Going Deep: A New Era in New York
I Was Wrong, We Were All Wrong
After shouting a few expletives at my television and conducting some deep breathing exercises I was able to collect myself. With arguably the best overall player in the 2019 draft class on the board in Kentucky pass rusher Josh Allen, Dave Gettleman decided to use his sixth pick to select a quarterback from Duke named Daniel Jones. I was not happy about it but told myself that he is my quarterback now, whether I like it or not. Five months later I can confidently say I have never been so excited about being dead wrong because this kid can flat out ball. Jones reminded me why I watch sports on Sunday, silencing the haters by bringing the Giants back from an 18 point halftime deficit to pick up a thrilling road win in his first career start. After spending his summer being ripped apart by local papers and booed at Yankee Stadium, Jones completed 23/36 passes for 336 yards and 4 total touchdowns in his NFL debut. Did I mention that this was the Giants largest come from behind win in 49 years? The cherry on top is that he played the entire second half without superstar running back Saquon Barkley. I know I know, you’re going to tell me to hold my horses, that it’s only one game and not to put too much stock into it. I was thinking that too, then I decided to watch the film and see whether Jones was legit or not for myself. Much to my surprise, he was even better than I thought. Jones was poised in the pocket, confident in his reads, and accurate with nearly every pass he threw. If you still don’t believe me, keep reading and allow me to explain.
Tampa Bay is in single high man coverage here, and they rolled up safety Jordan Whitehead to cover Evan Engram. Whitehead’s coverage was Charmin soft. Engram’s first step was to the outside and he caught Whitehead moving the wrong way, then Engram does the rest with his speed. Jones stepped into a clean pocket and delivered a strike to Engram for an 18-yard catch and run to start the game.
The Bucs send a blitz off of the right side here and Jones recognizes it immediately. He felt the pressure and moved to his left, then dropped a perfect pass into the hands of Sterling Shepard off of his back foot with pressure in his face. Pat Shurmur opened up the playbook on the first drive of the game, credit to him for knowing what he has and not being afraid to push the ball down the field. An aging Eli Manning had turned the Giants offense into a check down machine, and these are the kinds of shot plays Giants fans have been waiting to see for years. Notice how Jones never takes his eyes off of his receivers, Tampa tried to rattle Jones by pressuring him early but he was able to stay poised, square his shoulders, and get a clean ball off anyway.
Watching Eli Manning command the Giants offense for 15 years almost made me forget that quarterbacks are actually allowed to run the football. Gettleman and Shurmur have been raving about Jones’ mobility since the draft, but no one knew that he could move like this. On this play, Tampa sends pressure up the middle and dropped its edge rushers into coverage, and Jones was forced to move to his right. Apparently Jones’ speed was not in Bruce Arians’ scouting report, because outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett takes a poor angle and allows Jones to tuck the ball away and beat him to the outside and scamper for 11 yards to pick up the first down. Once again Jones’ eyes remain downfield all the way up until he decides to tuck and run for good. If this was Manning there is no doubt that this play would have ended in a sack or throw away, this scramble shows how Jones’ ability to use his legs adds another layer to the Giants offense.
Shurmur drew up a play-action roll out here and Jones make a tough throw look easy. With Carl Nassib barreling towards him Jones stays calm, keeps his eyes up and finds an open Engram over the middle of the field. This was not the most difficult pass in the world by any means, but it is encouraging for Giants fans to see after watching Manning airmail these types of throws time and time again through the first two weeks of the season.
There seems to be a common theme here, but yet again Jones turns a would be negative play into a big pickup, and this one would set up a touchdown. Tampa Bay showed blitz with two linebackers walked up to the line of scrimmage, and then backed into a zone at the snap. Barrett blatantly jumped offsides here and the play should have been blown dead, but Danny Dimes did not care. Jones somehow escaped the clutches of Barrett and rolled to his left, the Tampa Bay coverage completely broke down and Barkley showed excellent awareness when he slipped free down the middle of the field. Jones saw Barkley and squared his shoulders and threw across his body to hit him in stride for the first down.
Jones’ first career touchdown came on what I’m assuming is the first read option called in the history of the franchise (unless they ran one with Geno Smith behind center but let’s pretend that game never happened). This was the perfect play call from Shurmur and Tampa Bay had no chance at stopping it. The Giants lined up in a bunch trips to the right side and motioned Russell Shepard left to catch the attention of the defense. Jones took the snap and optioned Whitehead, who screamed inside to stop what he thought would be a hand-off to Barkley. Jones read the play perfectly and pulled the hand-off to outrun M.J. Stewart to the corner of the end zone for six.
Jones got lucky on this pass, it was by far his worst throw of the game and should have been intercepted. Tampa Bay was in a basic man coverage look here with two safeties covering over the top. Jones had all day to throw and tried to hit Benny Fowler on a dig route. I’m not sure if Jones just didn’t see Mike Edwards sitting over the top or thought he could squeeze the ball underneath him, but this pass never should have been thrown. It looks even worse when you see how much room Jones had to run here but he seemed to learn from this mistake, as he didn’t try to throw another pass like that for the remainder of the game.
This is all arm strength from the sixth overall pick. Vita Vea gets a piece of Jones’ arm as he’s releasing the ball and somehow he was able to muscle the pass over the head of Lavonte David to Darius Slayton, who was sitting in the soft spot of the Tampa Bay zone. Nine times out of ten this pass gets knocked off course and turns into an incompletion or interception, but Jones put enough juice on it to accurately fire the football through traffic and on target to Slayton.
This was the first of Jones’ two fumbles on Sunday and as good as he was, this is something he needs to clean up. The pocket was collapsing around him with nobody open and Jones tried a pump fake, only to have the ball poked loose on the follow-through by Barrett. It isn’t a huge issue, but Jones has to have a better feel for the pocket here. At this point, the Giants were only down one score and had a chance to tie the game before the half, and a turnover on your own side of the field is the absolute worst thing that could happen in this situation. Jones has to know to take the sack or try and get out of the pocket with his legs, but he will develop a better sense of pressure as he picks up more NFL experience.
Jones started the second half of the game with a bang, hooking up with Engram for a 75 yard touchdown to cut the Buccaneers lead from 18 to 12. Jones sold this run fake like he worked at a used car dealership. The Tampa Bay linebackers were fooled by the play action and Engram was left wide open over the middle after a clean inside release to make the catch and do the rest with his legs. Most of the credit on this touchdown should go to Engram for his ridiculous speed, who ran as fast as an eye-popping 20.84 mph after the catch. While Engram was responsible for the score, Jones still had to make the read and get the ball there. He does all the small things that coaches love to see from rookie quarterbacks, he is poised in the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield, sells play fakes, and never gets fancy and loses his mechanics.
I mean… what more can I say that you can’t see? Jones had Nassib in his face as soon as he comes out of the play fake, rolls to his left, steps up in the pocket, squares his feet, sets his shoulders, and gets the ball out to Slayton; who caught Edwards sleeping over the top. Jones looks like a robot getting rid of the football, in the sense that his mechanics are exactly the same every time. This is funny considering how last week I wrote a piece on Kyler Murray and fawned over how he can modify his throwing motion to find creative ways to get the ball to his receivers. The difference between Murray and Jones is that one player is 5’10” and the other is 6’5”. Jones is able to use his height to get the ball over the top of traffic, whereas Murray needs to throw around it. It isn’t flashy, but it gets the job done.
Aside from the dropped interception Jones’ ball placement in his first start was exceptional. Even his incompletions were placed in windows where only his guys could get it. “Danny Dimes” earned his namesake on this play by putting the football right in the bread basket for Shepard. For some reason Vernon Hargreaves read run, which let Shepard get of his jam, luckily he had safety help but it didn’t matter. If Jones had put this ball to the back corner it likely would have been broken up by Edwards but he had the awareness to put it closer to the sideline where Shepard could adjust and make the play.
Jones’ second fumble of the game was similar to his first one. It would be unfair not to mention the fact that this was the fifth consecutive passing play in which Jones was sacked. There is only so much a quarterback can do when he’s getting no help from his offensive line, and this is an example of a rookie quarterback picking up the speed of an NFL defense. Jones felt pressure and climbed into the pocket to take a deep shot, but Barrett was able to close on him and knocked the ball loose before Jones could get rid of it. The fumbles are undoubtedly a concern, but it seems to be more of a learning curve for Jones than a legitimate flaw in his game.
This impeccably timed throw from Jones to Slayton is the play that got the Giants offense rolling on their magical game-winning drive. Jones is getting rid of this pass before Slayton even gets into his break, and the ball was on him as soon as he turned his head towards Jones. Comeback routes are all about timing and it’s easy to tell that Jones and Slayton have worked on this hundreds of times since OTAs. Everything just looks so natural for Jones, he had to fire this to the sideline and a second too early or too late on the throw could have led to trouble.
Tampa Bay dropped into a cover 4 to prevent the deep ball, Shepard got opened up on the outside for a big pickup here. Slayton drew double coverage on a post corner, and with the linebacker shading over the middle Shepard ended up with nobody within 15 yards of him on an out route. Shepard then finished the play with an incredible effort on his run after the catch to get the Giants within striking distance. This was an easy throw, but I included it because it illustrates how smart Jones played on Sunday. He didn’t miss a single read and made the right pass every time he dropped back to throw.
Guts, moxie, spunk, heart, you name the superlative and Jones shows it on his game-tying touchdown run. The Buccaneers were manned up across the board with two safeties playing zone coverage, and both bailed to the corner of the end zone to double Engram and Shepard. As soon as Jones saw the safeties bail he tucked the ball and sprinted into the end zone to cap off his unforgettable NFL debut. Jones is so confident in his reads and never second-guesses himself, it’s no wonder Gettleman fell in love with him at the Senior Bowl.
That’s Great, Can He Help My Fantasy Team?
The short answer is yes, at least this week. Jones has a favorable matchup at home against a reeling Redskins team. As far as the rest of the season is concerned, we’ll just have to wait and see. Losing Barkley for an extended period of time hurts Jones quite a bit, any time an offense loses their best player everyone will suffer because of it. With just one start Jones put himself firmly in the streaming category for the rest of the season, and with a few more good starts he can put himself in the conversation of being an every-week starter. Regardless of his fantasy value at the moment, the Giants may have found themselves the heir to Eli’s throne.
(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)