Daniel Jones has the New York Giants' starting quarterback with two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning benched ahead of the team's Week 3 road game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's the end of an era for Giants football and the beginning of a new brand of offensive football. Jones brings a different skill set than anything the Giants had with Manning and he was handpicked by head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman to fit a new brand of offense. The Giants' offensive attack is about to change -- both drastically and immediately -- so let's break down what differences you'll see and how it can improve.
Increased success in the play-action passing game
When Shurmur arrived in New York prior to the 2018 season, the Giants offense was expected to refocus around the play-action passing game. Heavy usage of the play-action passing game is exactly how Shurmur was able to find success in Minnesota during the 2017 season with Case Keenum at quarterback and a middling offensive line. Shurmur was named AP Assistant Coach of the Year that season. Shurmur never found consistent success in the play-action passing game with Manning -- save for the final four games of the 2018 regular season -- but that could change fast with Jones at quarterback.
In a conversation I had with CBS Sports NFL analyst Tony Romo back in August, how Jones' mobility, similar to what Shurmur had in Minnesota with Keenum, will make a massive impact on the play-action passing game.
"I see the upside of what can happen with their play-action game," Romo said at the 2019 NFL on CBS Media Day. "Your ability to be mobile, you saw it in Minnesota with Case Keenum when Shurmur was there. The success he had just from a little bit of the mobility, that really does help."
Increased usage of RPO offensive concept
One of the biggest changes we'll see is the increased usage of RPO (run-pass option) and zone-read concepts on offense. Let's start by breaking each down. The RPO offensive concept is designed to give the quarterback an option to hand the ball off to the running back or throw a quick-hitting pass -- typically a slant or crosser. The objective of the RPO game is to force one of the defensive players in the box to commit to the running back or the pass in his zone.
"The RPO can only be as dangerous as your running play," Romo said. "However, if the defense isn't going to account for the run, then you're really not going to get the big plays it can create. If the Giants are going to do it, you really have to live in it. You can't just sprinkle it in twice. I think they do a good job, with the Giants you see it. The problem is now it's on tape, and once it's on tape, it's on tape. Teams are going to figure it out if you just sprinkle it in. If you do it a lot, it's harder for them, because things look similar."
The Giants used the RPO game sparsely with Manning and most of the reads he made were before the snap. Ultimately, for the RPO concept operates at its peak when the quarterback is making the read after the snap. The great news for Giants fans is that Jones already ran the RPO concept at Duke and he ran it extensively in David Cutcliffe's offensive system. He also found some immediate success with it during the 2019 preseason.
Taking a look at some Dan Jones...— Nick Turchyn (@Tmanic21) August 9, 2019
🎯2x2 set vs 6 MIB
🎯Inside Zone Weak tagged with Double Slants (RPO)
🎯Secures Throwing Lane for Slot (QB prob knows hes going to 1st Slant vs 1-High and the DB's leverage)
This was DJ's bread and butter at Duke#GiantsPride pic.twitter.com/GxLjaTYqtM
More downfield pass attempts
It wasn't always like this, but the 2019 version of Manning was not an aggressive downfield thrower. After spending four seasons with Ben McAdoo, as both head coach and offensive coordinator, Manning was reprogrammed to get rid of the football in less than 2.5 seconds. The idea behind McAdoo's system was quite simple -- decipher the defensive look before the snap, stick with that read, and get rid of the ball quickly. Over the last two seasons, the Giants have thrown short of the sticks far too often on third and long situations. In addition, they weren't taking shots down the field on early downs either.
Although he was billed as a similar prospect to Manning by the mainstream media, a deep dive into Jones' game tape at Duke shows that assessment couldn't be further from the truth. Jones is a big thinker and the best ball he throws is arguably the deep touch pass -- specifically on rhythm fade routes. With Jones at quarterback, you can expect the Giants to take a lot more shots down the field.
2nd&short. Jones is thinking BIG. He immediately looks left to perceived 1st read. Subtle pump fake to further sell/hold the safety in the middle. Whole time he has plans to go backside post. Snaps body right, throws to WR's backside away from defender. The safety is lost #Giants pic.twitter.com/ajv8984kuj— Dan Schneier (@DanSchneierNFL) August 26, 2019
Introduction of the zone-read option
When Shurmur arrived in New York, he revamped the Giants' run-blocking scheme. On the vast majority of run calls over the last 18 regular season games, the Giants have used an inside zone-blocking scheme. How do you maximize an inside-zone blocking scheme? One way is to introduce the zone-read option, but that wasn't possible with Manning at quarterback. With Jones starting, now it becomes a possibility. The zone-read option allows the quarterback to pull the ball down and run it himself if the EDGE defender crashes down to stop the running back.
Jones already found success running the zone-read option at Duke and he ran a 4.67 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. The former AAU basketball player is a much better athlete than Manning was at any point of his career and especially in 2019. He nearly ran for 200 yards in a rivalry game against North Carolina during the 2018 season.
The #Giants won't always dial it up (think how JAX used Bortles, DAL w/ Dak, etc), but Jones will offer Shurmur the ability to use zone-read. He ran a 4.67 at his Pro Day and it showed up in the games I've seen. The ability to run zone-read will be KEY for the stagnant red zone O pic.twitter.com/QaXTa46kp9— Dan Schneier (@DanSchneierNFL) May 8, 2019
More designed bootlegs, resetting of the pocket
The Giants tried to incorporate designed bootleg passes and the concept of having the quarterback reset the pocket before making his throw with Manning and they found varying success doing so. However, they didn't establish consistency with this concept under Manning, and unfortunately for the veteran, this concept is paramount in Shurmur's offensive system. In addition to his excitement about where the Giants' play-action passing game is headed with a quarterback like Jones, Romo also believes his athleticism will play a big role in helping Shurmur find consistency with designed bootlegs.
"With some of the stuff the Giants do in the run game, the actions the quarterback does off of that can really get you to reset the pocket and effectively help the offensive line," Romo said. "To me, that is also as big of a deal as the ability to run for first downs. Your ability to recreate the pocket and find more time to help other people is more important than running the ball for first downs."
Added space for Saquon Barkley to operate
Barkley has the talent to be successful in any offensive system, but one of the reasons why his skill set was maximized at Penn State was due to his pairing with (then) offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. What Moorhead figured out early was the potential for an offense that featured an athletic quarterback with a running back like Barkley. Moorhead and the Penn State offense maximized the horizontal spacing and this created more room for Barkley to do what he does best -- make defenders miss in the open field and break wimpy tacklers. Don't be surprised if Shurmur begins to incorporate some of the offensive concepts that Moorhead used to make Penn State so successful during the Barkley era.
More snaps out of the shotgun
The most immediate and obvious change you'll see is how much more often the Giants offense will operate out of the shotgun formation. During his collegiate career at Duke, Jones took the vast majority -- nearly every snap -- out of the shotgun formation. He has had all summer to improve his footwork and reads from under center, and he showed signs of progress doing so in the preseason, but operating out of the shotgun is much more natural for Jones right now. That's not a bad thing. Jones reads the field better from the shotgun snap, he moves through his progressions faster, and ultimately the shotgun formation allows the Giants to mix in new offensive concepts (that we will get to below).
More success on mesh concepts, crossers
In the passing game, there is no route concept that Shurmur loves to use more often than the mesh concept -- simplified as what most people know as crossing routes. It's the principle of his offensive system and any west coast based system. In order for any passing game to maximize this concept, it needs a quarterback who throws a "runner's ball" on crossers. In other words, ball placement is key on these routes. It is extremely important to use ball placement that allows the intended receiver to maximize his yards after the catch potential.
When I reviewed Jones' game tape at Duke extensively, the three areas of his game that stood out the most to me were his ability to throw a runner's ball, his accuracy while on the run, and his poise in the pocket.
Another one of DJ's top traits: throws a 'runner's ball' AKA + placement to maximize YAC, on crossers, making 2nd-and-18 a 3rd-and-doable. This is Russell Shep. Room for more with Sterling, Engram— Dan Schneier (@DanSchneierNFL) August 26, 2019
Not captured (length issues): DJ changed the Oline protection 5 sec before the snap pic.twitter.com/2dPGqkeFRW
The Giants offense will look a lot different with Jones at quarterback and these changes won't take long to become apparent to anyone who watches New York. There will be growing pains, as there are for just about any rookie who has started games during his rookie season over the last two decades, but there will also be progression. This is what it's all about. The Giants made this decision because it's time to get the Jones era started. Live game reps with skill players like Barkley, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard will improve his chemistry and better prepare the team for the remainder of the 2019 season and beyond.