense has played, they will need a huge performance from their defense to even have a shot at keeping this game competitive. That means trying to limit Wentz.
“He can do it all,” safety Jamal Adams said. “He’s very dynamic. He can definitely escape and push the ball down the field. He definitely throws his players open as well as those guys get open. We got to do a good job slowing him down.”
Wentz has thrown for nine touchdowns and rushed for another as the leader of one of the NFL’s best offenses. The Eagles have 14 total touchdowns. The 0-3 Jets have scored just one offensive touchdown in 2019.
Luke Falk will try to change that in his second straight start in place of Darnold – and second career start – against a defense that has some holes.
The Eagles have only three healthy cornerbacks. Jets coach Adam Gase could try to exploit that, but Falk needs time to make throws. The offensive line hasn’t afforded that to all three quarterbacks the Jets have been forced to use this season or opened holes for star running back Le’Veon Bell. Changes are expected up front Sunday when the Jets play one of the better D-lines in the league.
“Really, as an offensive unit, we need to play better than what we've played,” Gase said. “We've been terrible and it's all 11. We've just got to figure out a way to move the football.”
The Jets planned for Darnold to be cleared for this game and give the offense a boost. They didn’t pick up a quarterback during last week’s bye and let Darnold take most if not all the first-team reps in practice Wednesday and Thursday. Now the Jets hope he can return next week and resume what has been a frustrating second season.
It might be wishful thinking for Darnold to follow Wentz’s path, but they’re both mobile with strong arms. Wentz is bigger and stronger, but they had similar numbers as rookies.
Wentz threw 16 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions in 2016. Darnold had 17 TDs with 15 picks last year. But in year 2, Wentz became an MVP candidate. He threw 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions before tearing his ACL in the 13th game of the season. Wentz also missed parts of last season, but he’s healthy and has given opposing defenses fits.
“His ability to extend plays is damaging on all levels because that turns those guys loose down the field,” Gase said. “His arm is phenomenal. You've got a guy with an explosive arm. He can push the ball down the field, he can make all the throws. He's a big man and it's hard to bring down.
“How intelligent he is and how competitive he is, you can see it. He is feisty and wants to win. The toughness is there. He takes some shots and he bounces right back up.”
The Jets hope they can show similar toughness and resiliency in the face of what looks like another lost season littered with injuries to key players, including C.J. Mosley, Jordan Jenkins, Quincy Enunwa and Avery Williamson.
Since jumping out to a 16-0 lead on Buffalo in Week 1, the Jets have been outscored 70-17 over the last nine-plus quarters. They trailed 30-0 to New England in their last game and totaled 105 yards of offense.
“We have to do a lot of things right,” Gase said. “We have to be great up front - that's where it's all going to start - and we have to be able to run the football. Our best player is back there. We've got to do a good job of giving him some running lanes and getting him the ball in the passing game and we need to be more competitive.”
That would be a major improvement.