Film Review: Danny Dimes comes up clutch
By Tyler Arthur
This week the New York Giants took the training wheels off and sent Daniel Jones, their new franchise quarterback, out into his first NFL start, on the road in Tampa Bay. The Giants have a bad defense and an inconsistent offense, and the Buccaneers have just about the exact same going for them.
The Giants came into the game predictably 0-2 and their play makers, Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram had very much been alone in their efforts to create a spark.
On an incredibly appropriate career .500 record, Eli Manning took the back seat for the first time, and Danny Dimes stepped up, and impressed me (and everyone else). This week we’re going to look at the first game of the new era of the New York football Giants and break down the rookie’s impressive display.
The Buccaneers scored on their first drive and it was time. The rookie walked onto the field, donning his #8 jersey, and they stuck him straight in with a pass play to get in rhythm.
This play is much simpler than the play art might look. This play is a good man-beating design, using a rub concept to spring Evan Engram (the tight end to the left) open across the field for an easy underneath throw and some yardage after the catch.
The Buccaneers are in an aggressive 5-2 Nickel front with their nickel back lined up as if he was a third linebacker, clearly intending to combine their pass-defense personnel with the alignment to stop the run. This set up actually made this play call became even stronger – as it is designed perfectly to take advantage of three-linebacker looks, which is what the Bucs D are emulating.
The three linebackers will all have predictable assignments, based on the alignment of the three receiving threats pre-snap. Saquon Barkley is at running back, and will be covered by the middle linebacker, and then the two tight ends will both be covered by a linebacker, whichever is closer to their side on the formation. The rub concept works when the Giants get all three of these linebackers in each other’s way.
The middle linebacker has to go left to follow Saquon’s swing route, the right side linebacker has to sit in the middle, as over the curl route from Rhett Ellison. Finally, the defensive back who drew the short straw of covering Evan Engram man-to-man (a next-to impossible task, so much so that they’re using a nickel to do it) has to follow him across the field, through the very intentional traffic that is now slowing him down. Engram gets wide open and gets a nice gain on Jones’ first NFL play.
Daniel Jones didn’t only make plays when people were schemed open, though, far from it. There were some legitimate big-boy NFL throws in this game that are worthy of our attention, none more impressive than this play from the second quarter.
The Buccaneers are a team who run a lot of man defense, and they had shown this throughout the game, so the New York offense decided to dial up a play specifically to beat man, namely Cover 1. Evan Engram’s intermediate crossing route is the target of the play, with the design intending for him to get open as the free safety can’t follow him while also keeping an eye on two vertical routes. On this play, what the defense actually does is they use a linebacker to bracket the inside steam for a quick pass to Engram, and then hand him off to the safety. This is interesting, because it places a lot of trust that the two man defenders to the QB’s left will both be able to carry the deep routes.
If Daniel Jones didn’t get pressured by a good pass-rush, I think he would have had a shot to throw the ball out in front of one of the deep routes, or dump it off to the underneath drag, however what actually happened was more impressive.
Some very fast pressure forces Jones out to his left after breaking a sack, which makes it much more difficult for him to throw, but is necessary with the poor blocking. As he moves, Saquon Barkley sees his quarterback rolling and matches him, while looking for space behind the defenders as they close down on the scrambling threat. Barkley finds a nice pocket of space and is wide open, but Jones has to make an incredibly awkward throw to get it to him.
The rookie has to flip his hips, and reset his feet so that he can properly throw, and he does so with a quick enough motion that he can get the ball off before the two defenders that are running straight towards him can get there. The efficiency of this throw, while rolling left and turning his body 180 degrees is impressive, and Saquon catches the ball in stride, to take the Giants down into the red zone.
And what happened after they got in the red zone?
The young quarterback was impressive through the air, but his rushing game was impressive, and he showed flashes of athleticism that are enough to steal a first down or two and can get him in the end zone as he did this week. Being able to use Jones in the zone run scheme elevates the one-dimensional feed-Saquon mentality, and his rushing production will surely make him a fantasy favourite.
Jones’ debut wasn’t perfect by any means. He fumbled twice in the game, both while still in the pocket, but they didn’t appear to be because of laziness or actively bad ball-security, more just defenders hitting his hand while his hand was on its way in or out of a throwing position.
He didn’t make the best ready on every play, either, and there was one play where he should have thrown an interception, but he didn’t. When you break down the film of a young player, it is increasingly important to look for the plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet – like we did on that tough throw that set up the TD. Now we are going to check out a play where he should have been intercepted, but that just went down as an incompletion.
Halfway through the second quarter, the Giants find themselves on 3rd and 15, and dial up the above play for Jones to try and pick up a first down. I’m not overly inspired by this play call, personally. There isn’t much in the way of zone or man beating routes, you just kind of need a guy to get open. The quick out break on the two receiver’s route is about as good as you’re going to get on this play, or if Saquon gets lucky, the option route could find him some space to run, but there’s not much to read.
Pre-snap the Buccaneers showed a mixture of aggression and passiveness. The line of scrimmage was host to six defenders who could threaten the QB, in a 4-2-5 double A-gap look, with a passive two-high shell at the time of the snap (the safety to the defensive left backpedalled just before the snap). The visual is very much a Cover 2 Sticks look – essentially the two deep safeties are just going to chill out unless you get to the 15-yard range that would constitute a first down. The cornerbacks have a similarly forgiving cushion, and are playing man coverage underneath the Cover 2 shell.
Jones has to make his best attempt at a read against the passive ‘throw it I dare you’ coverage, and he opts for the dig route on the right side of the field. This might have looked like a makeable throw but you really can’t sling the ball underneath a safety who has literally no other threats to his zone. If there was a post route from the opposite side or something like that it would make for a possible opening, but this call just won’t work against Cover 2 man.
While the occasional bad read is natural, this was one that stood out immediately. When I can tell exactly what the defense were doing after watching a play once, the QB shouldn’t be making bad reads, and this play should have ended up as an interception, instead of the punt which followed.
Now back to the good stuff, because let’s be clear – this debut was awesome. Saquon Barkley got injured in the dying minutes of the first half, and the feeling of the game suddenly shifted. While Jones was doing well, there is no doubt that the expectations for this team in the second half were not high, and even before the injury they weren’t that high.
Losing Saquon was a very real blow, and they had to start strong if they were to have any chance at overcoming the 18-point deficit they entered the third quarter with.
Alright then, so we need a strong start Daniel.
That was the first play of the third quarter.
The momentum shifted instantly, and all of a sudden, this game feels much closer than it did at the half.
On the first play of the game, Evan Engram ran a simple drag route and got open for a nice easy completion. On the first play of the second half, Engram had a crossing route again, but this time he was against zone coverage, and so he gained depth and found himself wide open for another easy completion to get into a nice rhythm. Except it was more than that.
In the Cover 3 shell that the defense gave, their free safety had to gain depth, and left Engram – one of the most athletic tight ends in the entire league, if not the most – with a couple yards more of a cushion than you’d want. When the safety, Mike Edwards, breaks on the route, it’s already too late, and he takes a bad angle. Once you miss a tackle on Evan Engram it’s over. The out-route from the slot held one possible tackler underneath and the go route from the outside actually ended up blocking the only remaining possible defender and springing the TE down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown to start the half.
While this play wasn’t an incredible throw or a crazy improvised effort from Jones, it was a good ball thrown to the right player on a good play call, and it resulted in giving an athlete a chance to make a play. That’s what this team should be, and that’s what this team was with Eli Manning – he won’t do anything crazy, but he’ll give his playmakers the chance to.
That isn’t to say, however, that Danny Dimes doesn’t show up every now and again and do something impressive. His final passing touchdown of the game was my favourite play of his debut, and I think that it perfectly demonstrates the plays that make Jones better than just being a game-manager.
The Engram touchdown and the subsequent successful two-point conversion reduced the gap to just 10 points, and after a great defensive possession, the Giants drove down the field again, on their very next drive, getting down into the red zone. With the chance to maintain the momentum, they had moved the ball 73-yards down the field, and were stood at the Tampa Bay seven-yard line.
The Giants broke the huddle in 11-personnel to a trips formation, with Evan Engram flexed just beyond the offensive line to the short side of the field, on the same side as Wayne Gallman, who had come in to serve as the halfback in Barkley’s absence. Those two on the short side run a flat-seven concept, and on the wide side of the field, the trips run a man-killing double rub for Sterling Shepherd.
This play design doesn’t just look messy because I’m not very good at drawing it out, it’s intentionally very messy. Imagine trying to defend it.
The three man defenders have to all fight their way through their own traffic, as the 1 and 2 receivers both run in-breaking routes at slightly different timings, which neatly match up with the urgency of Shepherd who runs an out breaking route as soon as is physically possible, while expertly dodging the frankly laughable collision course of panicking defenders.
The speed at which the receiver runs his route stops the safety from getting involved, and his use of hands to get off the line against a very aggressive defender, give him the ability to get ‘open’ for a tough throw.
The only thing that impressed me more than Sterling Shepherd’s ability to get cleanly through the chaos, is the way that Daniel Jones threw him open with a defender backing his right tackle up into his lap.
Jones has to throw this ball early because of the pressure, and throw it to a spot, because his receiver isn’t even remotely open yet.
Look at this screenshot from the moment at which Jones threw the ball.
First note the location of the lineman who is being driven back into his QB, and then look at where Sterling Shepherd is. This throw is legit. He had to throw it off-schedule, and he threw a guy open, even though at the time he let go of the ball he was in between three defenders, and he put it in a spot that only his teammate could get to it.
This is why we call him Danny Dimes.
The Buccaneers put up points in this game, 31 to be precise, but Daniel Jones wasn’t giving it up. After going into the second half down 10-28, they had clawed their way back into the game, and brought it back into reach. The Giants’ final drive began with 3:16 to go in the fourth, down by just 6 points.
Jones lead them down the field, and after a 70-yard drive, the New York offense, following the lead of their new QB, with their superstar running back stood on the sideline, the offense began to stutter.
After three consecutive pass attempts, the Giants once again put the ball in the hands of the sixth-overall pick. Fourth down with the game on the line.
Danny does it all.
Jones gives them the lead, the Buccaneers do Buccaneers things, and the New York Giants win for the first time this season. All because they decided to run man-coverage one too many times against a QB who’s surprisingly mobile. Jones had the ball put in his hands at the end of the game, and he saw an opening, and took it. Game, set, match.
There are things to improve, and room to grow, but what a way to win over the Giants fans.
Eli Manning has been usurped as the starter, finishing his stint with an exact .500 record of 116-116, but now it’s a new era, and Daniel Jones is 1-0.
A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL.
Image Credit: Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports