Daniel Jones: The Debut
The Era of Unbridled Optimism is upon us.
After a tumultuous draft season that saw the New York Giants turn some heads by selecting Daniel Jones with the sixth overall selection, Jones finally got a chance to take the field under the bright lights of an NFL stage on Thursday night. Much was made of the decision to select the Duke University product that early in the draft, including some questions raised by yours truly. But on his opening drive as an NFL player, Jones for one night pushed back the storm clouds that were hanging over this franchise.
Jones completed his first five throws, finishing his opening drive five of five for 67 yards and a beautiful touchdown throw to Bennie Fowler for a touchdown, capping off a great series of plays. Let’s look at each of those throws, and bask in the warm glow of potential.
Giants’ 21-Yard Line
Pat Shurmur wasted no time in getting Jones into a throwing rhythm. When the rookie took over the offense midway through the first quarter, he was immediately put into a shotgun formation to run a quick switch concept to the right, with Cody Latimer (12) working inside on an in-cut, while Golden Tate (15) ran an out route from the slot:
Before the play, Jones sees single-high coverage in the secondary with the defender over Latimer playing about nine yards off the line of scrimmage. Seeing this, Jones knows that the combination of cushion and concept will create traffic, making it difficult for the defender covering Latimer to stick with him on this route. This is apparent from the anticipation Jones shows making this throw:
Jones hits the third step in his drop from shotgun and immediately starts to pull the trigger, just as Latimer gets into his cut. This erases any chance the defender has of making a play on this throw. Jones delvers a strong, accurate throw for a decent gain on first down:
Anticipation is such a great thing to see from a young quarterback, because it is an indication that the game is not too fast for him at the moment. While Jones can be confident on this play given the route concept and the alignment, it is still a very positive sign.
Giants’ 35-Yard Line
Before the contest kicked off on the NFL Network, David Carr and the rest of the NFLN pregame crew were talking about some of the “X Factors” Jones could bring to the Giants’ offense. His athleticism and ability to execute on run/pass option designs were mentioned, and we saw that on his second completion of the night, this slant to Tate:
Similar to the previous play, looking at the pre-snap alignment you can see how Jones makes this confident decision here to pull and throw. The slot defender over Tate is playing him using outside leverage, and the linebacker is shaded to the inside a tick, giving Jones a nice throwing land on this inside slant route. All Jones needs to do is quickly check that throwing lane post-snap to confirm that the LB or another defender has not jumped the route, and if all is clear, pull the trigger.
With the throwing lane clear, Jones makes the snap throw:
Again, Jones places this throw with great velocity and placement, giving Tate a chance to pick up additional yardage after the catch.
Giants’ 45-Yard Line
After two passing plays out of 11 offensive personnel and a shotgun formation, the Giants line up for this next play with Jones under center using 21 offensive personnel, in an offset I-formation behind the quarterback. This gets the New York Jets to play a base 3-4 defensive package, and they crowd the box by bringing the strong safety down over tight end Rhett Ellison (85):
The Giants call a seven-man protection scheme working off play-action on this snap, with Tate releasing vertically and Latimer running a crossing route:
What stands out here on this play is three-fold: First, the protection that Jones gets on this snap. The Jets’ bring only four rushers, but the run action in the backfield sucks down both the strong safety and strong outside linebacker, who have to try and retreat into coverage once they realize that the Giants are throwing the football. But what also stands out is the patience from Jones. This route from Latimer takes some time to develop, but he does not rush the throw, giving his receiver time to work across the formation. The final thing to notice is his eyes. The Jets are in a zone coverage scheme here, and for this route to be successful the backside cornerback needs to believe that the swing route to the running back is a threat. While that player will not crash down to cover him given that he is behind the line of scrimmage, Jones needs to freeze him somewhat, which he does:
By looking at the cornerback for a second, Jones freezes him in the flat and does not give him a chance to break under the crossing route. That frees up enough room to hit Latimer on the crosser:
The more you watch this throw, the more impressive the execution becomes.
Jets’ 20-Yard Line
So far, Jones is three for three passing but each throw has come on a favorable, first and 10 situation. Now Jones faces his first third down as a professional. Here he sees a more exotic look pre-snap from the Jets, as they stand up some potential blitzers on the left side of the offensive line, and show a pressure look:
Once more, however, Jones is able to make a smart decision based on what he sees before the play. Looking at the defense you can see press coverage over the slot formation on the left, but over Fowler on the right, the defender is giving the Giants’ wide receiver around seven yards of cushion. On third and seven.
Fowler runs an out route right at the sticks, and Jones hits him in stride:
Watch this play again and pay particular attention to his feet on the drop. Jones anticipates the blitz, which does come, and as such he speeds up his drop, cutting the steps a bit short on each stride as he looks to get the ball out quickly. This enables him to get the ball out on time, in rhythm and in line with Fowler’s break. That, and the precision placement, allows the Giants to convert the third down.
Jets’ 12-Yard Line
This would be Jones’ final throw of the night - thanks to a weather delay - and it was quite the way to end things.
Before we break down the connection between Jones and Fowler we should revisit a throw from last season. A week ago we broke down five throws from Eli Manning’s 2018 campaign that might cause some concern. One of them was this throw on a Flat-7 Smash concept in the red zone against the Dallas Cowboys:
Manning tries to squeeze this in behind the cornerback and away from the safety, but he leaves enough air under it so the CB can complete the process of condensing the throwing window and make the interception.
Here, the Giants run a mirrored Flat-7 Smash concept against the same coverage Eli faced on this a year ago, Red 2:
Jones gets the benefit of the cornerback staying closer to the line of scrimmage, so he has a bigger throwing window. But he uses more velocity on this throw to Fowler, and puts this pass in an absolutely beautiful spot:
Let the optimism wash over you.
The game would be delayed and when action resumed, Jones would be done for the night. But it was a night that Giants fans were perhaps waiting for since April, if not longer. On this one night in August, on this one series of the first preseason game, the rookie quarterback looked more like the savior this franchise was looking for, and not the questionable draft pick many considered him to be. Again, it is early, there is a lot of preseason football - let alone regular season football - to be played. But given that it is August, and given the past few months, bask in the glow of that optimism Giants fans. Let it wash over you for at least one week.