Steelers QB Jones’ passes targeting mostly 1st reads
Just like some major league pitchers, Landry Jones has been better in relief than he has as a starter so far in his brief NFL career.
Jones has two wins out of the proverbial bullpen over the past four weeks, both times leading a late scoring drive that was necessary for victory. A 4 of 6, 79-yard passing line during Sunday’s win against the Oakland Raiders made Jones 12 for 18 for 247 yards in his two outings off the bench this season.
But beyond the raw numbers and their small sample size, how did Jones acquit himself in his throws Sunday?
Of the 12 offensive plays Jones was in for, he threw seven passes (one was called back because of penalty) of mixed quality.
Let’s start with his two incompletions. One was inexcusable. He missed a wide open DeAngelo Williams standing less than 10 yards away, directly in front of him in a situation where the Steelers needed the clock to keep running.
His other incompletion was an accurately thrown ball 60 yards in the air downfield to Martavis Bryant. However, the decision to throw it could be questioned because it was thrown into double coverage.
Of the five balls Jones threw that were caught, two were slightly off-target to Brown, who made nice catches on them. Two others were easy tosses into the flat.
Notably, all but one appeared to be Jones’ first read, simple three-step drops in which he knew exactly where he was going with the ball and delivered it confidently, albeit somewhat telegraphed.
Be it by intentional play design to keep things simple for him, a tendency for Jones to gravitate toward his first read or because his first option was that adept at getting open, Jones only appeared to check down once on a dump off to Heath Miller that gained 5 yards.
Twice Jones had to deal with pressure on him. Once, it seemed to fluster him on the missed pitch-and-catch with Williams. The other time, he had a nice, subtle evasion of a pass rusher as he went through his reads to find Miller.
Jones showed the look of being poised and confident while under center, in the shotgun and usually while in the pocket. It will be interesting to follow how many times he goes through his progressions if, as expected, he starts this Sunday.
• On the first snap of the game, the Steelers opened up in a five-wide look — four wide receivers and Heath Miller set out — for perhaps the first time this season. Antonio Brown was to the far left, and the Raiders (the league’s worst pass defense) left him in single coverage. The ball wasn’t thrown Brown’s way on that play, but it was on the next, and it would be many more times. Yet the Raiders seemed averse to adjusting, even as Brown ammassed Steelers records of 17 catches, 284 yards and 23 targets. David Amerson, waived by the Redskins after Week 2 and a prominent part of Oakland’s secondary since, was most often on a proverbial island with Brown, but D.J. Hayden was at times, too. The Raiders usually relied on Cover 1 (one deep safety), which did not allow for too much help for them most of the time against the reigning league receiving leader. It was a recipe for a predictable result — a huge game for Brown.
• Was Chris Hubbard, of all people, the key pawn in a ruse as a decoy? Perhaps. With Matt Spaeth out, the guard was used as an extra tight end seven times — once in a three-tight end set near the goal line, and twice over a three-play span late. But it was the four plays he was in during the first quarter that were most interesting. Each of the four used the same personnel package: Miller, DeAngelo Williams, Brown and fullback Roosevelt Nix. Nix was always in the backfield (in an I-formation or as an H-back), and Brown was always out wide. The first three plays were Williams runs in which he followed Nix, who had not been utilized frequently by the Steelers to that point this season. Brown barely went through the motions of running a route. The Raiders, meanwhile, used the same alignment each time, with nine men in the box, a corner in single coverage on Brown and a deep safety. On the fourth play with Hubbard eligible, you guessed it, the Steelers went play-action with Nix selling it well blasting into a hole. Brown dug in to beat Hayden, then made a move to freeze safety Charles Woodson. The play gained 59 yards.
• Nix is making a name for himself, and not just on special teams. He played a career-high 29 snaps — more than a third of the Steelers’ offensive plays. He showed that he is not just a one-trick pony and will go out on a route on occasion. As the plays with Hubbard proved, he’s not just a mere run-blocker. But it is there where he excels most, his 5-11 frame propelling itself into a hole with the play typically designed for the ball carrier to follow him. Nix’s blocks aren’t pancakes. They can best be described as space-clearers, as they have a tendency to push the defender backwards, sometimes 5 yards or more. With Nix, the worst-case scenario seems to be earning at least a draw with the player he’s blocking, and that often is good enough for a win if there is a skilled running back following him.
• The outside linebacker rotation has endured more than half the season now with starters Jarvis Jones and Arthur Moats almost exclusively playing with each other, and James Harrison and Bud Dupree likewise forming an almost-inseparable duo. The timeshare, with rare exceptions, is on a series-to-series basis. However, it is not a strict rotation of alternating series. For example, Harrison and Dupree played the second and third Raiders’ possessions after Moats and Jones started the game. Of note in charting responsibilities, Jones is the most likely of the four to be used in pass coverage rather than as a pass rusher.
By the numbers
DeAngelo Williams, carries of 20-plus yards (22, 53)
Steelers carries of 20-plus yards in 2015, NFL’s most
Fumbles by the Raiders (three lost)
Average Steelers starting field position after a Jacoby Jones kickoff return
Plays, of 85, in which the Steelers did not use a huddle
Yards per play in Steelers no-huddle plays (Passing: 5 for 7, 54 yards)
No-huddle snaps with Jones at QB