Not all sacks are created equal.
We often think of sacks as an offensive line statistic, and a way to measure how well a quarterback is being protected by the guys up front. But that is not always the case. When studying sacks there are often times when other factors play a much bigger role, such as the coverage, the playcall, the receivers, the running backs, and even the quarterback himself. Sacks are best thought of as a team statistic. A way of measuring how well the offense is playing, and not just the offensive linemen.
Sack No. 1
Score: Arizona 7 New York 0
Ball on the Giants’ 43-Yard Line
6:34 Remaining First Quarter
The first sack of Jones comes midway through the first quarter, on New York’s opening possession of the contest. After a Jones scramble on a third down gave the Giants a fresh set of downs, the offense picked up the pace and shifted into no huddle mode. After a Saquon Barkley 5-yard run on first down, the Giants faced this second-and-5.
The Giants run up in this 2x2 alignment:
This is the offensive concept the offense dials up on this play:
This is a half-field read for the quarterback. Jones has a vertical route on the left along the sideline, and then a quick Ohio concept on the right side with tight end Evan Engram (88) releasing to the flat while the outside receiver stays vertical. The slot receiver on the left crosses the formation on a slant route. The Ohio concept is something that the rookie quarterback was running well dating back to his days at Duke University.
Here, Jones looks first at the go route on the right and the deep slant working left to right, and never flips his eyes to Engram in the flat:
He runs out of time here. While the Cardinals bring a safety blitz, this is a quick game concept where the quarterback needs to make up his mind quickly and get the ball out. But by staying on the two vertical routes here and failing to get to the flat route from his tight end, the quarterback invites the pressure. Making matters worse, the rub route created by the vertical on the right side creates traffic, leaving Engram wide open in the flat. Jones needs to see this blitz, realize the pressure will be coming and exploit it by getting the football out fast. He does not.
Jones would be intercepted on the next play.
Sack No. 2
Score: Arizona 17, New York 14
Ball on the Giants’ 32-Yard Line
13:46 Remaining Third Quarter
Jones would not be sacked again until the second half, and that is when the takedowns began to pile up. The second Arizona sack of the game came on a third down early in the third quarter. With the football on the Giants’ 32-yard line, the offense lines up with Jones alone in the backfield, three receivers to the right and a slot formation to the left:
Prior to the play, Engram comes in motion from left to right. Pay attention to the defensive adjustment:
The defender over Engram does not trail him across the formation, but instead rotates back to a deep safety alignment while his counterpart rotates down to the edge. While this is not the traditional “man coverage” indicator we usually see, Jones should read from this that the Cardinals are in man coverage. Rotating the safeties like this is a clue that the secondary is going to be playing man on this play.
Here is what the offense runs:
Jones should know to go right to Engram on the flat route here. As Greg Olsen said during the broadcast, the defender over Engram is “driving down from depth.” On a third-and-short like this, that quick flat route is the ideal pattern to throw against man coverage, especially with the safety starting from depth.
But the ball never comes out:
This, again, is a sack you can put on the quarterback. Jones had all the information he needed to make a snap decision as the play begins. Instead, he holds onto the football too long, invites pressure, and is taken down. I am usually not one for “screenshot scouting,” but this image does speak volumes:
New York would punt on fourth down.
Sack No. 3
Score: Arizona 17, New York 14
Ball on the Cardinals’ 37-Yard Line
7:33 Remaining Third Quarter
This next sack might be the most fascinating one of the afternoon, well, I guess unless you are a Giants fan. Midway through the third quarter the hosts have a chance to take the lead and face a second-and-8 in Arizona territory. They line up with Jones under center and Saquon Barkley (26) behind him in the backfield:
New York brings Golden Tate (15) in motion pre-snap and then they use play-action, showing an inside run to Barkley. But this is all eye candy for what they are trying to set up, which is a screen to their running back:
Two factors contribute to the sack on this play. First, Engram is tasked with pass blocking Chandler Jones (55) one-on-one here, which is a difficult task for a tight end. However, that would be fine if the ball comes out on schedule. Unfortunately, Barkley sells this perhaps a bit too well, and when Jones is looking to retreat and throw the screen pass, his running back is not ready for the ball:
Chandler Jones gets to the quarterback, strips the football and recovers the loose ball for a turnover.
So here, Barkley needs to get into this quicker. But also, Jones needs to do better with his internal clock here. It is much better to just turf this if Barkley is not in position than it is to hold onto the football with pressure bearing down on him.
Sack No. 4
Score: Arizona 24, New York 14
Ball on the Cardinals’ 25-Yard Line
2:18 Remaining Third Quarter
Deep into the third quarter we get our first “coverage sack” of the contest. Trailing by 10 the Giants face a second-and-11 on the Arizona 25-yard line. They line up with Jones in the shotgun and a tight bunch to the right, with a single receiver split to the left. The Cardinals show a soft Cover 4 look in the secondary:
On this play, Arizona does not bring pressure and instead the defense rushes just three. Here is how the Giants look to move the ball:
As this play progresses, the Cardinals have eight defenders dropping into coverage to take away what is in essence a three-receiver concept. The tight end and the running back both chip and release, so they do not get into their routes until late in the play. Jones simply has nowhere to go with the football:
Some might wonder if he should have thrown this post route to Tate in the middle of the field. I would characterize Jones’s decision here as a “good no-throw.” The backside cornerback is breaking on this route and if Jones does pull the trigger, there is a chance this pass gets intercepted. In this situation it is probably better to avoid the potential turnover. The quarterback senses the pressure bearing down on him and tries to tuck the football and pickup what he can, but Chandler Jones gets to him and brings him down for a sack.
Sack No. 5
Score: Arizona 24, New York 21
Ball on the Giants’ 38-Yard Line
3:54 Remaining Fourth Quarter
On the fifth sack of the game we see our first true protection breakdown. The Giants trail by just three, and have plenty of time remaining to go down and either tie this game or take the lead. Facing a first-and-10 in their own territory, they align with Jones in the shotgun and Barkley standing next to him.
During the pre-snap phase of a play, there is a lot that the quarterback needs to recognize and look for. One of those items on any pre-snap checklist is the “capped” defender. Look at the slot in the right. There is a defender in press coverage, but there is also a safety directly behind him, 12 or so yards off the ball. That is a red flag for a quarterback that a potential blitz is coming.
Indeed, that slot corner does blitz:
Now, Jones may have seen this and anticipated that the protection would hold. Barkley has pass blocking responsibilities here, and even with Arizona bringing a blitzer, they are still rushing only five. With the offensive line and Barkley in to protect, the Giants have the numbers advantage.
However, Chandler Jones is left unblocked:
It is unclear who makes the mistake here, but both Barkley and right tackle Mike Remmers (74) fan to the outside to pick up the blitz, and that leaves Chandler Jones free on the inside. It is hard to know exactly who was responsible for the defensive end on this play, but someone was. An educated guess points in the direction of the running back, who jumps inside and is in position to pick up the inside threat but then resets outside to try and handle the blitzing slot corner. Either way, Chandler Jones was not picked up with both Barkley and Remmers fanning to pickup the blitzer, and the quarterback goes down again. There might have been the smallest window for Jones to throw the slant route to the left here on this slant/flat concept, but he is expecting to have more time on this play and really does not have a chance.
Sack No. 6
Score: Arizona 24, New York 21
Ball on the Giants’ 33-Yard Line
2:35 Remaining Fourth Quarter
Following the previous sack the Giants offense fared little better on their next two plays. On second down Jones threw in the direction of Tate but the pass was broken up by safety Budda Baker. Facing a third-and-18, Pat Shurmur called for a running back draw play which gained just 3 yards, forcing New York into a fourth-and-15.
Before breaking down this next sack, it is necessary to look at the sequence from Shurmur. Given that it seems New York was in “four down” mode at this point in the game, running a draw was probably not the best decision. At this point in the game the Giants had two timeouts left and the two-minute warning. If they wanted to give themselves a reasonable shot at a fourth down conversion, they needed to be more aggressive on third down. If the pass fell incomplete, the clock would stop and you can still punt the ball away with all your timeouts and the two-minute warning left. But by running a draw -- and gaining only 3 yards — the subsequent decision to go for it on fourth-and-15 forces you to be more vertical in the passing game.
Therefore, you call a slower-developing play, with three deep curl routes at the sticks:
Arizona brings another blitz from the secondary here, sending Patrick Peterson (21) after Jones:
The quarterback does not see this coming and Peterson has a free shot at Jones, but even if the Jones sees this in time where can he go with the football? The only route truly open is Engram in the flat, but it is fourth-and-15. Jones needs to throw something more downfield than a flat route 15 yards short of the sticks. Barkley sees the blitz coming late and tries to get over to pick it up, but he cannot get there in time and Jones gets hit, turning the ball over in the process.
In terms of assigning blame for this sack, I think some has to be given to Shurmur and the sequence of events. Perhaps he thought Barkley could rip off a bigger run on that draw play, but I think the offense needed to be a bit more aggressive on third down to try and get into a much more manageable situation than fourth-and-15. Instead, when they decided to go on fourth down Jones was forced to be much more vertical in his thinking, and again he runs out of time.
Sack No. 7
Score: Arizona 27, New York 21
Ball on the Giants’ 23-Yard Line
1:38 Remaining Fourth Quarter
Despite being backed up when they took the field, the Giants’ defense manages to hold Arizona to just a field goal on the Cardinals’ ensuing possession. (Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but this further magnifies the decision by Shurmur on third down).
So the Giants trail by just six with one more chance to pull off something special. But Jones will get sacked two more times on their final possession. Arizona knows that the Giants are out of timeouts and thus need to put the football in the air, so they call on a sub package with Chandler Jones, Cassius Marsh (54) and Terrell Suggs (55) all in the game to do one thing: Rush the passer. On this first one, the Cardinals rush just four, but are still able to get home:
Here, Chandler Jones gets some pressure off the edge working against Nate Solder (76) while Marsh pushes right guard Kevin Zeitler (70) back into the quarterback’s lap. In response, Jones tries to escape but is eventually hit by a combination of Suggs and Chandler Jones, losing the ball in the process. Solder falls on the loose ball but now the Giants face a second-and-24.
Sack No. 8
Score: Arizona 27, New York 21
Ball on the Giants’ 9-Yard Line
1:05 Remaining Fourth Quarter
After a drop on second down by Barkley, the Giants face a third-and-24. There really are not many plays in the playbook for third-and-24 in your own territory late in the game, and we see the final sack of the game against another four-man rush:
Once more Chandler Jones gets pressure off the edge, forcing Jones to climb in the pocket immediately after hitting his drop depth. But he runs into Brooks Reed (50) who has driven Remmers back into the pocket and comes off the right tackle for the sack.
Looking back at these plays, you can conclude that there is plenty of blame to go around. Some of these sacks are on the shoulders of the rookie quarterback, who does need to do a better job of getting the ball out. Some can be blamed on miscommunication, such as the sack when Chandler Jones was left unblocked. Yes, there are a few plays where linemen were just beaten, but in large part those came late in the game when the defense knew what was coming, which is a tough position for the offensive line.
And yes, there is one that you could hang on the head coach.
How this gets fixed going forward is anyone’s guess. Ideally, the quarterback would be getting the ball out quicker as much as possible, and the offense would be staying somewhat on schedule, keeping New York out of must-pass situations. There is still time to get this right, but after a fantastic start to his career Jones has certainly come back to Earth a bit. Making matters worse is what seemed to be working in his favor — his performance against pressure in his debut vs. Tampa Bay — could now be looked at as a weakness. It is early, and development is not linear, but now we get to see how the young quarterback responds to some adversity.