Keidel: Sam Darnold Gives Jets A Chance Vs. Struggling Cowboys

Jason Keidel
October 10, 2019 - 1:26 pm
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The most scrutinized organ in the NFL, Sam Darnold's spleen, is now football-ready, and the Jets QB is cleared to play this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. 

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But while the Jets' main man is on the mend, the Cowboys quarterback is playing a little green around the gills. 

Since they dashed out to a 3-0 start, the Cowboys have lost their last two games, and now limp into the Meadowlands as a team questioning its playoff bona fides. And it starts with Dak Prescott, who seems to be losing millions of dollars with every interception. While Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott elbowed his way out of his rookie deal and got his money, Prescott decided to demur on Dallas' offer and is still negotiating a deal he hoped would be around $40 million per season. 

Over his first three games - against the Giants, Redskins, and Dolphins - Prescott completed 74.5 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns, two interceptions and a 128.0 passer rating. Over his last two games, he completed 63.6 percent of his throws with two TDs, four INTs and a 79.2 passer rating. So, it doesn't take Clarence Darrow to point out why the Cowboys averaged 32.3 points over their three wins, and then 17 points during their two losses. 

Darnold is in just his second year, so he doesn't have Prescott's experience, resume, or right to ask for big bucks. If the jury is still out on Prescott's Super Bowl wares, then the entire courtroom is waiting to see if Darnold will finally blossom into the franchise quarterback Gang Green expects him to be.  

Sam Darnold
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Despite the Cowboys' obvious struggles over the last two weeks, they still opened as an 8.5-point favorite over the Jets, who are 0-4 while scoring just 39 total points this season, second-fewest in the league. And it speaks to the singular role a quarterback plays on an NFL club. Not only did the Jets lose Darnold to mononucleosis, but they also lost his backup, Trevor Siemian. That left the Jets with Luke Falk, a QB clearly not ready for live NFL action. In his three games under center, Falk has tossed zero touchdowns, three interceptions, and has been sacked 16 times. In Falk's last two games, the Jets have gained fewer than 130 total yards. 

So it's not shocking the Jets rank around the bottom of the league on offense. They are last in total first downs (45), yards per game (179.5), third-down conversion (21.1%) and in plays of at least 20 yards (4). 

Neither Darnold nor his spleen can fix that in four quarters, but his presence will add punch to the passing game, particularly for Jamison Crowder, who snagged 14 passes for 99 yards in the only game Darnold started, while grabbing eight passes for 75 yards in the three games since. (The Jets should also get veteran WR Demaryius Thomas back on the field.) Darnold's presence, and the threat of a pro passing game, should also allow RB Le'Veon Bell to raise his career-worst 2.9 yards per carry so far this season. 

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On defense, the Jets get starting LB Brandon Copeland back from suspension. If fellow LB C.J. Mosley joins him in the starting lineup, the pair will go a long way in fueling their 12th-ranked defense (347.9 YPG). 

The Cowboys, who are at heart a run-first club that prospers on the play-action pass, have lost key offensive linemen, including All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith and right tackle La'el Collins (neither of whom practiced on Wednesday). Elliott has not been his rumbling best, averaging just 77.2 rushing yards per game to go with a paltry 18.4 yards receiving through five games. Dallas may average a league-best 452 yards per game, but most of those yards came on the backs of the Giants, Redskins, and Dolphins, who have a combined record of 2-12. 

Then there's the burden of record and reputation. The Cowboys enter this game, and entered this season, as a projected playoff team. Yet after two recent, woeful efforts, the Cowboys are lacking an identity, while the media peppers Jerry Jones about the job security of his head coach, Jason Garett. Prescott's humble mien and clutch genes make him mentally perfect for the most polarizing team in the NFL. Yet with each loss, the media and masses wonder if he has the high-end arm talent to lead them to a Super Bowl. 

Meanwhile, the Jets, who entered the season with improved expectations, and were sure to double their four-win total from 2018, enter this Sunday's game with a fraction of the traction or the pressure that weighs on the Cowboys. Few remember the Jets were two botched kicks from beating the 4-1 Bills in Week 1 before Darnold went to the sideline. 

So, no one expects the Jets to win, or even compete, with the Cowboys. 

But the reason bookies drive Jaguars, Las Vegas builds rows of glittering gambling temples, and the FanDuel sportsbook at the Meadowlands makes copious cash, is that people bet on favorites and their favorite teams. So you can bet most of the money is on America's Team. Which means Gang Green has a real chance to compete on Sunday, if not steal their first win of the season. 

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonKeidel