How do we measure quarterback development?
Ultimately, whether 2020 is a success for the New York Giants or not might not come down to a win/loss record, but whether at the end of the season the organization believes that Daniel Jones is “the guy.” If he is, then he took a big step forward in 2020 and the front office can rest assured that quarterback is settled for the near-term, and focus on needs elsewhere.
If not, it might be time to head off a potential Trubisky Situation at the pass.
But how do we measure that development? This is a question I get asked about young quarterbacks, Jones included, often. Sure, it could be measured in production. If that’s what you’re looking for, skip the next 2900 words or so and you’ll get to some predictions.
Ultimately, however, it gets measured in growth. Remember, development is not linear, but what you want to see from Jones in 2020 is a better quarterback than what we saw in 2019.
One way to measure that? Look at mistakes he made on a somewhat consistent basis in 2019, and see if they are repeated as often in 2020.
To that end, here is a play from each of his 12 starts where I would like to see Jones be better. There are common themes in these, such as processing speed, decision-making and awareness. These are the situations I would like to see reduced, if not outright eliminated, in 2020. Then, I’ll be confident that Jones is indeed “the guy.”
Week 3 at Tampa Bay
We start with Jones’ first NFL start, and a curious play that highlights the hesitation that will be a common theme:
First off, I love this route design. This is a fascinating route concept. Using 12 personnel the Giants try an aggressive vertical concept, sending the boundary receiver on the left on a go route and having Evan Engram run an out-and-up along the same side of the field. This is also paired with orbit motion, with the other wide receiver releasing to the flat on a swing route. The goal? Show Tampa Bay a Sail concept and get the defender covering Engram to bite hard on the out, then let the tight end break vertically into space cleared out by the go route.
As you will see, a common theme for Jones in 2020 is the need to be faster. He gets sacked here, and yes the running back and the backside tight end need to do a much better job with their blocking responsibilities, but there is a window to throw the vertical route to Engram. Jones does not take advantage with an anticipation throw. Anticipation throws are something I’ll be looking for in 2020.
Week 4 vs. Washington
Coming off the high of his first professional start, Jones extended a winning streak for the Giants in a 24-3 victory over Washington. This game was marked perhaps by the benching of Case Keenum on the opposite sideline in favor of Dwayne Haskins, but for Jones he completed 23 of 31 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown.
He also threw two interceptions.
But believe it or not, this was the hardest game to find a decision or a throw of his that I would want him to change. Even the two interceptions were understandable, as both came more as a result of good plays from the defense than a mistake from the quarterback. In the end, I’ll go with this incompletion on a first-and-10 play early in the game:
The Giants run a packaged RPO on this play out of a Y-Iso alignment. Engram is the single receiver on the left, and Jones is reading the linebacker to that side. When he meshes with the running back, the linebacker squats in the hole in response to the run action. He does not crash down hard, but he does not exactly drop under the slant from the TE. Jones thinks he has enough room to squeeze in the slant, but it is nearly intercepted when the defender jumps the route.
What would I liked to have seen Jones do here?
Throw the packaged bubble screen to the right side.
Look at the play again. To the right the Giants have a potential bubble screen to the inside trips wide receiver. The numbers are in their favor here, provided that receiver beats his defender to the edge. This might have been the smarter play.
Week 5 vs. Minnesota
While he did some solid things in the Week 5 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, he also made some bad mistakes. The interception late in the game was something you can put on the rookie. Sure, you are trailing late and it is fourth down, but that does not mean that you can take everything you know about playing the position and throw it out the window. On this fourth-and-2 play you can be sure of exactly where the football is going from the moment Jones aligns in the shotgun, as his eyes take you right to his intended target:
Linebacker Anthony Barr (55) was sure of where the ball is going.
If Jones is going to throw this route, he needs to either get it out quicker or - more importantly - give Barr something else to think about. A glance at another receiver, a pump, anything to get the linebacker moving in another direction or hesitating. Staring this route down is, as they say, a rookie mistake. He cannot make mistakes like this in 2020.
Week 6 at New England
We skip ahead to the Thursday night contest against the New England Patriots, back when that defense was the most feared unit in the league. On this play the Giants face a first-and-10 in their own territory, and they turn to play-action. Jones fakes a handoff to his left on an outside zone look, and boots back to his right:
With the Patriots dropping into a Cover 2 look, that soft spot on the deep outside is where you want to attack. The problem is, cornerback Stephon Gilmore does a great job of showing Jones his back, telling the quarterback that he is going to carry the route deep. Only when Gilmore drops off the vertical route into the flat does the route come open. By then, Jones is running for his life.
Ultimately, this could simply be a great play by the defense. But Jones needs to be decisive here, as there is a chance for him to hit this vertical route along the sideline. If examining his processing speed and decision-making is crucial to how his 2020 season will be judged, then he needs to make throws like this.
Week 7 vs. Arizona
I probably have beaten this play to death by now, but it is so emblematic of how Jones needs to raise his level of play in 2020 that it gets included here once more. With the football on the Giants’ 32-yard line, the offense lines up with Jones alone in the backfield and three receivers to the right, and a slot formation to the left:
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.
Here is what the offense runs:
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:
This, again, is a sack you can put on the quarterback. 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. I am usually not one for “screenshot scouting,” but this image does speak volumes:
New York would punt on fourth down.
These are supposed to be “gimmies” for a quarterback. By your second year, you have to be making the gimmies.
Week 8 at Detroit
I still remember the week of practice leading up to the one and only game I started in college. We were facing Hamilton College and spent the week getting ready for their “zone blitz” scheme, which for a Division 3 backup quarterback sounded tantamount to facing the Steel Curtain or LT coming off the edge.
On one play in practice I got “sacked” - thankfully the coaches blew the whistle before I was obliterated by a backup defensive tackle - and while walking back to the huddle I casually flipped the ball to one of our running backs, taking him by surprise.
Our head coach lit into me after that moment. Screaming at me about how I needed to focus on taking care of the football, and not being sloppy. As a brash 20-year-old, I thought he was making something out of nothing.
But I get it now.
I though of that moment when I saw this play unfold last year:
The Lions bring a late blitzer in the form of Jarrad Davis, and nobody picks up the linebacker. As this is happening Jones is trying to throw the route concept to his left. When he finally sees the pressure coming, he makes a panicky throw in the direction of his check down route which is both off the mark, and behind him.
Therefore, when it is not caught, it is a live football. Devon Kennard returns it for a touchdown.
Jones in this moment reminds me of myself.
That is ... unacceptable. So no plays in 2020 that remind me of the worst backup quarterback in NESCAC history.
Week 9 vs. Dallas
In Week 9 Jones made his first start against the Dallas Cowboys, after appearing against them back in Week 1 in a mop-up role. He completed 26 of 41 passes for 210 yards, a touchdown and an interception, but was also sacked five times.
One of those sacks is yet another example of how he needs to get faster with his mind:
The Giants run a switch concept on the right, with the middle trips receiver breaking outside while the boundary WR cuts towards the middle of the field. Dallas overloads the right side of the offensive line, putting three defenders to that side of the formation. But then they loop the outside defender towards the interior, and that breaks the integrity of the pocket, leading to the sack. While you would hope the offensive line could recognize this stunt concept from the defense, but Jones again has a window to get the football out. He hesitates, and that leads to the sack.
To quote Captain John Major of Her Majesty's SAS: “You must never hesitate.”
Week 10 “at” New York
While decision-making and processing speed are areas to watch, there is another big one for Jones in 2020: Ball security.
Meaning plays like this cannot happen.
Early in the third quarter against the New York Jets 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:
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:
What would be good to see from Jones in 2020? If this play is just a sack at worst, not six points the other way.
Week 12 at Chicago
Yay it’s time for more of the horrific Soldier Field All-22 angle!
Despite the five-point loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 12, Jones played a relatively clean game. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 150 yards (amounting to a meager 4.17 yards per attempt, his lowest of the season) and a pair of touchdowns. But late in the third quarter the Giants missed a chance to extend a drive on a third-and-9:
The Giants run a double-dig concept on the left against a single-high pattern match coverage. Jones forces the inside dig route over the middle, trying to fit it in a narrow throwing lane between the strong safety and the underneath linebacker.
What he should have done was see the alignment of the downhill safety, know that he is going to break on the inside dig, and then throw to the outside dig as that receiver works into the area vacated by the safety when he breaks on the interior dig route. Instead, Jones puts himself in a position where he needs to make a perfect throw, and he cannot.
A better read here is what we are looking for in 2020.
Week 13 vs. Green Bay
One of the rookie quarterback’s most questionable reads and throws came in the Week 13 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Jones finished the day completing 20 of 37 passes for 24 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions, and one of those is worth diagramming out.
Early in the second quarter the Giants faced a third-and-10 near midfield, and called for a “sticks” concept, with all three receivers running curl routes right at the first down marker:
Given the down and distance, the Green Bay Packers call for Cover 2 Man Underneath, and their underneath defenders employ “trail” technique underneath:
Using this technique the defenders will stay below their receivers and try to force the quarterback to throw over them. This will require the quarterback to put more air underneath the football, and will give the safeties an opportunity to break on throws.
The other thing the quarterback can try and do is to simply throw the football through the underneath defender. Not that it is possible, given the laws of physics and all.
Let’s see what Jones tries:
Fewer attempts at throwing the football through people would be a good place to improve.
In terms of what Jones should have done here, his eyes should have worked the middle of the field, as that area is the soft spot of this coverage and the receiver running the inside curl does have space to operate. A quicker read and smarter decision is what we are looking for on this play.
Week 16 at Washington
By almost any way you examine the penultimate game of the season, Jones played his best game of year in Week 17 versus Washington. He completed 28 of 42 passes for 352 yards and five touchdowns - without an interception - and was only sacked one time.
But the beauty of this exercise is that it reminds us that even when a quarterback is at his best, he can still get better.
Take this incompletion in the direction of Golden Tate:
Jones is much too indecisive on this play. He opens to his right to peek at the slant/flat route, but with the slant route getting jammed off the line of scrimmage and the flat route running into the flat defender, Jones sees that route combination is covered, so he works quickly back to the left, where Tate is running a pivot route while the boundary receiver executes a double-move. Right when Jones brings his eyes to the left, the ball should be coming out to the pivot route. Instead, Jones hesitates, and that enables the boundary cornerback to peel off the double-move and break downhill on the pivot route from Tate.
Even at this point, Jones still has an out. With Washington playing a Cover 2 scheme here, Jones now has a window - even this late in the play - to throw the vertical route before the safety can arrive. Yet he waits too long, and forces a late throw to Tate which falls incomplete.
Jones has two different opportunities to make a quick - and correct - decision. He misses both chances.
Week 17 vs. Philadelphia
Jones and the Giants followed their impressive Week 16 performance with a bit of a flop in the season’s final game, losing 34-17 to the Philadelphia Eagles, who were playing for the division title. Jones completed 28 of 47 passes for a touchdown and an interception, and was also sacked four times.
On a fourth-and-4 play late in the third quarter, Jones was again slow and indecisive, and he missed a chance to keep the offense on the field:
The Giants run a double-in concept on the left, with the inside trips receiver running the bender route from left to right. Jones opens to the outside receiver’s quick in pattern, but he never pulls the trigger. There is a window, but what likely transpired is that Jones sees that the Eagles are dropping into zone coverage, and he is wary about leading the in route from the outside receiver into the underneath defender.
All the more reason to get the ball out immediately, while that window is open.
The bottom line
Okay, here’s where you will find what you’re looking for. Production predictions. But a final word of caution. Remember that again, development is not linear. Jones will have bumps along the way, even in Year 2. The main goal I want to see him achieve is that by the end of the season, we can be confident that he is a better quarterback than he was both in 2019, and that he showed early in 2020.
Now, the predictions.
BetMGM has two lines of note on Jones, both an Over/Under.
Passing Yards: 3,799.5
For both of these, I’m going to take the Over. Jones played in 13 games last year, and started 12. He threw for 3,027 yards in basically 12 games, so it isn’t a stretch to think if he makes the full 16, he’ll top that number.
As for the touchdowns, he threw 24 over those 12 games last year, and I think he’ll get above that 26.5.
Now as for interceptions, I’ll set an Over/Under of 15, and take the under. That might seem like a risky play, given the new offense - his third in three years - but I’m going to bet on him this year.
Then, the big one. Twenty fumbles. He had 18 a year ago, what would he do in a full 16-game slate?
I’ll bet on him again, and take the under.
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