Film Review: How the Steelers Gameplan For Daniel Jones

Take an extensive look at the New York Giants quarterback and how the Pittsburgh Steelers can take advantage of his tendencies.
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When Daniel Jones was drafted with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, a bag of mixed reviews ensued. Some were critical of the Giants selecting Jones at such a high pick with quarterback Eli Manning, while others were willing to accept a change at the quarterback position was needed. 

Some good, some bad - those were the reviews on draft night, and those were my feelings when watching Daniel Jones' film from his rookie season. I couldn't get a steady pulse on the Duke product when studying him, as Jones rarely managed to play at either a low or high level continually. 

There were flashes of Jones' talent, as he made plenty of throws off-balance and on the move that made me understand what the Giants saw in him. 

Take this play as an example. Jones faces interior pressure as he drops back, and while he gets the throw off cleanly, he has to adjust his body as he's sliding to the right and manages to get the ball to where only the receiver could grab it for a touchdown.

Jones' pocket presence was also impressive to me, as he displayed a good sense to step up in the pocket when he feels pressure. This also plays into his mobility as a passer, which I believe may be one of his strongest attributes. The play below showcases his ability to move away from pressure and place incredible passes on the money. 

On the other side of the coin, I watched a rookie quarterback make rookie mistakes, forcing balls into unfavorable coverage or windows that simply closed too early by defenders. Perhaps one of Jones' biggest flaws is staring down his primary read on most plays I watched, which led defenders to exactly where he wanted to go.

One of the biggest knocks on Jones during his rookie campaign was his fumbling issues. Jones led the league with 18 fumbles in 2019, ranking as the fifth-most in a single season in NFL history. On film, the fumbles came from an array of avenues, from low snaps via his center to being strip-sacked and the occasional fumble when running with the ball. 

A majority of the issues resonate in Jones' handling of the football in the pocket, where at times, he appeared too comfortable with the ball in his hands with defenders ready to pounce.

With a 24/12 touchdown to interception ratio, Jones' rookie season passing the ball isn't terrible by any means given the circumstances he played under. However, Jones has to make strides in terms of throwing the ball. Even for a rookie, too often did Jones try to force throws (especially on third down) that either led to an incompletion or turnover. 

I charted all 12 of Jones' interceptions from last season, from categories such as what side of the field/how deep the passes were to what kind of coverage the defense played that specific play. The results?

  • 10/12 of Jones' interceptions came at the intermediate to deep levels of the field
  • Zone defense was played by the defense on 8/12 interceptions
  • The defense did not blitz on 9/12 plays that resulted in an interception.  

Below is Jones' passing chart via NFL Next Gen Stats:

DJ Next Gen Stats

For a rookie quarterback, this chart matches about what I would believe it should look like. A lot of success with short passes to his throwing side (benefits of Saquon), and pretty average all across the board. I will say that Jones had a fair amount of success throwing down the seam, a heralded Achilles heel for this Steelers defense. 

Concluding Thoughts on Jones

Daniel Jones has the tools to emerge as an exceptional quarterback in the NFL. His ability to break out of the pocket and make plays is exciting and his athleticism allows him to run with the ball when needed. His sense to feel defenders collapsing around him was solid for a rookie and should only improve from there. 

However, his consistency will be key. While Jones made pretty passes, there were also times where he simply flat-out missed open receivers. The turnovers (30 in total) absolutely need to be cut down, if not completely eradicated. Jones tried to play the hero's role too often in his rookie season, forcing passes and ultimately coming up short in games because of it. 

The tools are there. Jones took on a lot of responsibility as a rookie, and I think a year of experience will pay dividends for him heading into 2020. 

How Pittsburgh Can Contain Jones

Pittsburgh's defense remains one of the best in the league, with talent scattered throughout the depth chart. In all phases, the Steelers' position groups are favored to beat New York's on the opposite side of the ball. 

With rookie Andrew Thomas and Cameron Fleming starting at both tackle spots, outside linebackers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt need to dominate from the first snap of the ball. Monday night will provide a great opportunity to start out on a high note for Pittsburgh's premier pass-rushers.

The gameplan, at least in my eyes after watching Jones' tape, should be simple:

Rush four, drop the rest into zone coverage, and thrive. 

A front four of Dupree/Heyward/Tuitt/Watt should provide plenty of pressure on Jones throughout the night, and as seen on film, Jones does not need to be blitzed often in order to make mistakes. Pittsburgh's front four is good enough to let the other seven defenders play in coverage, although defensive coordinator Keith Butler will surely get creative with his blitzes and disguised coverage. 

Speaking of coverage, I'm a big fan of running zone defense against a quarterback that either struggled with reading zone concepts or simply tried to make too much happen by attempting to fit passes into areas they really shouldn't be thrown in.

I would also be a fan of the Steelers' secondary pressing New York's receivers at the line of scrimmage every so often, which would further delay Jones's timing and either give Pittsburgh more time to get to the quarterback or tempt Jones to make questionable decisions. 

With an incredible passer rating in the deep middle of the field, it's pivotal to have a guy like Minkah Fitzpatrick on your team. Throughout the season, Fitzpatrick gained more trust on the back end as a deep safety due to his ball-tracking abilities. Having Fitzpatrick stay up top as a play-making "centerfielder" would help keep everything in front of the Steelers defense, should Jones not want to test the waters of Minkah island.

Although he's not a runner like Lamar Jackson, a defense simply cannot ignore Jones' ability to use his legs to gain extra yards. A lot of teams used a quarterback spy against Jones that anchored in the middle of the field, and I believe a player such as Terrell Edmunds would be a perfect fit for this role given his tackling abilities. Having Edmunds play more of a QB spy/anchor position may also pay dividends with the defense's infamous seam problems. 

It's of my belief that should the Steelers carry out any of the above tactics, life would be made much harder for Jones and the rest of the Giants' offense. Then again, I'm just a guy who watches film and writes words about it. Thanks for reading the first of many breakdowns for 2020.

Donnie Druin is a Staff Writer with AllSteelers. Follow Donnie on Twitter @DonnieDruin, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.