Back in July of 2018 I made my debut on the hallowed pages of Big Blue View. In my first piece for the site I made the case for Eli Manning in an article titled “Five Throws,” where I examined five passes from his 2017-2018 season that could give one hope about his year to come.
As the curtain draws near on my second season writing about quarterbacks for BBV, it makes sense to revisit that format.
On Sunday afternoon, in the season’s penultimate game, rookie quarterback Daniel Jones returned to the lineup after suffering an ankle injury. That setback forced Jones to the bench, giving Manning a chance for a curtain call of his own. But in a season focused on the development of the rookie, it was time to see what, if anything, Jones learned during his time away from the huddle.
He came back with a vengeance, throwing five touchdowns in an overtime victory over Washington. A look at each touchdown toss gives us a chance to highlight some of the traits Jones has flashed this season.
Touchdown No. 1 - Manipulation
Jones opened the scoring down in Landover with a touchdown strike on a vertical route to Sterling Shepard. Facing a second-and-9 on the Washington 23-yard line, the New York Giants lined up with three receivers to the left and a nub trips look to the right. Washington responded with a two-deep safety look:
The Giants run a fake screen here, with Shepard (87) releasing vertically out of the middle of the trips alignment:
Washington sends pressure, blitzing the slot cornerback. But the defense drops into a Cover 2 coverage on this play. Jones needs to hold the outside cornerback down near the line of scrimmage to prevent him from sinking under Shepard’s vertical release. He does that with his eyes and a little bit of a pump fake:
That causes the cornerback to bite on the fake screen, giving Shepard space in the “turkey hole” of this coverage. Jones drops in a throw that arrives before the rotating safety, and the visitors are on the board early.
Touchdown No. 2 - Recognition
The rookie’s second touchdown throw of the game came early in the second quarter, when he hit a streaking Saquon Barkley (26) out of the backfield on a seam route for a touchdown. This play is a perfect example of a couple of different football maxims. First, when you involve your running back in the downfield passing game you create problems for the defense. Second, when you create problems for the defense, an aware quarterback can exploit those mistakes.
The Giants align with Jones in the shotgun and Barkley standing to his left, in a 2x2 formation:
Essentially, the offense runs four verticals out of this alignment, with a receiver running a shallow underneath:
Barkley is left wide open out of the backfield, as the Washington defense busts:
To provide readers a window into just how nerdy #SchemeTwitter can be, immediately after this play my DMs were filled with coaches and writers alike trying to figure out how the Washington secondary busts on this play. General consensus seems to be that the linebackers are put in a difficult spot here, as either Montez Sweat (90) or Jon Bostic (53) needs to carry Barkley up the seam on this route. Either way, Jones spots the mistake and exploits it, hitting Barkley in stride for six.
And Giants fans, who have been clamoring for Barkley to get involved in the downfield passing game more, take note.
However, we should not gloss over Jones’s pocket movement on this play. He faces some interior pressure, as well as edge pressure off the left side, but does a great job of sliding away from duress - while keeping his eyes trained downfield on Barkley - enabling him to make this throw:
Touchdown No. 3 - Timing
Coming out of Duke University, timing and rhythm were not traits commonly associated with Jones. We have traveled down this road together before, outlining the scheme Jones ran for the Blue Devils and how that might impact his development in the NFL. But on his third touchdown of the afternoon, this short strike to Cody Latimer (12), we see evidence of growth in this area:
Latimer runs an under route on this play, breaking to the outside before pivoting and slicing back underneath the defense. Washington is in an inverted Cover 2 here, and as Latimer cuts underneath he loses the defender in coverage. Jones, for his part, executes a crisp three-step drop from his shotgun alignment, hitches once in the pocket, and gets the ball out. Any delay here from the quarterback and either the cornerback in coverage, or the underneath linebacker, has a chance to break on Latimer’s position. Instead, the timing and rhythm from the quarterback lead to the third touchdown for Jones on the day.
Touchdown No. 4 - Velocity
While timing and rhythm throws might not have been a club Jones had in his bag coming out of college, there was evidence that he could dial up velocity when the situation required. This was further illustrated on that magical night against the New York Jets, when Jones started his NFL career back in the preseason by going 5 of 5 on a touchdown drive, capped off with a beautiful throw into the back corner of the end zone with velocity and precision:
On his fourth touchdown against Washington, Jones hits Kaden Smith (82) in the back of the end zone, ripping in another corner route with velocity between the nearest defenders:
Now granted, this was not the toughest throw in the world. But the velocity is a box that Jones checks on this TD.
Touchdown No. 2 - Placement
The game-winner, again to Smith, was a much tougher throw.
Facing third-and-goal on the opening possession of overtime, the Giants were three yards away from victory. Jones was able to hit Smith on this shallow crossing route from a crowded pocket to send Washington fans (those who were left) home saddened:
As you watch this play on the end zone angle, pay attention to three things. First, Washington brings pressure on this play. Second, Jones handles the pressure extremely well, even dropping the arm angle to make sure this throw gets home. Finally, look at the placement here, leading Smith away from the defender in coverage:
With a job well-done, it was time to get back to Hoboken and play a little flip cup…
Jones now gets a chance to be the ultimate spoiler, as he and the Giants can keep the Philadelphia Eagles home from the playoffs with an upset win this weekend. Ending his rookie year with successive wins over divisional foes - including one fighting for their playoff lives - would be quite the sendoff into what Giants fans hope will be a huge sophomore season for him.
Finally, as this is likely my last piece before the holidays, I wanted to wish all the readers a wonderful holiday season and all the best in the year ahead. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for letting this filthy Patriots fan into your lives a few minutes each week. I appreciate each and every one of you.