I’m not here to hate on Landry Jones. There are plenty of fans out there to do that for me. He is a back up quarterback. Any expectation that he would perform at a level anywhere close to that of a starter, let alone Ben Roethlisberger, is unrealistic. I’m also not going to point out the obvious mistakes he made vs New England. What I will try to do is show the less obvious errors committed by Landry on Sunday. It’s my belief that the reasons for those mistakes are rooted in fear.
We can all remember the first interception by Jones after the Steelers had taken over in excellent field position following a fumble recovery. I’m going to go back before that, to the first drive of the game by the Steelers. The offense faced a 3rd and 7 after two plays. Todd Haley came up with a play design that provide an opportunity to convert a first down:
Not shown is Bell motioning out of the backfield to line up wide. LB Jamie Collins followed Bell. This indicates to Jones that the Patriots are in man coverage. As the ball is snapped, the lone high safety stays in the middle of the field, again telling Jones it is man coverage. I won’t pretend to know the design of the play by Haley. I’m willing to bet, however, that Heyward-Bey stemming his route right into Collins was not by accident. A “rub-route” is a perfect way to beat man coverage. Combine that with Bell taking a shallow release, and it would seem the play was designed for him to get the ball.
Jones, however, threw to the first receiver he saw flash in front of him. Grimble had no chance to get to the 1st down marker, barring a total whiff by the safety. I’ve seen some criticism of Grimble for not running his route deep enough. I disagree. I believe Grimble was supposed to get as much width (rather than depth) as possible in order to open up space for Bell. There’s no way to know for sure if Bell would’ve made the 1st down, but he had a much better chance than Grimble. Landry getting rid of the ball too quickly prevented the play from having any chance of success.
I’m sure most fans have heard the expression, “Take what the defense gives you.” Most would probably also assume that to mean that the defense is “giving,” or conceding the short throws. That’s not always the case. We’ll look at an example from the 3rd quarter of the game where “what the defense gave” was an intermediate throw.
This is another 3rd down situation; 3rd and 4 from the Patriots 28 yard line. The Steelers are trailing 14-10, with the potential to take the lead if they can convert on this play. The Patriots are going to drop into Cover 2. Before we get to the play, I’d like to quickly review what Cover 2 is designed to take away, and where its weaknesses are:
As we can see, there are 5 underneath defenders, which make the windows on short routes much smaller. The areas to attack Cover 2 are in the deep middle, and to the intermediate areas behind the CB and in front of the S to either side.
So let’s see where Landry Jones decided to throw the ball against the Patriots coverage:
The safeties are in a Cover 2 look pre-snap. It appears that Jones is looking to the middle of the field. Cobi Hamilton on the post route would certainly be an option vs Cover 2. The Patriots added a wrinkle, however; they dropped eight, only rushing 3. Jamie Collins (MLB) immediately drops to the deep middle. As Jones sees this, he has only one other viable option as to where to throw the ball. Jones immediately has to make the throw to Antonio Brown on the deep out.
Jones doesn’t throw it to AB. He double pumps and throws it instead to Xavier Grimble working his way to the sideline. With the CB sticking to his flat responsibility, there is almost no chance of a completion.
Was it going to be a difficult throw to make to AB? Definitely. It is where the ball has to be thrown against that coverage, however. It wasn’t. The Steelers didn’t convert. They settled for a FG, and still trailed 14-13.
We’ll move into the 4th quarter as the Steelers begin a critical drive. They trail, 27-16, with 11:44 left in the game. If they are going to have any chance of making a comeback, the Steelers offense has to score here.
The Patriots, with a two score lead, naturally played coverages that would tend to prevent a big play. On the first play of this drive, they went back to their Cover 2. As they did earlier, the Patriots rushed only 3, while dropping 8 into coverage:
At the snap, it appears that Landry Jones looks to his left. My guess is that he was looking for Cobi Hamilton on the curl route. Seeing that taken away, and with the pre-snap look of Cover 2, Jones again has one viable option: he has to throw it to Jesse James on the corner pattern, immediately.
Jones doesn’t. He hesitates, and by then it’s too late. He dances around a bit, then tries to come back to Cobi on the curl. I didn’t show the end of the play. The pass was a bit high and hit off Cobi’s hands. The Steelers went three and out on the drive, forced to punt.
One thing I want to point out on all 3 plays: the Patriots did not disguise their coverage. Landry Jones would’ve had a good idea what the coverage was pre-snap, and nothing the Patriots did after the play began changed that. This in important because rather than being able to point to confusion on Jones part, it points to something else. Indecisiveness and perhaps fear (of being hit, of throwing an INT) seem to be the reasons Jones did not attempt what appear to be the proper throws.
Again, my point in this film room was not to show Landry Jones shortcomings. Instead, I wanted to show that the throws that are not made can prove to be just as big a mistake as an obviously poorly thrown ball.