Daniel Jones is getting pretty good at identifying problems. Maybe too good.
Regarding his interception and two lost fumbles last week, which gave him seven turnovers in the last three games, the rookie quarterback said: “I think it’s tough to win when you’re turning the ball over that much. I’ve got to do a better job with that. Decision making, securing the ball in the pocket, and securing the ball when I’m out of the pocket, all of that stuff is really important.”
Regarding the eight times he was sacked last week, some of which were brought about by his own doing, he said: “I certainly need to do a better job with that. I think sacks are absolutely a team thing, and I did play a big, big part in that. I have to do a better job getting rid of the ball and getting the ball out on time where it’s supposed to go.”
Of course, knowing what is wrong and avoiding it moving forward are two different things. Quarterbacking in the NFL is easier said than done. And that’s the crossroad where Jones now stands.
After five NFL starts, each one seemingly a step backward in his growth as a young NFL player, it’s time for Jones to put his analysis to practice. He’ll have his next chance to do just that on Sunday when the Giants face the Lions in a meeting of teams that have each lost three straight, against a defense that will be without its top cornerback (Darius Slay) and might be missing its best run-stuffer (Damon Harrison).
Jones recognizes the importance of this game, not only for the Giants, but for his own trajectory.
To paraphrase two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Tom Coughlin: Talk is cheap, fix the game.
To be clear, it’s not the throws that are giving the Giants headaches. Jones put a touchdown pass to Rhett Ellison right on the tight end’s hands last week, then dropped another pass in the perfect spot to Evan Engram down the sideline (Engram dropped it). Jones has been one of the most aggressive throwers of the ball in the NFL in his month-plus of playing, and he has made some dazzling plays because of it. He’s also thrown a bunch of interceptions, but even those are plays the Giants are willing to live with.
It’s what Jones does in the time between the snap and the pass that the coaches want to improve the most. That includes some technique works, such as keeping two hands on the ball and not allowing defenders to swipe at it, which can be accomplished in drills and a steady diet of verbal reminders during the week. But it also includes developing a feel for the game that is played out in those few precious seconds right after “hike.”
“He’s a guy who is trying to look downfield and make a play,” coach Pat Shurmur said of Jones. “The speed of this thing is a little bit different than college to get to the checkdown… That’s the fine line we are talking about, the decision-making, the timing, and everything that goes into it. When guys are going through this for the first time there are some things that happen that you have to get corrected.”
“It’s easy to say, ‘Yeah, get the ball out faster,’” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “But there are times, and that’s what’s really cool I think about this position, where you have to hang on to that first guy because if you do he’s going to come open and it’s going to be a big play. Then there’s a fine line of, ‘Hey, I can’t, even though I know he’s going to come open, I have to get the ball out because otherwise I’m going to get sacked or the ball is going to get stripped.’ Those are constant throughout your career as a quarterback and as a coach. There are so many fine lines in that regard, and so we just keep trying to preach awareness.”
To help Jones with that decision-making about when to linger on a receiver and when to abandon the primary route and start searching for the safety valves, the Giants have what are called “green light” looks.
“When you get the look that we’ve talked about all week, and it’s the look that we want, sometimes you might want to hang on it,” Shula said. “But if it’s all of a sudden not the look, don’t spend that much time with the first guy. Get it to the second guy or the third guy.”
Shula said such refinement of the thinking process — or really the reaction process because there isn’t much time to actually think — is not exclusive to rookies like Jones.
“It’s the same thing with older guys in my experience,” he said. “You just kind of keep preaching it, keep talking about it and, good or bad, you learn from your experience.”
The final jump in that progression is to do something about it.
“The good news about [Jones] is he is very self-aware,” Shurmur said. “There are areas where we will do things to try to help him and there are areas where he says ‘Hey, listen, the next time I do this, I will do it better.’ The handful of bad plays from last week have been corrected in his mind.
“The next time it comes up, he’ll execute it better.”