In the National Football League, winning is king.
Moral victories do not count in the standings.
Getting close is still another loss.
There are no points for second place.
However, teams undergoing a rebuild around a rookie quarterback can take solace at least when there is improvement, and even when there are missed opportunities on the field. While the New York Giants fell to the Chicago Bears 19-14 on Sunday, there were moments when the Giants’ offense - and rookie quarterback Daniel Jones - were so close to cashing in on some opportunities downfield.
Take, for example, this third down throw from the first quarter, presented in splendid Soldier Field All-22. (Some of you probably see members of the football media world griping about this camera angle every week during the season. Well, we clearly have our reasons):
This is a missed opportunity where the rookie quarterback did everything right.
The Giants run “Mesh Sit” with a running back wheel route to Saquon Barkley out of the backfield. Before the snap the offense sends a receiver in motion across the formation, and the defense responds by rotating their safeties, an indication to the quarterback that the Bears are in man coverage.
The reads on this play for Jones are pretty straight-forward. He will peek that wheel route first from the running back, which could be in play due to the man coverage. If that is covered well, he will work the mesh underneath, and finally the sit route over the top of the crossers.
Jones makes the correct read and makes a perfect throw which should convert this first down, but Barkley drops the ball.
Later in the first quarter the Giants call for a “Peel” concept, with a post route paired with a wheel/out-and-up out of a trips alignment on the left:
Jones needs to confirm the coverage post-snap and make sure there is a window to hit Sterling Shepard (87) on this vertical route. Now he has information pre-snap, as a cornerback trails Shepard across the formation when the receiver goes in motion. Provided the deep defenders bracket the post route in the middle of the field, that should create space for Shepard’s vertical move if he wins on the route.
Watch the anticipation here, as Jones reads this play perfectly:
The quarterback spots that Shepard spins the man coverage defender into a pretzel, and just as the wide receiver is making his break upfield Jones pulls the trigger. The only thing that seemingly prevents this from being a huge play is that as Shepard cuts vertically, his legs get tangled with the defender. As he focuses on maintaining his balance, the pass falls harmlessly incomplete to the Soldier Field turf.
Another quick, smart decision, but another play that goes in the box score as an incompletion.
This is probably a good moment to point out that Jones finished the day completing 21 of 36 passes, for a completion percentage of just 58 percent. Not ideal for a passer in today’s NFL. But that is why sometimes it pays to go deeper. These two plays are examples of the quarterback doing everything right, but the play going for an incompletion and a mark against the QB. To drive this point home, according to Pro Football Focus, Jones’s “adjusted completion percentage” for the Bears game - which accounts for dropped passes, throw aways, spiked balls, batted passes and passes where the quarterback was hit during the delivery - was 73.5 percent. That is an increase of 15 percentage points, and had Jones finished the day with a completion percentage in that neighborhood narratives might be different this week.
This next play, however, we can lay some blame at the quarterback’s feet.
Facing a third-and-7 early in the third quarter, the Giants empty the backfield and put three receivers in a trips formation on the left. They call “Double In” or “Double China-7” to the left, with the two outside receivers running in-cuts, while the inside trips receiver runs a corner route:
Look for a moment at the alignment of the safeties. Unless something changes after the snap, the Bears have declared their Cover 1 Robber coverage with Eddie Jackson (39) - shaded in red - down in the middle of the field as a robber and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) deep and shaded to the slot side of the formation, and away from the route concept to the trips.
If things stay this way, Jones will have a perfect opportunity to throw that corner route without any safety help over the top. There is no way Clinton-Dix can make it back to that side of the field and help on the 7 route. If Jones confirms that the Bears stay in this coverage (and do not rotate to a Cover 2 look at the snap, for example), this route will be open.
Things stay the same. The corner route is open for Jones to drop a throw in over the top. Instead, he throws an in-cut to Golden Tate (15) and Jackson, the robber safety, helps on the tackle short of the sticks:
This is a missed opportunity that I would put on the QB.
In sum, however, Jones played better than the box score would indicate. Of course his most memorable play of the game was the touchdown strike to Tate, where the rookie did a very good job of climbing the pocket in the face of pressure and making a big time throw in a clutch moment. But the missed opportunities earlier in the game were just too much for New York to overcome. While that might not count in the standings, if the bigger goal is to get your young quarterback trending upward, games like Sunday’s are still steps in the right direction.