How Jets quarterback Sam Darnold is taking charge behind the scenes

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Sam says: It started after the infamous "ghostbusters" game -- the three-interception nightmare in Jacksonville. Since then, quarterback Sam Darnold has become more assertive in his meetings with coach Adam Gase. When they discuss the game plan, Darnold no longer is a "yes" man. He offers feedback and strong opinions, a positive sign because it indicates a growing comfort with Gase and the offense.

"I think, especially the last two weeks, his communication to me has been awesome," Gase said. "He has been very direct, like, 'Here's what I like, here's how I want to do this.'"

Now Darnold has to take that decisiveness to the field, starting Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox) against the New York Giants. He's fighting a three-game slump (three touchdowns, eight interceptions), falling into some of the bad habits that plagued him in his final season at USC. No doubt, his pass protection has been shaky, but the issues go beyond that. In fact, his passer rating in a clean pocket (not under pressure) is only 88.5, which ranks 27th out of 32 qualified quarterbacks, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Some of it falls on Gase, the so-called quarterback guru. His offense is "incredibly predictable by formation," former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky said on the "Flight Deck" podcast. Orlovsky, an unabashed Darnold fan, believes the second-year quarterback could be irreparably damaged by Gase.

"Right now, he's being failed. He's being failed by his play design and his coaching staff," Orlovsky said. "He's being failed by the people around him."

In fairness to Gase, he's working with a sub-standard offensive line. Orlovsky acknowledged that, but he also believes Gase has overexposed Darnold to "the biggest weakness" on the team (see: offensive line) with his playcalling. Really, it's the perfect storm -- a pressing quarterback, a porous line and a scheme that puts Darnold in uncomfortable positions.

That Darnold is taking ownership is an encouraging development. He said he has "a way better feel for the offense ... and I've kind of voiced my opinion there." The Darnold-Gase relationship is critical to team success -- and Gase's job security.

2. Houston, we have a problem, too: The offensive struggles have been well documented, but here's something new that might blow your mind.

If the Jets finish the season averaging 223.5 total yards per game, their current rate, it would be the lowest in the NFL since the 2002 Houston Texans (223.3).

Now for the kicker: The Texans were an expansion team.

3. Call of Duty, green vs. blue: Leonard Williams was traded 13 days ago to the Giants, but he hasn't lost touch with his former teammates. They've been in touch while playing Call of Duty.

"I joined a session [Wednesday] night and he was like, 'Yeah, these are all my new teammates,'" linebacker Jordan Jenkins said with a laugh. "There were five guys, all Giants fans."

Jenkins said he believes there were some Giants players on there, too. Yes, sports have changed.

Williams was a popular player on the Jets, and his former teammates had nothing but good things to say about him. Some expressed interest in jersey-swapping with him after the game, but it sounds like nose tackle Steve McLendon has the inside track, based on seniority.

"I wouldn't mind winning the game and talking a little trash to him afterwards," Jenkins said.

This is a big game for Williams, who has no sacks this season and only two in his past 20 games. If he can't break through against the Jets' offensive line, he might not sack another quarterback. It's a pride game for the Jets. They've suffered plenty this season, and the last thing they need is a former player wrecking another game for them.

"He knows our arsenal, we know his," center Jonotthan Harrison said. "It's going to be who out-competes the other person."

4. Troubling trend: Another reason to be frustrated by the Jets: Their penalty numbers are soaring. They're tied for eighth in most penalties (51, including those declined) and they're fifth in most yardage (405).

Gase called it "a nonstop topic for us," meaning the coaches constantly emphasize reducing the penalties. Well, as Bill Parcells used to say, "Don't tell me about the labor, show me the baby."

This isn't an unfamiliar topic for Gase. In his previous head-coaching job, the Miami Dolphins led the league in penalties (455) and yardage (3,273) from 2016-18, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

5. Money for nothing: The Jets placed three more players on injured reserve this week, bringing the total to 11 (three starters). Those 11 are counting $33 million against the salary cap, with cornerback Trumaine Johnson ($12 million) and linebacker Avery Williamson ($8 million) leading the way.

They have an additional $30 million in "dead" money (players no longer on the roster), led by guard Kelechi Osemele ($10.2 million) and Williams ($9.4 million).

Put it all together, and the Jets have $63 million (34%) of their cap tied up in players who aren't actually playing football for them.


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6. Tru lies: Early in the season, I ranked the worst contracts in Jets history (free-agent era). Johnson -- benched in Week 2 -- was No. 2 on the list, behind defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. In Johnson's case, I said he'd move to No. 1 if he remained on the bench. Well, he got his job back in Week 5, but I'm still bumping him up to the top spot. Why? His second (and likely last) season with the Jets is over, and the numbers take your breath away -- $34 million for 17 mediocre games.

Johnson was a colossal blunder by the previous regime, which was blinded by its need at cornerback and failed to see what so many around the league knew about him -- inconsistent motor and not a good practice player. His final game said everything. On the second play, he tiptoed into the "box" and avoided contact with Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette, who broke free for 66 yards. Later in the game, Johnson tapped out because he hurt his "good" ankle.

The most troubling part of the Johnson saga is the Jets had people in the organization who were familiar with his act from his time with the Rams (secondary coach Dennard Wilson and front-office executive Brian Heimerdinger), and yet they still paid him crazy money in free agency. You can only hope that new general manager Joe Douglas can spot a fugazy free agent.

7. Bah, humbug: A Jets-Giants game always triggers memories of Victor Cruz's 99-yard touchdown reception on Christmas Eve, 2011. That play -- that game -- changed everything. The defeat put the Jets on the brink of playoff elimination, and they haven't contended since then.

Their record since the Cruz Game: 43-78, no playoff appearances.

Their record in the 121 games before the Cruz Game: 60-61, four playoff appearances.

That's what you call a turning point.

8. Revolving door: Injuries have forced the Jets to do a lot of scrambling. They've already had 64 players on their roster, only eight shy of last season's total -- and we're only halfway through the season. They have had 16 different starting lineups on offense (tied for the most) and 13 on defense (tied-13th).

9. Did you know? Darnold and Giants quarterback Daniel Jones are 22. This marks only the 13th matchup in the Super Bowl era between starting quarterbacks 22 or younger. The previous youngest matchup in the Jets-Giants rivalry was Ken O'Brien and Phil Simms in 1984 -- a combined 53 years.

10. The last word: "I'll double-down on Sam Darnold, [but] people need to understand, Sam Darnold is always going to be this kind of streaky player. He's always going to have a mistake here or there. That's why he's very much like a Tony Romo or a Ben Roethlisberger. He's never going to be the refined product that is Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. That's never going to be Sam." -- Orlovsky, on Flight Deck.