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Daniel Jones sack study, Part 3: Don’t blame the quarterback for these

Sometimes, a quarterback just runs out of options

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

We conclude the three-part Daniel Jones 2019 sack study with the last piece to the puzzle. So far we have covered sacks where the rookie quarterback deserved the blame for the takedown, as well as the sacks where the blame could be shared among the quarterback and either his offensive line, some of the running backs or even the coaches.

Now we wrap the series up with a look at the majority of the takedowns, plays where Jones really did not have a chance through no fault of his own.

Week 3

We begin with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game.

Sack 1

Our first sack to study in this installment comes midway through the third quarter. The Giants face a third-and-15, and need to try and get a bit vertical in the passing game. They run an aggressive vertical concepts, with a post and a wheel on the right, combined with a flat route and a dig route on the left.

Problem is, Jones simply runs out of time and has no options downfield:

Verdict: With Tampa Bay dropping into coverage here, there really are no windows for Jones to challenge. Yes, the wheel route comes open late in the play, but by that time Jones is flushing to his left and away from that route. Asking him to try and uncork a 50+ yard throw while sliding away from it, and under pressure, is asking for trouble. There is not much he can do here.

Sack 2

The fourth quarter opens with the Giants facing a third-and-15 in their own territory. Unfortunately, the playbook does not have many options for this situation, and the Giants roll with three curl routes at the sticks and a post route from the tight end out of a 2x2 formation:

Jones never has a chance. He uses a five-step drop from shotgun, and as he is hitting his final step he has pressure on him, forcing a quick climb in the pocket. But that is when the interior pressure gets to him, and the QB hits the deck.

Verdict: The combination of being behind the sticks, running a slower-developing play, and quick pressure is never a good thing for a quarterback to face.

Sack 3

Later in the fourth quarter the Giants trail by three, and face a second-and-9 near midfield. They try an aggressive vertical play here, with Jones looking to hit a post route deep against a Cover 4 coverage shell. It does not work:

The defense gets to him before the ball comes out, and the Giants are suddenly sending their defense onto the field.

Verdict: This one is close. If people want to assign Jones some of the blame here, I can understand that. This is a slow-developing play and the post route he wants to throw looks covered. But against this defense, if the safety squats - as he does on the curl - you want to take a shot on the post because that becomes a one-on-one situation, and usually the WR has an advantage to the inside. Jones even does a good job climbing the pocket here, which in my mind gives him a bit of credit. But the protection does not hold long enough for him to get the ball out. Again, this one is close, but I’ll grade Jones clean here.

Week 5

Sack 4

We spin forward to the Week 5 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. With time winding down in the first half the Giants trail by eleven and face a second-and-9.

Anytime a quarterback has to move before finishing his drop, bad things happen:

Minnesota brings pressure here, playing Cover 1 in the secondary and sending everyone else after Jones. In addition, they loop the tackles on the interior, and the inside looper has a free shot at the QB, before Jones even finishes his drop.

Verdict: Again, when you’re running for safety before finishing your drop, hard to pine the blame on you.

Sack 5

With time ticking away in the third quarter, the Giants face a big situation. They trail 25-10, and face a fourth-and-2 on the Vikings’ 3-yard line. They put the ball in the air, and Jones will be reading a Double China 7 concept, with two in-breaking routes from the outside and a corner route coming from the inside trips receiver.

He never gets a chance to read it:

Minnesota goes with pressure again, playing Cover 0 and and sending everyone else after the quarterback. Jones is again pressured before finishing his drop, and even if he wanted to get the ball out before then, the route concept has not developed yet.

Verdict: The only way you can put some blame on Jones here - in my opinion - is if you want him to simply loft this to the back corner of the end zone and hope that Golden Tate, who is running the corner route, somehow gets there. I’m not willing to go that far here.

Sack 6

Early in the fourth quarter the Giants are threatening again, facing a third-and-8 just outside the red zone. They need points here if they are going to get back into this contest.

They will not get points:

Everson Griffen gets to Jones quickly in the play, and the quarterback never has a chance to set up and throw.

Verdict: As a New England Patriots fan, I can tell you that Nate Solder has struggled against spin moves in the past. Griffen gets him here with a great spin move, and Solder is forced to try and chase the play. Not much Jones can do here.

Sack 7

Now we return to the Arizona Cardinals game, that featured eight sacks of the rookie quarterback. The first one of the game that cannot be put on the QB is, as some sacks are, a coverage sack. 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 before the snap. However, Arizona does not bring pressure and instead the defense rushes just three.

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 QB 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.

Verdict: Jones really has no options here. With the Cardinals dropping eight into coverage, there is nowhere to go with the football, and time simply runs out.

Sack 8

In the fourth quarter against the Cardinals the game is still close. 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 Saquon 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 here. 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 Cha. Jones unblocked on the inside. It is hard to know exactly who was responsible for the defensive end on this play, but someone was. Chandler Jones was not picked up with both Barkley and Remmers fanning to pickup the blitzer, and the QB 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.

Verdict: Jones simply has no chance here. He trusts that the protection against the blitz will hold, but a free rusher in his face leaves him with no escape route.

Sack 9

Fast forward to late in the game. 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 QB’s lap. In response Jones tries to escape but is eventually hit by a combination of Suggs and Cha. Jones and Suggs, losing the ball in the process. Solder falls on the loose ball but now the Giants face a second-and-24.

Verdict: Jones faces pressure both off the edge and in his lap. Confronted with that bit of double-trouble he does his best to try and escape, but there’s almost nothing he can do.

Sack 10

The final sack of the Cardinals game is again an example of a quarterback who simply does not have a chance on a given play. 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.

Verdict: When you have to move immediately after hitting your drop depth, there is not much you can do as a QB. Especially on third-and-24. On these final two sacks against Arizona. edge pressure coupled with interior pressure left the QB without an escape hatch.

Week 9

Spinning forward once again, we land the wheel of frustration on the Week 9 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Three sacks from that contest are necessary to include in this part of the study.

Sack 11

Our first sack to study from this game comes midway through the first quarter, and comes with the Giants trying to run a quick spacing concept:

The right tackle sets to the outside while Demarcus Lawrence cuts to the inside. Dallas also brings pressure off the edge, putting the RT in a bind. Both players get to the quarterback for the sack.

Verdict: If you want to put some blame here on Jones for not getting the ball out - as he does double-clutch - I would understand it. Normally on a three-step concept the ball has to come out right on that third step, and it does not here. The problem is, Jones is already feeling the pressure from two free rushers, so I’ll keep him clean on this example.

Sack 12

On the second of these sacks, the Giants face a third-and-7 early in the third quarter, with the football on the Cowboys’ 39-yard line. Before the play, the Dallas defense overloads the right side of the formation, which is something we have seen before. On this snap the main threat comes from the linebacker, who loops behind the trio of defenders.

Jones never has a chance:

The right tackle fans to the outside while the right guard rides the middle defensive lineman to the inside, mirroring what that defender does. That creates space for the linebacker, who gets a free rush at the quarterback.

Verdict: Someone needs to pick up this stunt/loop combination. We might be noticing the start of a theme here...

Sack 13

Late in the fourth quarter we see another example of Jones not even getting to finish his drop:

Again, there is a twist on the right side and the inside penetrator gets to Jones before he finishes his drop. The QB tries to bail to the right but he cannot escape.

Verdict: Something something loops and stunts something something...

Week 10

The loss to the New York Jets fives us three more examples of Jones hitting the deck without much he could have done to avoid the sack.

Sack 14

The first example comes midway through the first quarter. The Giants trail 7-0 and face a third-and-8 in their own territory. Jones wants to read a go/flat combination on the left, but he never gets the chance:

Jones is pressured off both edges, as Solder is beaten to the outside on the left and Barkley picks up a blitzer off the right side, but that defender eventually wriggles free. Jones is under duress before the route concept fully develops, and is hit and fumbles. The RB has the awareness to pounce on the loose ball.

Verdict: You’d like to see the protection hold a step longer on this design. Jones is under duress before the route concept comes together, and either he forces a throw in this situation or takes the sack. If you want to blame him for anything, it is the ball security in the pocket that as we know needs improvement.

Sack 15

Of all the sacks to grade, this one was the toughest for me. Let’s run it through and I’ll explain why I don’t put this on Jones at all, although at first glance I wanted to:

The Giants face a third-and-4 here late in the first half. They run mesh/sit on this play, with a pair of crossing route underneath and a sit route just over the top of them, right in the middle of the field. The Jets drop into zone coverage, and the read here for the quarterback is the sit route between the underneath zone defenders. Jones does not pull the trigger, and he hits the turf.

Verdict: Normally I want to see the QB throw this sit route with anticipation. However, on this example I’ll give Jones a pass for two reasons. First, the linebacker who ends up covering the crosser working from right to left drops under the sit route initially, so the coverage read is not as clean as it looks for the quarterback. Second, when that defender finally peels off the sit to work down to the crosser, the pressure is getting home. Maybe Jones should have read this cleaner, but given what played out in front of him, I cannot blame him for the hesitation.

Sack 16

Another subtle loop here gets to Jones on this third-and-12 from the fourth quarter:

The Jets show pressure here, putting six defenders on the line of scrimmage before the play. Only four comes after the quarterback, however. On the inside there is a twist, and the offensive line picks that up. However, left tackle Eric Smith is in a bind. The outside defender drops, and the defender inside is the one that comes. Smith gets beaten to the outside with a speed move, and Jones does not have a chance.

Week 12

Sack 17

The next sack to study comes from the Week 12 road loss to the Chicago Bears. Which means that it’s time for some poor Soldier Field All-22!

However, you do not need a perfect angle to see what happens here:

Facing a first-and-10 midway through the third quarter, Jones tries to work a vertical concept along the right side of the field. That is covered very well, and the quarterback wants to then work back to the left side of the field. He never gets a chance, as Khalil Mack beats the left tackle and gets to the quarterback, forcing a fumble.

Verdict: The verdict here? Mack is good. This is an impressive speed rush off the edge as well as tremendous ability to bend around the back of the pocket. There’s a reason the Bears gave up what they did to acquire him.

Week 17

Our final two sacks to study come from the season finale, a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. As long-time readers of my work know, I take an old-school approach. I take notes by hand, pen and paper style.

On both of these plays, I simply wrote “no chance.”

Sack 18

The first of these two plays comes on a third-and-11 early in the fourth quarter. The Giants trail, and have the football on their own 24-yard line. They look to push the ball downfield with three vertical routes on the right, and the outside vertical will cut slightly underneath them.

The problem? Philadelphia drops into a Tampa 2 coverage and every route is blanketed. Jones has nowhere to go with the ball:

Verdict: With nowhere to go with the football, there is not much the quarterback can do.

Sack 19

The last sack of the season comes in the fourth quarter of the Week 17 loss. Facing a first-and-10 the Giants put the football in the air and run a Levels concept on the right, with three dig routes of varying depths.

Jones, yet again, does not have a chance to pull the trigger:

New York runs Levels, and Jones reads this concept as follows: The underneath drag that comes across the formation first at the shallow level, then to the deep dig, and finally to the second shallow drag. As Jones reads this concept he sees that the first read is covered, so he brings his eyes to the deeper dig next. That route is bracketed by two defenders, so Jones wants to work to the third route, which is open. However, before he gets the chance to do so, he gets pressured and taken to the turf.

Verdict: Jones tries valiantly to get to his third read here, but by then the pocket breaks down. This can be a combination of good coverage in the secondary, and the lack of structural integrity to the pocket.

So, what have we learned Charlie Brown?

We’ve learned over the course of these three pieces that playing quarterback is hard, and protecting the quarterback is hard too. We’ve learned that yes, Jones needs to get faster with his reads, but also that the guys up front need to improve as well, particularly when it comes to handling stunts and twists up front.

Basically, we did not learn as much as we confirmed what we thought about the rookie quarterback and his offense. Everyone needs to get better.