EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The interceptions kept on coming for New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, like body blows in a heavyweight fight. Each one last Thursday night seemed to hurt incrementally more than the last.
The first was mitigated by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady returning the favor on the very next play. The second led to a Patriots touchdown. The third all but eliminated any chance the Giants, behind a rookie, could win on the road against the league’s top defense.
If there is one cause for concern with Jones early in his career, it’s the turnovers. He has thrown six interceptions and lost a pair of fumbles in four starts.
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Not that this is completely uncommon. Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions as a rookie for the Indianapolis Colts. He never came close to that again at any point of his legendary career. That rookie pick-fest was part of his growth as an NFL quarterback.
The story goes that during his rookie season, Manning tried to make a throw into a tight window while facing a certain look and it was intercepted. He thought he could get it between two defenders. He insisted to running back Marshall Faulk that he could make the throw. Next time, same play, same result. Third time, same thing.
Finally, Manning went to Faulk and admitted he couldn’t make that throw in this league. This wasn’t college. It was the NFL. Lesson learned.
That is the kind of learning experience Jones is encountering on what seems to be a play-by-play basis. He must cut down on the turnovers, specifically the interceptions.
Why are these mistakes happening? Are they all his fault? How can this be fixed? I enlisted the help of an NFL coach to break down each of Jones’ six interceptions.
Interception 1 (vs. Redskins, Week 4)
Situation: First-and-10 from Giants’ 40; 8:31 of second quarter
The initial look makes it appear Jones was late with the ball on a play-action pass. Not really, says the coach. The interception was more a product of Cody Latimer running a bad route. He was running a post route and drifted into the safety’s area, allowing the Redskins’ defensive backs to switch coverage responsibilities midplay. This allowed for the interception.
“If the route was thinner the defense could not have passed it off as the QB was pulling the trigger with a big hit on the way,” the coach said.
Verdict: Not Jones’ fault
Interception 2 (vs. Redskins)
Situation: Second-and-3 from Giants’ 21; 6:41 of second quarter
Very next drive. Jones again throws to Shepard near the left hash and is intercepted by Dunbar. It’s man coverage and Shepard doesn’t win from the slot moving from right to left. Dunbar undercuts the route and makes a nice diving interception.
The coach saw a few things from Jones that weren’t ideal. Jones was 9½ yards deep in the pocket — deeper than the Giants want — and late with the throw. He also made a bad decision by sticking with Shepard and not getting through his progressions. The best place for him to go with the ball would have been to tight end Evan Engram on the shallow cross.
One important note here: Jones rebounded and played well the remainder of this game. Giants coach Pat Shurmur even said afterward that Jones was able to stay in the moment after the back-to-back interceptions, that you wouldn’t have known he didn’t throw a touchdown pass rather than an interception from the way he reacted.
Verdict: Jones’ fault. Bad decision, bad depth and his throw was late.
Interception 3 (vs. Vikings, Week 5)
Situation: Fourth-and-2 from Giants’ 25; 3:26 of fourth quarter
The Giants are down three scores at this point. It’s late in the fourth quarter. The Vikings are playing a soft zone. The right side of the Giants’ line again allows pressure. Jones makes a quick throw to Golden Tate, in his first game back from suspension, and linebacker Eric Kendricks makes an excellent diving interception.
It appears to be a bad throw. Jones forces it to a receiver who is not open while there appears to be a window for a throw to Engram in the middle of the field. But it’s not an easy read for a young quarterback, which is part of the challenge.
The coach puts this more on Tate for his route and not being able to get open against a linebacker than Jones for his read.
Verdict: Not Jones’ fault.
Interception 4 (vs. Patriots, Week 6)
Situation: Second-and-7 from Giants’ 33; 7:17 of first quarter
The first of three interceptions against the Patriots. This is again a pass intended for Tate in man coverage. There isn’t a ton of separation and Tate gets pushed inside a bit. Still, Jones’ throw is high and behind the receiver.
“High throws in the middle of the field are interceptions waiting to happen,” the coach said.
Verdict: Jones’ fault on the throw. Even Jones considered this a “late force.” If he throws it earlier and on target it has a chance to be completed. He didn’t. It wasn’t. Instead it was No. 4.
Interception 5 (vs. Patriots)
Situation: First-and-10 from Giants’ 35; 9:40 of second quarter
The Giants are down 7-0 and this is a play-action pass where Jones is looking to hit a deep pass down the left sideline. He doesn’t see anyone open, but his protection holds up well. He has a healthy 6.07 seconds to throw, per Next Gen stats. He has averaged 2.84 seconds so far this season.
Jones is extending the play with nowhere to go and it’s evident early, according to the coach. Jones uses the time to shuffle left and eventually tries to throw the ball away because there is no checkdown option available underneath on the play. But New England defensive lineman Danny Shelton hits Jones’ arm, forcing the ball to stay in bounds and flutter. It’s an easy interception for cornerback Duron Harmon.
“I need to get rid of the ball and throw it away sooner,” Jones admitted afterward.
This was an uncharacteristic careless decision, according to the coach. This is the fine line Jones is trying to walk. Be aggressive yet responsible. His desire to hit the big play worked against him this time, but this aggressiveness is not something Shurmur is trying to minimize.
“Harness it? No, I don’t know about that,” Shurmur said. “I think what you try to do is present him with the quick pictures, good clean progressions, and teach him what you want. I think you just try to use his strengths to the best of his ability. I just mentioned it, I think there is a time when there is a fine line between making an aggressive throw and putting the ball in harm’s way.”
Verdict: Jones’ fault. Bad decision. This should have been thrown away easily.
Interception 6 (vs. Patriots)
Situation: First-and-10 from New England 30; 12:18 of third quarter
The Giants are down one score and driving on the opening possession of the third quarter. It looks like they are going to get some points. Then the rookie in Jones rears its ugly head. He fires a pass to the right side toward tight end Rhett Ellison. New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore sinks away from a shallow route to take away the corner route. He snags the easy interception.
The ball could have gone to Latimer on the shallow cross. Or running back Elijhaa Penny was open for a decent gain in the middle of the field. But Jones was fooled.
“Just a bad decision and a bad read,” Jones said.
Verdict: Jones’ fault. He made a read at the line of scrimmage and predetermined his throw. He was wrong.
The Patriots and Bill Belichick disguised the coverage and fooled the rookie. Jones did not read it out. He made a bad decision, a problem on three of his six interceptions. One was an inaccurate throw and the other two were on the receivers.
That’s how a rookie gets to six interceptions in four starts.