Film room: Diagnosing Daniel Jones' woes
Every week, the Blue Zone takes you inside the video room and breaks down a key piece, player or unit for the Blue Devils’ opponent. In a special edition of Film Room, the Blue Zone dissects Daniel Jones’ struggles throw-by-throw.
It’s no secret that Daniel Jones has not been himself lately.
After a late surge last season in which he played like one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, Jones garnered considerable hype entering this season, but has not lived up to it. Since his first game against a Power Five team, Northwestern, he’s flopped.
Jones torched the Wildcats, but ever since has combined to complete just 42.2 percent of his passes in two straight ugly losses, including putting up a 14-of-42 stinker for 124 yards against Virginia on Saturday.
So what exactly went wrong against the Cavaliers?
From reviewing the film of all of Jones’ 46 pass attempts and sacks in Charlottesville, the redshirt sophomore committed 17 unforced errors and four errors that were forced and not entirely Jones’ fault due to pressure or receivers’ play. Just 12 were plays in which Jones did what was expected of him. The remaining 13 were miscues due to factors outside of Jones’ control, being either good defense, poor offensive line play or receiver errors. To see my chart documenting all of Jones' plays, click here.
Now, let’s break down what Jones could control—those 21 out of 46 plays from scrimmage that he made some sort of error on. Of those errors, just five of them were based upon timing—as in throwing too early or too late, or holding onto the ball too long in the pocket.
The vast majority of Jones’ errors—15 of the 21—came from poor touch on throws. Six of those 15 came on the five ensuing drives after being intercepted on just his second throw of the day.
So what does that all mean?
First off, it’s clear that Jones was rattled after the interception and unable to settle in. He struggled with distance on his throws in the ensuing drives, indicating a lack of confidence in his ability to make plays through the air. It appeared that he was trying to aim his throws and didn’t have much faith in himself—so he threw 10 consecutive incomplete passes.
Jones certainly has the touch and accuracy in him—he was lethally accurate down the stretch last year, throwing just one interception in his last seven games. It likely wasn’t a physical problem with his throwing motion—which is repeatable and quick—but rather an issue of confidence.
But after his 10th straight incompletion and five straight punts, something changed for Jones: He got his legs involved in the game. On the Blue Devils’ 15-play, 88-yard march to the end zone to take a 14-7 lead, Jones carried the ball twice on a zone read and a draw for a combined 14 yards before attempting a pass.
Using his legs seemed to energize him—he made the first play he was expected to make through the air on third-and-5, standing tall and stepping up in the face of pressure to hit T.J. Rahming for a first down.
After that, he completed three of his next four passes and ran for 34 more yards on the drive that ended with a seven-yard touchdown strike to tight end Davis Koppenhaver. On that play, Jones had to squeeze the ball in between three defenders, threading the needle for his first—and last—touchdown of the day.
However, the running didn’t solve Jones’ passing issues after that drive. He was certainly better in the second half, but not significantly so. The signal-caller’s accuracy and touch on deep balls seemed to improve, which is a good sign going forward for head coach David Cutcliffe. He threw more catchable deep balls, including a 30-yard strike to Rahming that was arguably his worst deep ball of the half—even though it was the only one completed. Three of his six deep balls in the second half were on target, even though just one was caught.
Jones left it too far short for Rahming to catch it in stride, forcing him to go to the ground instead of almost assuredly taking it to the house, as seen below.
The Charlotte native also struggled on vertical passes against Miami, completing just one of seven pass attempts of longer than 15 yards. However, despite his improvements on the deep ball late, he still struggled with timing, throwing some too late or too early to be caught.
As a whole, Duke will need to improve all of the elements it uses in its passing attack, including its offensive line and receivers, but it all starts with Jones—he will need to find the confidence within himself to avoid the unforced errors that have plagued him in recent games.