The Jets hired a head coach with a defensive background, but the offensive mind he is bringing with him might be the key to solving the team’s quarterback issue.
New head coach Robert Saleh is expected to bring Mike LaFleur with him from San Francisco to be his offensive coordinator. LaFleur, the younger brother of Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, has been the 49ers’ passing-game coordinator.
LaFleur could be the person the Jets charge with trying to get Sam Darnold back on track. The team has a decision to make whether to try to trade the 23-year-old quarterback they drafted third overall in 2018 and move on or try to salvage him.
Josh McCown, who played with Darnold in 2018 and remains close to him, believes Darnold could flourish in LaFleur’s offense. LaFleur is expected to run a version of the Kyle Shanahan offense that is used in San Francisco and has become popular around the league.
“I think where Sam is in his development and to kind of reset and take stock in what he did in the last three years, but grow and move forward, I think it’s the perfect system to do that in,” McCown said Friday. “You take a little bit of pressure off the quarterback to be a great decision-maker in the dropback game. It’s a heavy run game and play action and play-action football, it’s good and easy football because you fake and then it’s a 1-2-3 type of thing typically. There’s not full-field reads in play-action football necessarily. You can keep the eyes of the quarterback in one place and limit his options and help him play better football.”
The Shanahan offense dates back to Kyle’s father, Mike, who popularized it with the Broncos from 1995-2008. It relies heavily on zone runs and play-action passes off the running game. The Shanahan offense also features more rollouts and plays to get the quarterback out of the pocket. The Jets actually ran a version of it in Darnold’s rookie season when Jeremy Bates was their offensive coordinator.
“[Darnold] makes some great plays, but he also makes some poor decisions,” McCown said. “I think when it’s more of a scheduled outside of the pocket, when it’s the movement game, what they do so well, I think that will kind of rein in some of that decision making. It will give him better options. I think that will be better for him.”
McCown, who finished the season on the Texans, said he watched a lot of Jets games this year and saw Darnold struggle.
“I think he was pressing and trying to win every game with one throw,” McCown said. “You could just see the frustration. You hate that for him. I think the circumstances with the pressure that was on the coaching situation and everything I think forced him into some bad football. The best thing about Sam is he takes ownership of it and he’ll work to improve.”
McCown said the Jets should not give up on Darnold.
“I think given his talent level and the type of kid he is,” McCown said, “letting him have a go with a new offense would be wise just from the standpoint of how much you believe in the guys you hired.”