Times sure are bleak around Big Blue. All-purpose running back Saquon Barkley is gone for the season with a torn ACL, the team faces an 0-2 hole to start the season, and second-year quarterback Daniel Jones seems to be back to his turnover-prone ways, with a disastrous interception in Week 1 down near the goal line and another lost fumble in a Week 2 loss to the Chicago Bears.
Now I’m here to tell you why all is not lost.
Sure, Jones has made his mistakes, and we are about to work through a few of them from Week 2 in this progress report. But there are also signs of growth and development, and there is a way to keep pushing him forward as a quarterback if you are Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
First, however, the bad news.
We have to deal with Soldier Field All-22 this week.
Oh you meant Jones. Okay, now the bad news to work through on that account.
We start with the fumble:
On this third down situation the Giants align in an empty formation and run a follow concept, and Jones has a pair of shallow crossing routes to choose from. The first comes from Sterling Shepard, and then Golden Tate “follows” him across the formation.
There is a window here - a small one - for Jones to hit Shepard on that first crossing route working left to right. Now, Jones pulls the ball down, likely because he sees the safety dropping down in a robber technique from the backside. He’s worried about throwing Shepard into harm. A noble decision that is exacerbated by his hesitation. If Jones reads this faster, he can take advantage of the window, hit Shepard early enough so that the receiver can gather himself and prepare for contact. By waiting as he does, he makes the situation worse.
So Jones pulls the ball down and brings his eyes to Tate on the second crosser. The coverage is tighter on his second option, and Jones pulls the football down once more. By then he has run out of time.
I joined our fearless leader on the “Valentine’s Views” podcast Tuesday and discussed this fumble. Playing quarterback is an examination, but it is not a take-home test. It is timed, and the clock is ticking. You can say that Jones got to the right answer here by not throwing to Shepard, because of that safety, but that is only in part because of his initial hesitation. As we have been stressing for more than a year now, he has to get faster with his mind.
Sometimes even good results are an example of slow process:
This is a play-action design often called “both runback,” with a pair of curl routes on each side of the field. Jones comes out of the fake and has his choice. Both of these routes are open against this Cover 3 scheme. Each cornerback has to respect the vertical route - since they lack help over the top - so they give cushions to the curl routes. Jones opens right and has a window to throw that curl, but pulls it down, comes left, and hits the curl on the other side of the field. After using three hitch steps to get the ball out.
Again, he gets to the right answer, but this is not a take-home examination.
Let’s turn to the good news.
Those moments where Jones was actually more decisive on Sunday. Because we saw a few of those. Remember the discussion last week about dig routes and why they might matter against the Bears’ zone coverage schemes?
Jones throws this backside dig route against a Cover 3 look, in front of the safeties and behind the underneath defenders. This is his first read and he is much more decisive. Jones hits his drop depth, takes one hitch, and the ball is out.
Here is another throw on an in-breaking route where he trusts his first read and lets it fly:
Play-action fake, back to the defense, but Jones comes up firing after hitting his drop depth.
When he trusts his eyes - and trusts that his first read is open - he is at his best.
I know what you are probably thinking: So how can we continue to design plays where that first read is open? Especially without the threat of Barkley on the field.
Well, it might be easier than you think:
This is a play-action design out of 22 offensive personnel with Wayne Gallman in the game. After faking to Gallman, Jones really has just one route to choose from, the curl to Darius Slayton (Gallman does leak to the flat late in the play).
Yet, this route is wide open. The run fake - to Gallman - gets the second level defenders to bite down. The cornerback and the safety over Slayton stay deep and respect the vertical route. Jones has one true option here, Slayton, and he is wide open.
It can be done.