FILM ROOM | A Closer Look at Daniel Jones' Deep Passing Ability (Part 1)
Giants’ general manager Dave Gettleman fell “in full bloom love” with the replacement for Eli Manning at the 2019 Reese’s Senior Bowl. Big Blue possessed the 6th and 17th overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft, and Gettleman did not want to delay the selection.
He added Daniel Jones, a quarterback out of Duke that was surrounded with little talent at the collegiate level. The selection of Jones at No. 6 was much maligned by big draft media, and many pundits chastised Gettleman.
Sadly for Jones, he would be joining a team that was far from being ready to compete and would see their head coach fired by season's end.
But it didn't stop there. While critics were justified in their concern over Jones' ball security issues, there has been some question as raised by Pro Football Focus, about Jones' deep-ball accuracy.
Pat Shurmur’s West Coast-based offense revolved around the quick game and was centralized by rhythm, timing, and cohesiveness with the receiving options, which is how Shurmur was able to get the most out of the careers of Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, and Colt McCoy.
So with the Giants having replaced Shurmur, who doubled as the team's offensive play-caller and primary architect of the system with longtime Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett, the Giants and Jones are in for a change.
Garrett, who’s offense derives from an Air Coryell system, is presumably going to look to push the ball downfield a bit more. The system's terminology will be different, as will some concepts, but the offenses will still possess high low reads and other foundational principles to manipulating defenders.
Is Jones' Deep Ball Accuracy a Concern for What Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett Might Be Planning?
In his rookie season, according to Pro Football Focus, Jones ranked 24th (out of 32 quarterbacks) in deep passing, based on a 29.6% completion percentage, 9.2 yards per attempt, and a 74.2 passer rating.
Jones ranked just ahead of the Colts’ Jacoby Brissett and behind the Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky in adjusted completion percentage. 11.8 of his total passes were deemed “deep passes,” a pass that travels 20 yards in the air.
Jones had 54 deep attempts, with 16 completions and three drops (adjusted completion percentage of 35%), and he threw for 498 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
In the system run last year by Kellen Moore in Dallas (under Garrett), Dak Prescott attempted 76 deep passes, with 35 completions, and five drops (52.6% adjusted), for 1,157 yards, 11 touchdowns, and five interceptions.
Is Dak Prescott a better quarterback than Daniel Jones right now? Yes, but other factors must be discussed.
Jones ranked near the bottom of the league in percentage of dropbacks kept clean; despite that fact, he was still able to have a better-adjusted completion percentage when not under pressure on all types of throws than Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford, and Baker Mayfield.
Jones also tied Jared Goff to absorb the quarterback hits in the league at the time of the throw. While some of these throws can be attributed to Jones holding onto the ball too long, others have to lay at the feet of an offensive line that struggled all season.
In fact, out of all the lineman in the NFL, the Giants had three in the top 50 of pressures allowed.
With that said, Jones can work on his ability to get the ball out of his hand quicker.
Jones ranked in the top 10 of average time in the pocket (among qualifying quarterbacks), and 35 of his sacks happened when he held onto the football more than 2.5 seconds and only 5 when he held it for less than that number.
(That sounds obvious, but quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan were sacked 12 times with less than 2.5 seconds in the pocket.)
Jones ranked 11th in the league with 30 pressures allowed, which is essentially credited to the quarterback for either trying to extend the play or just holding onto the football too long.
One reason this materialized was because of the ineffective nature of an offensive line that was being out coached and out schemed, along with a running game that could never establish dominance.
Football’s a team sport, and Jones was put into a lot of 3rd-and-long situations due, in large part, to questionable play calling.
The inside zone that Pat Shurmur loves, almost to a fault, never clicked with the offensive line, and the Giants could never establish a credible run game.
The complement of receivers that the Giants had was never all on the field at the same time. Jones was in a tough spot all season with the New York Giants, but he rose to the occasion several times.
As a deep pass thrower, he had his ups and downs, so let's take a look at some of these great throws, along with some things that Jones must work on:
This play in Jones’ first start against the Buccaneers shows many positive traits about throwing deep. He opens up with a deep play-action fake to the open side of the formation, with two tight ends to the strength.
Once Jones hits his back foot, Carl Nassib (No. 94) has beaten the tight end and fullback on their blocking attempts.
Jones has to keep his eyes downfield on the coverage, open his hips, flow to the weak side, reset his feet, square his shoulders, and throw to a spot where Darius Slayton runs underneath the ball and away from coverage for a catch.
It’s a beautiful pass by Jones, and he takes a hit from the weak side rusher at the end of it. Jones has a knack for attempting to extend plays and buy time for his receivers to get open.
The Giants come out in a single back look, play-action, five-step drop, with two horizontal crossers. Jones doesn’t see the success against the Eagles’ single-high look, so he buys time as Rasual Douglas (No. 32) transitions off his initial assignment to a crossing Tate in the middle of the field.
Jones flows away from pressure, buys time, keeps his shoulders square, and puts a ball on the outside portion of Tate, away from Douglas’ coverage, while falling backward.
This is another good throw while moving laterally, and Jones is no stranger to throwing on the run. He’s athletic enough and does a solid job repositioning his body to maximize throws.
Out of the shotgun from the far hash, Jones takes the snap, and it’s a move the pocket, rollout, play to the closed side with a tight stack.
The toughness on display here by Jones is indicative of a true NFL franchise quarterback; he knows he’s going to take a huge hit, but he still gives Golden Tate time to accelerate into the open.
Jones puts a beautiful pass, off-platform, to the back pylon, but it’s just out of reach of Tate. This is no fault of Jones; Tate slowed his acceleration down and then sped up once he saw Jones release the ball. If Tate went 100% throughout this rep, it would have been a six for the Giants.
Speaking of toughness and solid deep ball accuracy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this gem of a play that contains both these traits.
Giants are in shotgun, and the Eagles rotate their safety down upon the Giants’ motion. The look remains the same, single-high man coverage.
The Giants run a deep crosser from the boundary, with a pivoting route in the middle of the field from the field side, it’s essentially a two-man route combination.
Jones’ is facing a five-man pressure package, and he does a solid job stepping into the pocket; what he also does well is show patience to allow Darius Slayton to uncover from his long-developing deep cross.
With a defender unblocked barreling towards him, Jones releases a very nice pass in between the sideline and the numbers, outside of the reach of both defenders that Slayton beat on the route.
Jones takes a huge shot and throws a great pass, away from coverage, to Slayton for 34 yards. The toughness, patience, and accuracy on this rep are very encouraging.
Jones also did a solid job trusting his receivers and throwing against man coverage as the season progressed.
On a 1st-and-10 just outside the red zone, the Giants come out in an empty set (3x2). The route combinations are a mirrored hitch seams with a crosser from the No. 3 receiver.
This is a common tactic to defeat Cover-3, which is what the Lions were showing. The Lions ran man coverage against the No. 1 and No. 2. The No. 2 receiver (Darius Slayton) is lined up inside the numbers by about four yards. This gives his seam route plenty of space to operate towards the sideline if the outside defender sits.
Jones sees this and knows Slayton’s defender has inside leverage, so a back-shoulder high throw could be one that Slayton could win. Slayton does an excellent job of timing his jump and using his body to shield himself against the defender.
There’s a lot of cohesion with this type of play, as it was based on leverage and what that most-outside defender was going to do.
If you look on the other side of the field, the outermost defender drops, leaving the quick hitch wide open. If that were the case, Jones would have dumped the ball off for a short gain to Elijah Penny No. 39.
Jones sees the coverage and goes for six, with a nice pass to a young budding receiver, all with a defender beating Will Hernandez and getting into Jones' face. This kind of trust became commonplace for Jones and his fellow rookie receiver.
This play shows a similar concept to the hitch seam, only it’s not mirrored on the backside.
New England has seven men in the box with one single-high safety to the boundary, taking away the vertical game and any deep inside breaking routes from the backside receiver.
This leaves the front side of the 2x1 set in straight man to man coverage. Stephon Gilmore is on the boundary receiver, Slayton, and Duron Harmon (No. 21) is on Golden Tate in the slot.
Slayton runs a deeper curl, with Tate releasing outside from a minus-5 split. Tate wins at the line of scrimmage and establishes leverage on Harmon, so Tate has a lot of space between himself and the sideline when Slayton breaks his route off.
The coverage by Harmon was incredibly tight, but Tate had a step. With a clean pocket from the far hash, Jones leads Tate into the open with touch. He puts the pass high and in front of Tate, exactly where the pass needed to be.
This was the first touchdown pass the Patriots surrendered at home in 2019, and it was a beauty of a pass thrown by Jones.
In this clip, the Lions show pressure and bail, while sending four with a tackle-end stunt to the open side of the formation. Lions are in Cover 1, a single high defense.
As Jones usually does, he looks the opposite way that he throws through his drop, and once he hits his back foot, he looks towards Slayton, who should have leverage since the safety is now occupied.
Against man coverage, and from the middle of the field, Jones fires a high pass towards Slayton, who has his defender by a step.
Jones maybe could have put this ball a bit more outside, with a little more strength, but the placement is still solid, especially due to Slayton’s playmaking ability; he climbs the ladder, high points the pass, and secures it through traffic.
We see a very similar type of play, with a better pass, in my opinion, against a superior defender.
Like the Lions, the Patriots run a ton of man coverage, single high, looks; this is a variation of that, with Stephan Gilmore locked up against Darius Slayton outside.
The Patriots show blitz pre-snap and bail to a standard four-man rush package. Both Devin McCourty #32 and Duron Harmon bail from their blitz look to middle-of-the-field coverage. Jones reads the coverage, scans the field, and puts a beautiful high pass to Slayton, outside of Gilmore.
This allows Slayton to climb the ladder, high point, and secure the catch, just like he’d do two weeks later against Detroit, but Gilmore’s one of the best corners in the league.
He punched the ball out of the catch point, forcing an incompletion, but it was a very good throw by Jones.
Above, we see Jones trust Slayton again on a one vs. one matchup against Xavier Rhodes, No. 29. This is a very nice deep pass from the far hash to the numbers (in the endzone).
Jones puts good velocity on the ball, with very nice placement over the top of the single high safety and Rhodes. Slayton does an excellent job beating Rhodes off his stem, winning the outside, and then successfully stacking on top of Rhodes.
The protection and route are excellent, and Jones puts a very catchable pass out there for Slayton, a pass that virtually ensures that the defense cannot make a play on the ball.
One of my favorite throws from Jones was this throw above against the Packers. On a 1st-and-10, the Giants come out in an empty 3x2 set in the frigid cold. Kevin King does a solid job riding Slayton up his stem and forcing him off the redline and towards the sidelines, albeit was called illegal contact.
With a single high safety coming downhill fast, Jones puts a perfect pass high and outside, away from King’s coverage, and underneath the safety. This is a beautiful pass, in a tight window, from Jones. Too bad, this play was offset by penalties (illegal formation for the Giants).
Throughout the year, Jones struggled reading certain zone coverages, especially when it came to the spacing of safeties relative to the distance of the route and his arm strength.
We’ve seen him throw several interceptions by his misjudgment of a safety's ability to make a play on his pass. We’ve also seen him do better as the year progressed in this area too.
This is a variation of Cover 1, that turned into Cover 3, due to the “Under Call” that was likely given by the cornerback assigned to the stack.
The Giants have a stack in minus splits of 3 to the field, and when the off-line of scrimmage player goes inside, the corner and field linebackers responsibilities switch.
On the boundary side of the play, the Giants run a switch concept with a deep post and a wheel from Evan Engram.
Jones is watching the cornerback; if he comes off Bennie Fowler’s post, then he hits Fowler with a pass underneath the deep safety, or if the corner follows Fowler, then he finds Engram one-on-one against a linebacker in space on the wheel.
Jones is reading Patrick Peterson #21 and making a quick decision on where to go with the football. The play is also well designed to have a check-down to Barkley in the flat.
As you can see, Barkley gets no depth on the route because his main job is to hold the flat coverage player close to the scrimmage line, which gives Jones more space to throw to Engram.
Jones leads Engram up the sidelines and puts the ball about 5 yards away from Peterson. This should have been an easy pitch and catch, but Engram bobbled the ball and couldn’t secure it once hit.
Jones showed recognition, arm talent, and deep accuracy in a clean pocket here.
Above is another example of reading a deep defender and reacting accordingly. On a 3rd-and-12, the Giants came out in a 3x1 set, with the one being tight to the tackle.
The Packers run man to the strength. Jones has to see how the #3 defender to the strength plays the deep inside breaking route; underneath Blake Martinez will follow the route, will the safety take the route, or will the safety play robber on the #2’s potential inside breaking seam route?
Jones reads the defender, and once the safety jumps on the inside, he knows that Latimer will now have leverage inside on his seam, so Jones throws a dart up the seam.
The velocity on the pass, in poor weather conditions, is a great thing to see from a young quarterback. Jones was given another clean pocket to work with, and he made the defense pay.
Here’s a clip showing Jones' ability to find soft spots in zone coverage. Washington is showing 2-high, and they run a Cover 2 defense.
Watch when Jones releases the pass; Tate hasn’t turned his route inside yet, he’s still crossing the outside part of the defender. Jones shows anticipation on his pass and throws Tate open in the soft spot of the zone coverage.
He puts the ball right in-between three defenders and gives Tate a chance to pick up YAC in a tight area. This is another good example of how Jones progressed with throwing into intermediate-deep zone coverage.
The Giants do a good job of taking advantage of the Cardinals defense in the clip above.
Initially, the Giants showed shotgun, 12 personnel, with two receivers to the field. They motioned Tate to the boundary, two tight end side, which switched the man coverage assignments that were initially on the field side.
This is important because Rhett Ellison is running a deep horizontal cross from boundary to field. #22 on the Cardinals switches his assignment from man to zone upon the motion, and then he’s a bit late to see Ellison breaking across the middle of the field. Once he sees it, he has to fully open his hips and turn around to catch Ellison, who has a ton of momentum going upfield.
The deep safety sees the play developing and plants downward towards Ellison. Only a perfect pass would result in a touchdown here, and Jones provided that type of throw.
Jones hits his back foot, resets, and throws a perfect pass over Ellison's shoulder, right over the top of the defender’s hand, and right to the outside of the safety. This was one of the more impressive throws from a placement standpoint.
While the last play was incredibly impressive from a placement standpoint, the play below might be Jones’s best overall play.
On 4th-and-18, in a close game, Jones pulls this trick out of his hat. In a 3x1 set, with the Bears playing a deep Cover 4, Jones avoids the pressure of Roy Robertson-Harris, No. 95, step up into the pocket before he hits his back foot, locate Tate down the field, reset his feet, and throw a perfect high pass to Tate with coverage all around him.
Jones does all this with Khalil Mack (No. 52) hitting him as he throws the football. The pass had to be high enough so that two defenders couldn’t make a play on the ball, and it also had to be to the inside, away from the outermost defender.
Jones can’t complete his follow-through, due to Mack, and Tate does a great job securing the pass. A very nice play from the New York Football Giants.
In Part 2 of this film study, which publishes tomorrow, we will look at some of Jones' deep ball struggles and then focus on what the immediate future might hold for this quarterback prospect.
(All clips via NFL Game Pass)