Daniel Jones gave the Giants everything they could have asked for out of a rookie quarterback. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, though. Jones was careless with the football at times in 2019, committing 23 turnovers in 13 games. Many of these turnovers were due to his lack of experience, which defenses were able to successfully attack throughout the season.
The below play against the Patriots in Week 6 is a perfect example. The Patriots are a predominant man-free coverage defense. On this play, they aligned with a deep safety in the middle of the field pre-snap. Between the initial look and New England’s tendencies, Jones thought this would be another snap of man-free coverage.
He also saw that his tight end, Rhett Ellison, had outside leverage on the linebacker that appeared to be responsible for him in man. Given the supposed coverage and the route combination called, Jones thought he would have Ellison’s corner route open.
But the Patriots were not playing man free. At the snap, their safeties spun out to a cover-2 zone look. This meant that the cornerback to that side, Stephon Gilmore, wouldn’t be chasing his man across the field. Instead, he would be sitting in the flat underneath Ellison’s route.
Jones failed to recognize the disguise, and Gilmore came away with an easy interception.
This wasn’t even that intricate of a coverage disguise by Bill Belichick. Had Jones been watching the safeties, he would have seen the rotation to cover-2 immediately and realized that Ellison’s route was dead. This indicates that Jones did not look at the safeties post snap on this play, and instead, locked onto his best option based on his pre-snap read.
In Week 12 against the Bears, Jones again failed to recognize a disguised cover-2 look.
Jones must have thought the Bears were playing quarters coverage to the bottom of the screen. In quarters, that cornerback would not have been aggressively attacking this hitch route because he wouldn’t have had safety help over the top. In cover-2, which the Bears rotated to late on this side of the field, that corner does have safety help over the top, giving him the ability to try and jump any route in the flat. Jones dodged a bullet on this one.
Improvement in this area will come from more experience and an offseason under Jones’ belt, where he’ll have the opportunity to study how NFL defenses approach him.
Another aspect of Jones’ game that will need improvement is his decision making. At times, he forced the ball into windows that just weren’t there, often because he locked onto receivers and didn’t work through his progressions (as you saw on his interception against the Patriots above).
On the below interception against the Redskins, focus on Sterling Shepard, aligned as the #3 inside receiver. Given the route and the defender’s positioning, he was never really open. Jones stayed on him and forced this ball anyway.
Against the Lions in Week 8, Jones threw into the cover-2 hole on the outside for what should have been another interception. He was late with the ball and the safety to the side of the throw was already in great position to make a play before Jones released it. He seemed to have made his decision to throw this ball regardless of the defense instead of working to his running back in the flat to the left.
These are just two plays we’ve singled out. However, they are representative of what we saw throughout much of the season when Jones struggled. Again, this isn’t a fatal flaw to his game. It’s an area that he’ll almost certainly improve upon the more he plays.
In writing about Jones’ strengths, we focused on his ability to hang in the pocket until the last possible moment, knowing he was about to take a hit, and still deliver accurate passes downfield. There is a trade-off to that ability, however.
The below play is a great example. With the pocket collapsing around him, Jones was still prepared to slide to his left and attempt a pass downfield. Unfortunately, the pressure made him pull it down at the last second. Before Jones could get two hands on the ball, Jets safety Jamal Adams ripped it away from him.
Quarterbacks have to be able to throw out of small spaces when conditions around them aren’t perfect. The ability to do so is a differentiating trait. However, sometimes it’s better to just eat the ball and live to play another down. Here, Jones could have done a better job of protecting the ball when he felt pressure instead of still trying to make a play.
Jones’ 11 lost fumbles aren’t something that I am overly concerned about, though. Like his ill-advised passes, many of his fumbles came from trying to do too much. This isn’t necessarily a bad trait to have. It just needs to be reeled in and refined.
Many of the improvements Jones needs in avoiding fumbles can be easily attained between now and the start of the 2020 season. I’m sure he’ll be working on keeping two hands on the ball as he moves. His first full offseason in an NFL strength and conditioning program should help as well.
Other improvements in this area will come naturally over the course of his development. About half of Jones’ fumbles came on plays where he was hit as he was throwing, about to throw, or had just pulled down the ball at the last second (as shown above). Sometimes, this happened because he didn’t recognize the coverage quickly enough, became indecisive, and held onto the ball a split second too long as a result. Other times, his offensive line was beat so quickly against 4-man rushes that he was hit despite throwing within the rhythm of the play. We’re likely to see improvement in this area as Jones gains experience reading defenses and as his offensive line (hopefully) improves around him.
One issue that did show up throughout the season that might be cause for concern is Jones’ somewhat inconsistent ball placement. Jones isn’t an inaccurate passer by any means. But he did miss some opportunities in his rookie season on throws that absolutely should have been made.
The below pass to Sterling Shepard should have been a touchdown. Jones not only missed this throw, but he didn’t even give Shepard a chance to make a contested catch.
We saw this multiple times throughout the season (Jones missed another downfield throw to an open Sterling Shepard in this same game).
Hitting receivers in stride and enabling yards after the catch is also an important element of any quarterback’s skill set. The Giants were 27th in the NFL in yards after the catch per completion in 2019. Part of that was due to their lack of explosiveness at the wide receiver position. However, part of that was also due to Jones’ failure to consistently hit his receivers in stride.
The below completion against the Redskins is a perfect example.
If that ball is out in front of Darius Slayton, he could have either run away from his defender for a big play, or at least more easily turned upfield and gained an additional 5 yards or so.
These might seem like small things, but it’s the small things that separate the good from the great. Go watch any NFL Films footage you can find on Bill Walsh working with Joe Montana. You’ll hear him repeatedly directing Montana to hit his receiver on a particular number on his jersey or a specific shoulder. That can make all the difference in the world.
As you may have noticed, Jones’ issues seem to become more pronounced the further downfield he attacks. Whether it’s deciphering disguises, reading coverage and reacting quickly enough to make downfield throws on time, or ball placement, most of his needed improvements are in his ability to attack on intermediate-to-deep throws. Again, this isn’t anything completely debilitating that will prevent him from being a great quarterback. It is something to keep an eye on, though.
The best thing about Daniel Jones’ rookie year was the fact that he got some much-needed playing experience. He was able to see just how his skills match up to the speed of the NFL game. He was able to gain an understanding of the types of throws he can make with ease as well as the types of throws he won’t be able to make without perfect timing. He gained 12 games worth of NFL-level coverage disguises being thrown at him, which he can now store in his memory bank and call upon for the rest of his career. He gained 12 games worth of experience managing various game situations. The amount that Jones learned by doing in his rookie season will be so valuable for his development.
It’s understandable why many Giants fans were not thrilled to see Daniel Jones playing so early in the 2019 season. Starting a rookie quarterback in Week 3 with Eli Manning healthy and on the roster signified yet another rebuilding year. This, after almost a decade filled with nothing but disappointment since the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI win at the end of the 2011 season.
The simple fact of the matter, though, was that the 2019 Giants were not going to the Super Bowl. They weren’t anywhere close to being a playoff team. They just weren’t good enough on either side of the ball. They are in a much better place heading into 2020 with Daniel Jones sitting on 12 games of experience instead of having only a few games under his belt.
The Giants should be excited about their future because they have a very good young quarterback they can build around. The next step Dave Gettleman and company need to make sure they focus on is adequately protecting Jones. Otherwise, they’ll risk wasting his early years for the same reason that the back half of Eli’s career was wasted.
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