How Daniel Jones Can Benefit from Taking a Step Back to Watch
What can Daniel Jones learn by taking a step back and watching Eli Manning play that actual game reps couldn’t teach him?
For the answers to this and other questions, we reached out to Mark Schofield, a former college signal-caller, and a contributor to Inside the Pylon, the LockedOn NFL channel, and SB Nation with five questions about how Jones can potentially benefit from being a spectator and what the Giants need to do to help him moving forward.
Q: It’s been said that live reps are the best way for a young quarterback to learn. With that said, how--if at all--does the learning process change when as a quarterback you have to take a seat after having started a handful of games?
I think the most significant impact something like this has on a young quarterback is it gives him a chance to catch his breath.
Take a moment and think about the draft process for a rookie quarterback. As soon as your bowl game is over (or your final regular-season game), you immerse yourself into draft preparation.
For a player like Jones, that involved the Senior Bowl, then the combine preparation, then team meetings where you are flying across the country and trying to learn different playbooks that you will never need to use if those teams draft you, and then finally, you get drafted.
Then your NFL career begins in earnest. It is a long grind.
That is why sometimes we have seen rookie quarterbacks sit due to an injury, and then come back better having had that chance to decompress a bit.
Last year alone, both Sam Darnold of the Jets and Josh Allen of the Bills lost time due to injury and came back better for it.
I would even posit that Gardner Minshew (Jacksonville) is in a better position now, having sat for a bit. It gives you a chance to revisit everything you have done to date without the stress and pressure of having to get ready to start the following week.
Plus, now Jones can have the benefit of seeing Eli Manning prepare during the week for a game where he is the starter, having been through that experience himself.
As Darnold himself told the New York Post this week when asked about how he handled that time last season, “It was huge. When I got to watch Josh and kinda see him, how he went about a day — walkthroughs, games — just to see him go about his business throughout the week and then on Sunday, I definitely learned a lot from him.”
Q: Is this kind of like braking for the off-season in a way, where a quarterback goes off to study every little nuance, or is there a different element to what can be learned?
I think there are a few things that Jones can learn over the next week or weeks.
First off is the preparation factor. Having gotten a chance to prepare for the past few months week in and week out as the starter, now he’ll get an opportunity to truly compare his process with Manning’s, to see what works for him, what works for Eli, and what if anything, he can change.
There is also a chance to revisit all of his play from the previous weeks and dive into what went right and what went wrong. Sometimes you do not get an opportunity to do that from week to week.
Yeah, you watch the film, and you see your grading sheet, and you get to see what you did right and where you screwed up, but there is just not enough time to fix mistakes, because there is a game plan to install, a new opponent to prepare for and the clock is ticking.
Without the pressures of getting ready to play, Jones can take the time to truly dive into his play and see what needs to be corrected.
Q: The Maven: In watching Jones’ play this year, where is his biggest continues struggle (other than ball security), and how can he address that in the off-season absent the live reps?
I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but it is true: He needs to get faster.
Now some of this is a factor with all rookie quarterbacks. The game is so much faster, the athletes you are facing are quicker, the coverage rotations are crisper, and the throwing lanes are smaller. So everything has to happen more quickly than you are used to.
Imagine spending your life driving on country roads in Beatrice, Nebraska, and then you are dropped into downtown Boston during rush hour. Getting from Harvard University to the North End might cause you some problems.
And the ball security issues are part of this. Yes, the offensive line has struggled at times, but not all of the sacks and fumbles are on the protection.
Jones has held onto the football too long at times, rather than just getting the ball out of his hands or making a quick read and throw.
According to Pro Football Focus charting data, only Gardner Minshew of the Jaguars and Kirk Cousins of the Vikings have a longer average time to throw than Jones, who averages 2.73 seconds.
Jones is a rookie quarterback and a quarterback who runs a heavy play-action offense. So, he needs to get faster.
Q: In looking at the coaching Jones has received (basing this on his performance), are there any signs of the Giants having let him down in any regards to his development?
This is a tough one to answer because, in a sense, some external factors have hampered what the Giants wanted to do this season.
The protection issues have been such that the Giants have needed to do things like keep tight ends and running backs in the backfield and have them help in protection.
A prime example of this comes from last week and one of the three interceptions Jones threw. On a 3-and-10 near midfield, the Giants keep both the running back and the tight end in to protect, and send three receivers on a “sticks” concept, where they all run curl routes.
Green Bay can just play a basic Cover-2 scheme, and there is nowhere for Jones to go with the ball. Now, he still forces a throw, which he should not have done, but because of issues with the protection, the offense limits itself on a third and long, and the interception results.
At the same time, I do think they could do more conceptually to play to Jones’s strengths--more movement around in the pocket, more designed and/or potential runs with him.
Look at Mitchell Trubisky and the game he had Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys. Matt Nagy (after people like me clamoring for this) finally started moving his quarterback around a bit and playing to his strengths, and Trubisky turns in the best game of his career. Playing to the strengths of your young quarterback is critical.
If you are a Giants fan, I think you have to hope for a 2020 season similar to the 2019 Baltimore Raven season. Last year the Ravens entered the season with Joe Flacco as their starting quarterback, turned to Lamar Jackson midseason, and he was running an offense more tailored to Flacco than what he does best.
This year it is Jackson’s show; he is running an offense built around him, and they are having success.
That should be the model for New York: Next year with it being his team and an offense built around him and not Manning.
Q: I look back at Eli and how he had Kevin Gilbride for the bulk of his career, and when the Giants made a change, that’s when Eli started to slide downhill.
Given where Jones is in his career, if you’re the Giants do you make the change now and look to give Jones a mentor who will be around for years or do you think based on what you see and know of him he’ll be the kind of quarterback to hold up to multiple changes in coaching over his career and especially if one is made right after his rookie season?
The bottom line is that the most significant thing the Giants have to face right now is the development of Jones. So they need to do what is best for him as a player, a person, and a quarterback.
If a change is going to be made, it is best to make it now and give the new coaching staff a chance to go into Year 1 of Jones as the starter with an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and construct their offense tailored to what he does best as a quarterback.
It is, in my opinion, cleaner to do it at this point in his career, than to let him play under Shurmur another season or so and then bring in someone with a different system.
But I think the biggest thing is that there needs to be stability for him going forward. Look at the curious case of Marcus Mariota—five different offensive coordinators, and now he is out of a job.
Jones needs stability, and offense geared toward him, and to get faster with reads and decisions.
Can that happen under Shurmur? Perhaps. I’m sure that Shurmur will pitch that during his year-end review, but what is best for Jones is paramount.