Daniel Jones can join a very short list on Thursday night.
Bill Belichick currently holds a 17-5 record against rookie quarterbacks. Jones can join the list of five passers (Ben Rothelisberger, Mark Sanchez, Colt McCoy, Russell Wilson and Geno Smith) who have beaten the Hoodie if the New York Giants pull off an upset victory on a short week.
If the visitors are going to achieve that feat, part of what could lead the way will be the rookie quarterback’s ability to handle pressure. The New England Patriots currently lead the league in sacks with 24 and Jamie Collins, who leads the team with 4.5, is just 0.5 sacks behind some teams. The Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins are tied for last in the league with just five sacks a piece. But Jones’s ability to make throws from collapsing pockets, and to remain calm in the cauldron, has stood out this season.
Jones has already joined quite a prolific list this season, and he accomplished that task in his debut against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The rookie QB completed 23 of 36 passes for 336 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and also added two rushing touchdowns, while leading the Giants to a comeback victory on the road.
Jones was flawless when pressured in that game, and he was pressured early and often. But some numbers truly crystalize how good he was under duress against Tampa Bay. First were these numbers highlighted by Pat Thorman from Establish the Run. Jones was pressured on 47% of his dropbacks Sunday - third highest among all Week 3 quarterbacks - and he completed 80% of his passes on those pressured attempts for 233 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
Building off of that, Scott Barrett from Pro Football Focus indicated that those numbers were the fourth-most pressured passing yards by any quarterback in any regular season game in PFF’s history, a timeframe that spans 2007 through 2019. During that decade-plus, there are 1,674 instances of a QB attempting at least 12 pressured pass attempts in a game, and here is the list of quarterbacks who finished with a perfect passer rating:
That’s it. He’s the list.
Here are some of the plays to highlight how Jones fared against pressure in that contest. A perfect example of this comes late in the first half. The Giants face a 1st and 10 on their own 25-yard line, and put Jones in the shotgun. They are going to work this shallow cross concept with a drag route from right to left, and a deeper crossing route over the top of that from left to right:
Tampa Bay brings pressure here, blitzing a linebacker and crossing him with the defensive tackle. The pocket begins to collapse around the young quarterback, but he uses his feet well to slide and feel the pressure, and create enough space. He then hits Sterling Shepard (#87) on the crossing route:
It is just a six-yard gain, but the anticipation on this throw is truly impressive. As you can see from the end zone angle, Jones does not wait for Shepard to clear the underneath linebacker, he throws him open into space. If Jones waits to see the receiver come open here, he is going to be sacked:
Here is a clip from when Jones makes up his mind to deliver the throw:
This is a tremendous play from the rookie QB.
Here is another example. Early in the third quarter the Giants face a 1st and 10 right at midfield, and they put Jones under center using 22 offensive personnel. They have two tight ends in the game and align both in a wing look to the right:
On this play the Giants use playaction and give the QB two routes to choose from: A deep post to Darius Slayton (#86) or a crossing route to tight end Evan Engram (#88):
This play tasks tight end Rhett Ellison (#85) with hinge-blocking on the right side, stepping down to his left first and then pivoting to seal the edge. Fullback Elijhaa Penny (#39) is tasked with coming across the formation and helping on the right edge as well.
But as this play develops and Jones comes out of his playaction fake, he faces immediate pressure off that right edge in the form of Carl Nassib (#94). That forces Jones to quicky turn and roll to his left, but he keeps his eyes downfield and finds Slayton with a perfect deep ball:
Again, the pressure is not of Jones’ creation, but he handles it perfectly.
Then there is this example, where Tampa Bay linebacker Shaquil Barrett (#58) jumps offsides and pressures Jones quickly into the play. Jones feels the blind side pressure well and escapes to his left, before finding Saquon Barkley (#26) in a scramble drill situation:
While Jones has not been as flawless the past few weeks, his ability to maintain composure in the face of duress has continued. Take, for example, this throw from late in last week’s loss against the Minnesota Vikings. This was perhaps his best throw of the day, and it comes from a collapsing pocket. On a 1st and 10 in the fourth quarter, the Giants are trying to claw back into the contest. They are in Minnesota territory, and Jones looks for Evan Engram on this seam route:
Minnesota blitzes on this play and they rotate to a single-high coverage in the secondary. They show the QB a two-high scheme before the snap, but their rotation and blitz come right as the play begins. The rookie reads this perfectly and Jones makes this throw on the seam route with an unblocked defender bearing down on him, but he puts it in a catchable spot for Engram (#88). It would have been a tough catch for the TE, but Jones’s throw here under duress was very impressive.
Jones’s ability to make throws when pressured leads to an interesting question: Do you blitz him? Typically defensive coordinators like to blitz rookie quarterbacks, to speed things up for them and force them into panicked throws. But doing that to Jones might play to this strength of his. Additionally, it plays to his strengths as a passer in the quick game. Coming out of Duke University, his prowess in the quick passing game was viewed as perhaps his best trait. Forcing him to make quick reads and throws when blitzed might play to that strength as well.
Take this play as an example. In the third quarter the Giants face a 3rd and 4 in Vikings’ territory. They align again with 12 offensive personnel, this time with a trips look to the left. Minnesota shows pressure before the snap with an overload look to the right:
If you listen to the audio of this play, you can hear Jones screaming “randy randy randy” before the snap. This is just an educated guess, but it does seem that the QB is adjusting the protection to ensure the right edge is covered. Ellison stays in to block, as does the running back, both to the right side. The blitz does indeed come, but Jones knows that with the protection solidified on that edge he will have time. Even knowing that, he comes immediately to the left on a speed out to Shepard:
This is impressive pre- and post-snap processing from the rookie. He spots the blitz before the play, changes the protection to make sure he has the blitz blocked up, and then immediately exploits the blitz with a route against man coverage.
So the schematic question this play raises is this: Is blitzing him the smart play for a defense? We have seen what he can do with his legs in terms of escaping pressure, but blitzing him might play to his strengths as a passer in the quick game. If the defense does not get home - and the Vikings certainly got home a few times with blitz schemes on Sunday - Jones then has the ability to rely on his strengths as a passer and make the quick reads and throws where he is at his best. Something to ponder as his career unfolds.
Even when the blitz works, it brings us back to the way this piece began: How Jones has been handling pressure. Last week the Vikings were able to generate pressure with a blitz package, but Jones was able to handle it and make a play:
Here Minnesota brings pressure on a 3rd and 14 and plays man coverage behind it. Jones stands tall and climbs the pocket, before making a perfect throw on a deep out route to Slayton to move the sticks.
If Jones is going to join that list of five passers on Thursday night, he will need to deliver on a bunch of throws like this. The odds are certainly against him but if Jones does manage to pull off the upset and join that list of QBs, he’ll also create a new list of one. Like that list of passers with perfect passer ratings against pressure mentioned earlier, he will become the first rookie quarterback ever to beat Belichick on the road.
Long odds indeed.