First off the board: QBs Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones impress with less
TEMPE, Ariz. — Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury enjoys a good underdog.
He felt like his team was full of them during his six years coaching at Texas Tech, a place where being outrecruited was a given and overcoming that was about finding diamonds in the rough.
It’s why Kingsbury always loved Kyler Murray, who has always been questioned because of his height and his unique play-style.
The Arizona head coach feels somewhat similarly about the quarterback of his next opponent, the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones.
Jones played at Duke, another school not known for its football program, before New York selected him sixth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, drawing criticism in the process.
“Coming from Texas Tech you appreciate the guys that you may not always go out there with the top talent around you, but he battled his tail off and he kept those guys in every game he played in and you can appreciate that,” Kingsbury said. “I kind of have a soft spot for that and knowing what that’s like each week. He’s a really good player.”
Just like Murray in Arizona, Jones has won over the Giants fan base.
The success of the top two quarterbacks drafted in 2019 unsurprisingly led to a debate on national sports television. Is he or Murray better?
Murray is having a better year statistically heading into a Week 7 matchup Sunday at MetLife Stadium, but there’s reason to suggest that Jones’ arm talent and poise is legitimate as well.
Command of their respective offenses
It’s probably safe to give this to Murray, whose NFL introduction was sped up because he played in a similar Air Raid system at Oklahoma.
The Cardinals allowed Murray to check in and out of plays, and Kingsbury said the rookie is able to change it completely if there’s a good reason.
“It’s a function of if someone’s been doing it a long time, they’re more comfortable doing it, which he has been,” Cardinals pass game coordinator Tom Clements said. “There are other offensive systems where quarterbacks don’t have that freedom or the ability to do that. It would be a longer learning period in the NFL — but he’s gone through that learning period in college.”
Giants head coach Pat Shurmur wasn’t very forthcoming about how much command Jones has in his offense, but Jones too has the ability to check at the line of scrimmage and change plays to some degree.
“He’s able to execute our offense the way we have it, which in some cases requires change in plays or adjusting protections,” Shurmur said. “We certainly try to give him the things that will work against the team that we’re playing against and practice it, so he has the confidence to execute it.”
Searching for weapons
Arizona has gone more and more toward using its two tight ends and two running backs in the last few weeks. Whether or not that trend sticks remains to be seen.
Murray has found success with weapons like running backs David Johnson and Chase Edmonds — something Jones hasn’t been afforded in the past few weeks. Paired with trustworthy slot receivers like Christian Kirk (when healthy) and Larry Fitzgerald, plus outside receivers KeeSean Johnson, Trent Sherfield and Damiere Byrd, the Cardinals have found roles for an array of players.
For the Giants, Jones has mostly played without star running back Saquon Barkley, who was injured in Jones’ first start against Tampa Bay. Top tight end Evan Engram and receiver Sterling Shepard have also been out. Veteran wideout Golden Tate and an inexperienced crew have been Jones’ targets in the last two weeks. With health turning for the Giants, it’s safe to say this week will arm the rookie quarterback more than ever.
Aggressive or open?
Jones leads the NFL by registering aggressive throws 31.4% of the time. Aggressiveness is Next Gen Stat’s measurement of how often a quarterback throws into tight coverage (a defender is within a yard at time of completion or incompletion).
“He cuts it loose — that’s one thing I always look for in young quarterbacks,” Kingsbury said this week. “When they see it, do they cut it loose? Sometimes they make mistakes, but he pulls the trigger. You can tell their offense believes in him.”
Less accuracy has resulted, however. He has the fourth-worst average air yards differential of -3.7, per Sports Info Solutions. That is the difference between the depth of his intended passes (8.7 yards) and the depth of his completed passes (5.0 yards).
For Arizona, Murray aggressiveness rate is just 13.9%.
He only attacks on average of 7.4 yards down the field. Doing so into less traffic, he completes an average of 5.7 yards through the air.
Deep ball accuracy
Jones and Murray have both provided evidence they’re accurate down the field. But Jones, due to his injury-riddled team, does not have the numbers despite the attempts.
That doesn’t mean he’s a shy guy.
Jones isn’t hitting on downfield passes, but according to tracking data he is fairly on-target. Overall, he is more on target in general than Murray.
Yet Murray has completed 12-of-28 passes of 20 yards or more to Jones’ league-worst 3-of-20, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Quick offensive operation speeds
Murray averages 2.62 seconds until he throws the ball, while Jones takes 2.84 seconds, on average, to make a throw, per Next Gen Stats.
NFL-wide, Jones holds it the ninth-longest, while Murray holds it the 28th-longest.
Who is hotter coming into Week 7?
It didn’t take long for Jones to join Murray as a starting NFL quarterback after New York demoted veteran Eli Manning heading into Week 3. Against the Buccaneers in Jones’ debut as the starter, the sixth-overall pick threw for 336 yards and two passing touchdowns. He added two more scores as a runner.
In the Giants’ last two games, against the Vikings and Patriots, Jones has failed to complete more than 56% of his passes and not surpassed 182 yards while throwing a combined two touchdowns to four interceptions.
All that said, having Barkley, Engram and potentially other contributing offensive players back should help the Giants rookie keep pace with the only quarterback that went before him in the draft.
Poise with athleticism go a long way
Murray’s two best attributes are obvious: His confidence and his ability to extend plays and even attack on designed runs.
Meanwhile, Jones is more athletic than you think at 6-foot-5. He’s got two rushing touchdowns on the year and ran a 4.8-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
“He can do both,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “He’s very similar to (Panthers QB) Kyle Allen.
“He’s made some plays with his feet, he’s thrown some deep balls. He’s made some mistakes as a young guy. He is playing with great poise. That’s not fun to see as a coordinator. He is not seeing the rush. He’s looking down the field, making throws.”
The basic numbers
64.3% completions (152 of 238)
1,664 yards (7.0 yards per attempt)
7 passing touchdowns, 4 interceptions
21 sacks taken
238 rushing yards (6.1 yards per attempt)
2 rushing touchdowns, 1 fumble
60.7% completions (85 for 140)
921 yards (6.6 yards per attempt)
5 passing touchdowns, 6 interceptions
10 sacks taken
86 rushing yards (5.6 yards per attempt)
2 rushing touchdowns, 3 fumbles