Rookie head coach Joe Judge has continually expressed the belief that the New York Giants, despite their 1-7 won-loss record, have shown constant improvement throughout the first half of the 2020 NFL season.
Judge continued to make that case during a videoconference with New York/New Jersey media on Tuesday.
“I see this team making a lot of progress,” said Judge, while admitting there are still mistakes being made that are costing the team chances to win. “I see them being close, obviously, in a lot of situations. Close isn’t good enough in this business. We have to keep pushing forward and get the results that we’re working for.”
Judge is right.
It’s not hard to make the case that the Giants have improved in a number of areas since the beginning of the season.
- The defense, still without enough true play-makers, is over-performing its talent level. That’s a credit to defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.
- The offensive line, still not exactly an impenetrable wall, is improving.
- After struggling mightily to run the ball in the first three games, the Giants have surpassed 100 yards rushing in four of the last five games.
- After struggling early on to generate explosive plays, the Giants’ offense is finding more ways to at least create opportunities to have those explosive, field position and sometimes game-changing explosive plays.
- Young players like offensive linemen Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart, Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates are improving and playing bigger roles. On defense, players like Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, Devante Downs, Isaac Yiadom, Madre Harper and Tae Crowder (before going on IR) are beginning to take advantage of their opportunities.
It is also easy to see that there are too many critical mistakes being made. It is also easy to see that far too many of those mistakes are coming from the quarterback position.
Which brings us to Daniel Jones.
It’s not hard to make the case that Jones’ poor decision-making directly cost the Giants a stunning upset of the heavily-favored Buccaneers on Monday night. Both of Jones’ interceptions were what would be called “unforced errors” in a tennis match, and both had dramatic impacts on the scoreboard.
Tampa Bay turned those two interceptions into 10 points. Add the fact that both came with the Giants entering scoring territory, and you are subtracting as many as 14 potential points from the Giants. That is a potential swing of 24 points in a game that the Giants lost by 2.
I had quarterback analyst Mark Schofield on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast on Tuesday to talk about Jones. We talked about the difference those two disastrous plays made in the outcome.
“If he takes a sack or throws it away on just one of those two moments we might be talking about a completely different game. You would expect better from a quarterback even in just his second year because these are things that should have been stressed to him all along the way as he was developing as a quarterback,” Schofield said.
“When you’ve got [Tampa Bay defender] Shaq Barrett draped around your legs or draped around your shoulders just eat the sack. I don’t want to say it’s quarterbacking 101, but it might be quarterbacking 102. It’s basic stuff.”
Every quarterback makes a mistake on occasion. Tom Brady does. Eli Manning made plenty over 16 seasons, but he also had enough great moments to win a pair of Super Bowl titles.
The problem for Jones, and ultimately for the Giants, is that the same mistakes keep happening over, and over, and over again.
Jones has thrown 9 interceptions with only 7 touchdown passes through 8 games this season. His interception percentage is up to 3.3 percent from 2.6 percent as a rookie. His touchdown percentage of 2.6 percent is only half the 5.2 percent touchdown rate he compiled last season. Jones has thrown 21 interceptions in 20 NFL starts.
- In Week 1 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers Jones threw an interception inside the 5-yard line when he decided too late to throw a ball away, got hit and lofted a flutterball that got picked off in the end zone. The Steelers, now the only unbeaten team in football, turned that interception into a field goal. Take away the touchdown the Giants should have scored, add the field goal Pittsburgh got and there is a 10-point swing in a game the Giants lost by 10 points.
- In a 17-9 Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the Giants were driving for what could have turned into a tying score, was intercepted at the Rams’ 5-yard line with :57 to play. On that play, Jones had an opportunity to run for good yardage. Instead, he threw late and behind to Damion Ratley and the Rams intercepted.
- Then, of course, there was Monday night. Two awful interceptions. A late read and bad throw on what should have been a game-tying two-point conversion. A number of other off-target passes on throws both short and long.
“It is very concerning,” Schofield said of Jones’ penchant for critical mistakes. “It’s one thing if you make a throw and a guy makes a good play. That’s going to happen. But these are avoidable turnovers.”
The failed two-point conversion
We can argue forever about whether or not there should have been pass interference called against Tampa Bay’s Antoine Winfield Jr. An on-time, on-target throw by Jones, though, and there is no controversy at all. It’s an easy two-point conversion and a tie game with 28 seconds to play.
Giants fans far more upset that it wasn’t called DPI than Jones being 2 seconds late throwing to his first option on the play. Winfield was not close to Lewis pic.twitter.com/ylphuWTPOB— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) November 3, 2020
Jones was neither on time nor on target. He was late delivering the ball and threw it too far inside, giving Winfield an opportunity to make a play.
Schofield said the play was “Emblematic of some of the concerns and reservations I’ve had about Jones dating back to his time at Duke University, and I think it’s emblematic of some of the concerns that others around the league have.
“It encapsulated a lot of the flows and the slow developmental growth that have people worried.”
Those concerns are largely about Jones’ ability, or inability, to make quick decisions with the football.
Here is Schofield’s take on the play:
“You know from the movement, from the fact that Antoine Winfield is trailing him across the formation that it’s man coverage. You know before the ball is snapped that that formation, three vertical releases from tight ends on the right is going to create traffic that, since it is man coverage, Antoine Winfield will have to fight through.
“As such when you get that ball snapped to you your eyes have to immediately go to Lewis in the flat and the ball has to immediately come out.
“You have this play dialed up, easy read, it should come out of your hands almost immediately and it should be a walk-in two-point conversion … this was a play that was called at the perfect moment, he got the look he wanted and Jones didn’t execute. It comes down to reading it and making a quick decision, things we’ve all been concerned about with Daniel Jones and it was a huge factor on that play.”
Judge was asked on Tuesday if sitting Jones, even just for one game, might help him. He had a simple answer.
Judge is absolutely correct here. Sitting Jones, in my view, doesn’t help anything. The Giants don’t need information about Colt McCoy. He is a 34-year-old veteran backup who is never going to be more than that.
Playing McCoy does not help the Giants get the information they ultimately need to make a decision about whether or not to stick with Jones and build around him after this season. It also does nothing to help Jones become a better quarterback.
Offensive line coach Marc Colombo said last week that struggling rookie offensive tackle Andrew Thomas simply had to keep practicing, keep playing and “fight through some of this stuff” that had been impacting his play.
Thomas, for what it’s worth, played his best game of the season in Week 8 against Tampa Bay.
Jones is in a similar situation. He isn’t going to learn to stop trying to make plays that aren’t there by sitting on the bench and watching McCoy run the offense. He needs to continue to play, continue to face those situations, continue to succeed or fail. In the end, his ability or inability to learn and grow will tell the Giants which path they will need to follow.
“It’s getting late early”
Is Daniel Jones “the guy” who can be the long-term quarterback for the Giants? Or, will the Giants — likely with a very early pick in the 2021 NFL Draft — be back in the quarterback market?
“I do think we are trending in that direction (needing a new quarterback),” Schofield said.
“I’m not ready to make that case yet. I think you still have to give Jones an opportunity ... I think you still have to give him a chance, but it’s getting late early and if we’re still here in mid-December as the season starts to wind down and Jones is not a better quarterback than he was at the start of the year I think it becomes much clearer that you probably have to move in a quarterback direction at the start of next year’s draft.”
For now, though, it remains too early to give a definitive judgment. There are eight games to play and Jones could still show the signs of development the Giants need to see to go forward with him.
“As I told Giants fans when this year started you are hoping that Daniel Jones by the end of the year, Week 16, Week 17, whatever, is a better quarterback than he was Week 1, Week 2. The trend line isn’t favorable through that lens. We’re seeing a lot of the same mistakes from Daniel Jones that we saw at the start of this season, at the end of last year and time’s running out for him.
“We know in today’s NFL a) there’s almost no patience when it comes to quarterback development b) because of the cap structure and how rookie contracts are handled teams are more willing to just cut bait on a young quarterback if it’s not working out and c) Dave Gettleman might be in danger here. You might get a new general manager who didn’t draft Daniel Jones, who may have had a completely different evaluation of Daniel Jones who might be looking at this team right now and saying the biggest problem is the quarterback position.”