Film Room: is Landry Jones capable of operating the Steelers offense?

There’s been a lot said over the last week about Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones. Most of those comments have been negative, and while I understand the panic over losing a future Hall of Fame quarterback to injury (Ben Roethlisberger) I also feel many of those comments have been out of line.

I believe it’s because most fans have a short memory, or only recognize what they’ve seen in Jones’ preseason starts. Those starts have been a mixed bag, but like the preseason itself, you cannot take it seriously. (Yet many fans do grovel over the score of those games! Ugh.)

Below I’ve compiled some of the highlights we’ve had over the last year or so via our social media channels. I posted some of these throughout the week, challenging fans to #BackupLandry and support our second string QB as he takes on a tough opponent. While I recognize Landry Jones is not Ben Roethlisberger, I do feel he’s capable of sustaining Pittsburgh’s offense, as shown in flashes throughout his time with the team.

Even the head coaches in this week’s game have had complimentary things to say about Jones, including New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick:

Jones himself quoted Steelers coach Mike Tomlin:

“One time Coach (Mike) Tomlin said something along the lines of, ‘Gun fighters are going to get shot.’ For me, I have to go out there and cut it loose and play like that rather than trying to be too careful. Try to just go out there and take every check down that I can. Obviously, you have to play smart. But, you have to take what the defense gives you and try to be cautiously aggressive.”

Unlike Michael Vick, it appears that Tomlin, and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, aren’t afraid to let Landry Jones air it out. Below are some highlights of throws Jones has made in appearances in both the preseason, and regular season, with the Steelers.

Deep passes

Landry Jones got some extensive work with the “1’s” in week 3 of the preseason, the first week that Mike Tomlin had the starters take the field. After Ben Roethlisberger lead two complete scoring drives, Jones came in and got to mix with some of the starters who remained in the game.

A lot of flack was thrown at Jones, for a week earlier he threw 4 interceptions against the Philadelphia Eagles, while Sammie Coates also had a down performance in that same game.

Both players redeem themselves on this long connection against the Saints (clip provided by our friends at BlitzBurgh).

That’s not the first time we’ve seen a similar pass from Jones, who aired it out in last year’s Hall of Fame game as well.

Jones takes a 4 step drop before unloading the pass to Coates and Shakim Philips, leading both receivers and putting the ball where only they can make the play.

Last week’s game

Similarly, Jones has no opportunity to set his feet here against the Dolphins last week. The interior linemen get beat, with Jones having a defender in his face (and coming from his left.) Many criticized this play call, and Jones’ inability to find a wide open Xavier Grimble (crossing from left to right in this clip) as well as Antonio Brown, who had single coverage on a similar underneath route.

Watch this a few times to recognize why Jones was hurried on his drop back, and couldn’t throw to that side of the field. Had he forced it to the other side, he’s risking a tip, sack, or worse.

Back shoulder passes

Landry is incredibly accurate at connecting on fade routes in the endzone. For those who remember this acrobatic catch by Darrius Heyward-Bey in this year’s first preseason game, the throw was by none other than Jones.

Once again this ball was placed where only the receiver could make a play, with Jones familiar four-step drop and “hop” before the throw.

That may give you some indication that Landry needs that specific rhythm in order to complete deep passes, but he’s also capable of doing the same from the shotgun.

In this clip from the 2015 preseason, Jones throws nearly the same pass as he did to DHB, but this time he finds Shak Philips again, out of the shotgun, for the score.

As you play it again, notice Landry only needs a two-step drop as opposed to the four-step drops above, to air this one out.

Timing Routes

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared in awe of how Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown make plays together. Brown makes the seemingly impossible look routine. However, that won’t stop just because Big Ben is sidelined on Sunday.

In this game against the Arizona Cardinals, Jones once again puts a pass where only his receiver can make it; time time it’s AB, blanketed by one of the league’s top corners, Patrick Peterson.

All of the media hype about how Antonio isn’t the same player without Ben simply isn’t true. The numbers being used include all of the plays in which Roethlisberger was replaced last season, meaning those stats are shared by both Michael Vick and Landry Jones.

While Jones had more success throwing to Martavis Bryant, he was still able to connect for big plays with Brown as well. Here is the comparison between Vick and Jones in those relief appearances:

Antonio Brown

From Vick

  • 19 targets
  • 9 catches
  • 85 yards
  • 0 touchdowns
  • 4 first downs

From Jones

  • 17 targets
  • 12 catches
  • 232 yards
  • 0 touchdowns
  • 8 first downs

Brown had far more chemistry with Jones, catching more passes on less targets, and moving the chains twice as much.

He also had more yards, but some of that was attributed to YAC (or yards after catch).

Martavis Bryant

From Vick

  • 3 targets
  • 2 catches
  • 8 yards
  • 0 touchdowns
  • 0 first downs

From Jones

  • 16 targets
  • 8 catches
  • 179 yards
  • 3 touchdowns
  • 7 first downs

The important note in targets and catches here, is that Bryant’s first game back was the Steelers sixth game of the year against the Arizona Cardinals. Michael Vick started the game, and was having difficulty connecting with any of the Steelers receivers. Vick went 3-for-8 for 37.5 yards and a 45.8 QB rating. His 3 completions were:

  • Brown for -2 yards
  • Bryant for 1 yard
  • Bryant for 7 yards

Conversely, Jones completed 8-for-12 for 168 yards, 2 touchdowns and a 149.3 QB rating.

Again, I know that was one game, but it shows what could happen with the right game plan, and the proper reps in practice heading into the weekend.

I know a lot of you are probably thinking I’m crazy by now, but I’m not the only one with similar views. For more film analysis on Landry Jones, please visit our friends at Steel City Report: Why Landry Jones Will Surprise The Patriots On Sunday.

After reviewing what’s possible, I think we can all agree that competing with, and defeating the Patriots on Sunday, isn’t impossible.

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