Landry Jones just had his best game as a professional quarterback. Of course, when you spent two years setting the bar somewhere between sea level and the Dead Sea, it's not exactly Earth-shattering if you finally manage to clear the bar.
As a rookie, his mechanics needed work. He couldn't read a defense, was slow to get through his progressions and, even when he identified an open receiver, he more often than not over, or under-threw, his target.
Fast-forward from 2013 to 2015, and there is definitely progress being made. He's learning to identify things pre-snap, and he seems to check through his receivers well enough. Several times in Sunday night's loss to the Minnesota Vikings, he scanned the field and, finally, checked down to a running back or a tight end on a shallow route. At the very least, with two seasons under his belt, he has finally figured out the most fundamental aspects of the pro game.
In his defense, he played in a spread, timing-based offense in college. He threw the ball where a receiver was supposed to be, and he hoped like heck that his own guy was the first to the ball. And it worked for him, particularly when he first took over the starting job from Sam Bradford, now the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, after Bradford twice injured the same shoulder in 2009.
It hasn't translated to the pro game, though. He seems to finally be getting it, but there's still something...off.
He looks good on some plays. Quite good, in fact. Other plays, he might make the right decision, but it's a bad throw. His long completion to Shakim Phillips was just such a throw, that was almost too high for Phillips to catch. If not for a spectacular effort by the receiver, that's precisely how it would have gone down.
But it's those other plays, that third category, that still happen far too often. Numerous times last night, his throws weren't just errant; they were barely on the same continent with his receivers. On one series, he threw one at the receiver's feet, then threw another at least six feet over his head. Both plays were intended to go about 15 yards downfield.
But there were those moments when you just knew the lightbulb was finally beginning to come on. The pass, in heavy traffic, that so perfectly threaded the needle and hit tight end Jesse James in the chest -- which James dropped. The perfect strike to James that should have been a leisurely walk-in of a touchdown -- which James dropped. (James dropping passes kind of became one of the themes of the night; can't pin that one Jones, though.)
He read coverages well, too. His throw to Phillips, while just a bit high, was the exact throw he needed to make in that situation. He found cushions, and he took advantage of rookie cornerback Trae Waynes' overly aggressive play to either complete several passes or draw crucial penalties. Jones seemed to be in Waynes' head all night long.
Yes, you read that right. Read it again, it will say the same thing. I promise.
But, it doesn't matter if a quarterback can read every defense perfectly, deftly escape all pressure, or move through his progressions with ease. If he can't deliver the ball on-target with any kind of consistency, he simply cannot be counted on to win. And the bottom line in the NFL, and certainly in a title-rich city like Pittsburgh, is simply to win.
The plan from the start was to get a good, long look at Jones. I wouldn't be surprised if Tajh Boyd takes the vast majority of the snaps next week. He is, after all, the guy who was brought in to put pressure on Jones. Maybe he will outdo Jones, and maybe not. The bar may have been raised a bit, but it's still not very high. Jones will have to keep raising it if he wants to remain a Steeler. The potential is still there, but potential doesn't win games. Performance does.
Here's hoping Jones can finally bring down the house. But I'm not counting on it yet.