Not all sacks are created equally.
Some sacks can be laid at the feet of the passer himself. Other can be attributed to the guys up front trying to protect him. Further still, many sacks require sharing the blame. Maybe the quarterback could have been faster with his reads, but even still the guys could have done better either getting open, protecting him, or even dialing up the right play.
Daniel Jones was sacked 38 times as a rookie, over 13 games, tying him for the ninth-most sacks among passers in 2019. He also put the football on the turf 18 times a season ago, so understanding how he was sacked is a critical component of how the New York Giants can look to improve in 2020. The only way to ascertain how these came to be is to study them.
So, here is Part 1 of the Daniel Jones Sack Study. Having examined each of these sacks, I then assigned blame as follows: 100 percent on the quarterback, 100 elsewhere elsewhere, or a “50/50” sack where Jones could have done something differently, but there were still issues around him that contributed in a significant manner to Jones hitting the deck. In this first installment, we’ll examine the sacks that I put on the quarterback himself.
The first sack we can lay at the feet of Jones himself comes during New York’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals, a game where the quarterback was taken down eight times. Midway through the first quarter the Giants have the football during their opening possession, and face a second-and-5.
In a matter of seconds it becomes third-and-long:
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. If you remember, 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.
Verdict: 100 percent on the quarterback. 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.
The second sack of Jones by Arizona is also a sack that can be graded as on the quarterback. Facing a third-and-3 early in the third quarter, the Giants give the quarterback a ton of information before the play. Prior to the pay, 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.
But here is what happens:
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. 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.
Normally I hate “screenshot scouting” but when it supports my position I’ll make an exception:
Gotta throw the flat route here on third-and-short.
We skip ahead to Week 5, a game at MetLife Stadium against the Minnesota Vikings. Jones was sacked four times in this contest, but only one of them could be attributed completely to him.
But it was a doozy.
Early in the third quarter the Giants trail 18-7, but face a first and goal at the Vikings’ 5-yard line. The offense lines up using 12 offensive personnel and with Jones under center. They run play-action on this play, showing the Minnesota defense an outside zone run before rolling Jones back to his right:
Jones needs to be smarter in this situation. Danielle Hunter (99) does not bite on the run action and after working through Engram he is in Jones’ face rather quickly. I understand that muscle memory takes over in a sense, as Jones tries to extend this play by showing Hunter a pump fake, but the edge rusher does not bite. A better decision would be to accept that this play is dead and throw this into the first row.
The situation would not improve for New York, as on the ensuing second-and-goal from the 15 they were flagged for an ineligible receiver downfield, putting them in a second-and-goal from the 20. An incompletion and a short completion later, the field goal unit was coming into the game.
Those three points would be the last New York scored that day.
Our next sack to study comes from Week 8, and a road loss to the Detroit Lions. Statistically, Jones had one of his better games of the season, as he completed 28 of 41 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns, but the Lions carried the day with a 31-26 victory.
Facing a second-and-20 - due to a sack on the previous play - the Giants need a big play. They trail by 12 midway through the fourth quarter. They do not get it:
Jones has some options here, pun intended. The Giants run a mirrored concept that looks to be “Gotti” to both sides of the field: Go/Option. Both boundary receivers release vertically while the slot receivers run option routes. They will sit down against zone, and break away from man coverage.
With the Lions in zone coverage, both slot receivers sit down. Jones opens to his left and despite the receiver finding a soft spot, he comes off that option route and works to his right. That receiver also sits down initially, but starts to drift outside as Jones waits to make a decision.
He runs out of time.
This might seem a bit harsh in terms of grading, but it is second down, and Jones has a chance on either option route to get some of the yardage lost on first down back. He hesitates, perhaps hoping one of the verticals comes open, and takes another sack.
This one stings.
In Week 10 the Giants squared off with their local rivals, playing the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. The game was billed as a battle of the two young quarterbacks, with Jones squaring off against a QB the Giants passed on a few years ago in Sam Darnold.
Early in the third quarter the Giants trail by one, and face a third-and-1 in their own territory. They decide to put the football in the air, dialing up an aggressive play-action vertical shot play:
However, Jones never gets the ball out, and Jamal Adams takes this the other way:
The Jets are aggressive as well, going with a Cover 1 blitz look. Jones needs to see this, see that each crossing route has leverage on the nearest defender and with the free safety stuck in the middle of the field, both crossers are open. Particularly the one working from right to left. Instead he freezes in the pocket, allowing the pressure to come to him. The safety rips the ball from his hands and turns what could have been a huge play for the Giants into six points the other way.
The last sack that I graded as completely on Jones comes from Week 16, and a loss to Washington. Facing a second-and-10 in the second quarter, the Giants have a 7-point lead. They dial up a dual passing concept, running Smash on the right and a spot concept to the left comprised of a spot route, a deep curl and a swing route.
Jones has options here as well, but he ends up on the ground:
So this might look as more of a “50/50” sack, but I’m putting the blame on the quarterback here. Jones seems to get caught up on focusing his attention on the curl route on the left, and when he sees the CB drive downhill on it, he pulls the football down. Which is the right decision, but since he is locked onto the curl, he misses two opportunities. First is the spot route over the middle, which is bracketed but there is space to complete the throw. Most notable, though, is the corner route on the right side. If Jones is quicker with his reads here, he’ll see the single-high coverage and knowing the corner route is working away from help, he’d work to the right and throw this route with anticipation.
In all, six of the 38 sacks laid at the feet of the rookie quarterback, as graded by me. Frankly, that is not too bad for a rookie quarterback that faced a ton of questions coming out of college. The problem, however, is that football mirrors life: There are many grey areas. As we move into the sacks that require spreading out the blame, we’ll see still some areas for Jones to improve.
Six down, 32 to go...