With the announcement that the New York Giants are making the switch to Daniel Jones at the quarterback position, it is time for the best part of following sports: The debates! As with any decision – in football or in life – there are usually some pros and some cons associated with the choices in front of you.
Starting Jones does not come without risk. On the cons side of that ledger you might find items such as “he might not be ready for this,” or “the offense around him might not have enough talent” or “he will be starting his first game on the road,” among others.
At the start of the season, after Jones looked solid during preseason action, it did seem like the stage was set for the rookie to take over this team at some point during the 2019 campaign. He showed prowess in the vertical passing game, he showed toughness in the pocket, he brought athleticism to the table. You know, all the things we will get to in a moment on the “pros” side of the ledger. But when would be the right time. Assuming the Giants would not be competitive in what looks like a tough NFC East – and through two weeks, that assumption seems to be on point – when would Pat Shurmur make the move?
To me, it looked like mid-October would be the right time to make the switch. After playing at New England on Thursday, October 10th, the Giants would have a “mini-bye” week before hosting the Arizona Cardinals on the 20th. That seemed like the ideal time to make the move. Give Jones an extra bit of time to get ready, and certainly do not start him on a short week in Foxborough against the defending Super Bowl Champions.
Instead, Shurmur makes the move now, before the Giants travel south to take on a Tampa Bay team coming off a “mini-bye” week of their own. That … might not be ideal timing.
Or perhaps more accurately, the lack of talent around him.
Now, Dave Gettleman has started to build on the offensive side of the football. Saquon Barkley is an offensive talent for sure, and a player that the Giants need to truly build around. Gettleman has also made moves to bolster the offensive line, which was a weak spot of this roster when he arrived in the Big Apple. So there have been improvements.
Yet, the wide receiver room is lacking at the moment. Sterling Shepard is a nice piece but he is not a true No. 1 at this point in his career. The player that could be considered their No. 1, Golden Tate, is suspended. This might necessitate New York using more “12” offensive sets, which could make sense if you plan on throwing off of play-action against base defenses, but the WR group would get a boost from Tate’s return to the lineup, which won’t happen for a few more weeks.
Eli Manning Is Not the Problem
If you watch the Giants’ offense from the past two weeks, or the Giants in general, you would come away thinking that defense, and not Manning, were the issue. You’d be correct in that assertion. Manning has not been perfect over the first two games, but few quarterbacks have. Part of his mistakes might also be due to Shurmur putting him in situations that he might not be best suited to run. For example, in Week 1 the Giants rolled Manning out on two different occasions on short-yardage situations. On one such play, he was flagged for intentional grounding. On the other, he was strip-sacked and lost the football. Maybe playing more to your quarterback’s strengths – rather than benching him – would be the right move.
Jones Might Not Be Ready
While the rookie certainly looked the part during his preseason action, it is one thing to fare well against players fighting for jobs and on roster bubbles. Players who are out there running basic defensive looks and coverages, and not doing much to confuse you as a QB. It is another thing altogether to be out there as the team’s starter, going up against the starters on the other side of the football, when the defensive coordinator is more concerned with stopping you than he is getting good film on each player to use as comparison tape when making roster cuts. Suddenly that look that you are convinced is Cover 4 pre-snap – because that’s how it looked against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 of the preseason – turns to a combination coverage in the blink of an eye and you are not quite ready for it.
Is the rookie actually ready for what he is about to experience?
Those are the “cons.” What about the “pros?” Here we can go both big and small picture.
Let’s start with the big picture. First off, there might not be any “right time” to make this move, absent an injury forcing the organization’s hands. While Manning is not the root cause of New York’s 0-2 start, he has not been an overly productive quarterback recently. Many were clamoring for the Giants to take a Sam Darnold or a Josh Allen when they drafted Barkley last year. So, though the timing might not be perfect, perhaps it is overdue.
Speaking of Barkley, we all have grown to accept that the biggest competitive advantage a team can have right now is a productive QB on his rookie deal. After all, I based an entire piece on it in last year’s PFW draft magazine. That equation might be different with the Giants. After all, Barkley is going to get paid soon. So the rookie deal that New York actually needs to maximize is his, and not Jones’. If the Duke rookie were to ride the pine for most of the 2019 campaign, that just means more of a learning curve type season in 2020, and perhaps more of a wasted year of Barkley’s rookie deal. Putting Jones on the field now gives them a shot at being truly competitive in 2020 while Barkley is still cost-controlled.
In addition, while the concerns about Jones as a QB are still present, there are things he brings to the table that Shurmur can build an offense round. We can work through those as well.
One of the strengths to Jones’ game, dating back to his time at Duke, is his athletic ability. For a young quarterback learning life in the NFL, the ability to create and/or extend with your legs can be a neutralizer of sorts. Should things break down around the QB – even as a result of a poor decision or slow read – he can use his legs to create. That is something we have seen from Jones so far, and again while in college:
In addition, in Week 1 we saw the Giants struggle on two designed play-action rollouts, with Eli Manning grounding one play and getting strip-sacked on the other. Jones’ athleticism makes designs like this a better proposition:
On this play against Georgia Tech from 2018, the Blue Devils roll Jones out to the left and he makes a quick read and throw to the flat.
We can also add to this the zone read element of the offense, pairing Jones in the backfield with Barkley. A critical component to those designs is the fear that an athletic quarterback puts in the mind of defensive ends. An end worried about the QB’s legs might be slower to react to inside running plays/handoffs to the running back, and that might create some easier running lanes for Barkley.
Some might have checked this box from Jones before he hit the NFL. While at Duke he showed the ability to move around in the pocket well using his legs, but he was also willing to hang in the pocket and make throws as the chaos swirled around him. Take, for example, this play against Georgia Tech from 2018:
Jones runs a run/pass option look, meeting his running back at the mesh point and pulling to throw. Before the play, Georgia Tech showed a rotation to a soft Cover 3 look, so he wants to throw a backside bang 8 post route. But he has to carry out the mesh fake to his left before coming back to throw this pattern. His footwork is extremely fluid here, as he gets himself in good throwing position, and then caps it off with great placement.
But in terms of pure toughness, nothing probably tops this sequence from his game against the Cincinnati Bengals during the preseason. Carl Lawson (#58) puts a perfect pass rushing move on the left tackle on this play, and Jones gets drilled in the pocket on a hit he never saw coming:
Yet on the next play, he comes back and throws a dime to Darrius Slayton (#86) in the deep passing game, again from a crowded pocket with chaos swirling:
Pocket toughness: Box checked.
Similar to the pocket toughness, this is again not a knock on Manning but a look at what Jones can provide. Coming out of Duke, Jones looked like more of a passer destined for a pure West Coast offense, but in his minimal action in the NFL he has flashed both velocity and placement in the intermediate passing game. One of his most memorable plays from the preseason came on such a throw, on a post route attacking the middle of the field:
The Bengals are in a single-high coverage scheme here with safety Shawn Williams (#36) deep in the middle of the field. Golden is in the slot to the right as part of a three-receiver set, while Slayton is the lone receiver on the left. Slayton runs a double move, starting inside before breaking vertically, while Golden runs the post. Jones opens up to the left here and stares down Slayton using a subtle shoulder fake, which holds Williams toward that side of the field. With great protection, Jones is able to come late to Golden on the post route, and Williams – who has been held in the middle of the field thanks to the route design and Jones’ manipulation – is a step late and cannot impact the play.
Deep Passing Prowess
While the previous throw to Slayton is a good example of this, I come back to the touchdown from his debut in the NFL:
Jones puts this throw to Bennie Fowler (#18) in an absolutely perfect spot. The corner route is perhaps the toughest deep route to throw – especially in the back corner of the end zone where there are essentially two extra defenders with the end line and the sideline – and Jones is perfect here.
Quick Game Processing
Let’s talk about processing speed. Studying Jones left me with the belief that his mental prowess is best on quick game concepts. These two plays against Virginia from 2018 were prime bits of evidence that I would return to over and over again when thinking about his best scheme fit. On this first play, the Blue Devils face a third-and-5 in their own territory. They empty the backfield and put Jones in the shotgun, and run a Stick concept to a trips formation:
Jones wants to throw backside here, to the slot receiver on a curl route, because he expects the middle linebacker to open his hips to the three-receiver side of the formation. However, unexpectedly the middle linebacker opens to the weak side of the offensive formation, jumping the backside curl route, due to a pressure package Virginia brings on the play. That forces Jones to change his read on the fly, and he comes to the curl route from the inside trips receiver.
Here is another example of Jones’ execution on a quicker route concept and showing great processing speed. On this third down against the Cavaliers, Duke runs a go/flat concept to the left side of the formation. Jones wants to throw the flat route to his slot receiver, but the cornerback traps this from the boundary, leaving the vertical route open along the sideline:
Again, this is great processing speed on a quick game concept. Jones picks up the trap on the slot receiver and immediately comes to the vertical route along the boundary.
This is something that has also translated to the NFL. This is an example of this in action:
What stands out on this play is how quickly Jones (#8) gets through to Shepard, who is his third read on the concept. As he takes the shotgun snap, Jones first peeks at Latimer on his out route, but not liking what he sees he turns his field of vision to the drive concept. He checks Ellison and then finally comes to Shepard to throw the crosser, which he does with precision placement.
Watch this play again, and focus on Jones during his drop from the shotgun alignment. Before he hits his drop depth he has come off the out pattern and brought his eyes to the drive concept in the middle of the field. That is a very quick read and decision, but it is the right one from the young quarterback. From the end zone angle, you can see how he works the next two reads in the progression, looking first at Ellison before he comes underneath to Shepard:
This is very well done from Jones. He’ll need to make quick decisions like this as he adjusts to life as an NFL starter.
Expectations and The Ultimate Verdict
Now, only time will tell if this was truly the right decision, to switch to Jones at this point. But given the state of play, it was the right call. Absent a strange set of circumstances unfolding over the next few weeks, it is unlikely that the Giants were going to be competitive in the division this season. Letting Jones get some much-needed experience now will set the organization up to be competitive in 2020 while the window of Barkley’s rookie deal – and Jones’ – is still open. Perhaps Jones can enjoy a similar Year 2 leap akin to Jared Goff’s or Mitchell Trubisky’s.
As for what Giants fans can expect? Well, bumps in the road and growing pains. But on a week to week basis or so, look past the numbers and the production and see if he is starting to grow into the position. Playing QB is hard as hell at any level, and development at the position is not linear. But if Jones can start learning how to play the position in the NFL, and can start developing the mental aspects of the position in line with his physical traits, he can have that Year 2 leap like others before him, rendering the final verdict on making the switch now a positive one for the Giants.