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Saving Daniel Jones — Can the Giants do that without Saquon Barkley?

Putting the quarterback in position to succeed

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

This was supposed to be the fall of Daniel Jones’ development.

Granted, there existed concerns about how the young passer would acclimate to a new offense - his third in three years - given everything that 2020 has put on our collective plates. Those concerns were exacerbated when the New York Giants lost Saquon Barkley for the season with a knee injury in just the second game of the year.

That’s the thing about life. Like development, it is not linear. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that life is filled with curveballs, twists and turns. Those who adapt will thrive. Those who do not, well, will struggle.

The loss of Barkley while in a football sense is tragic, it presented an opportunity. An opportunity for the Giants to do the things they needed to do around Jones to evaluate him, to move his development along, and put him in a position to be successful even without such a talented running back standing beside him in the backfield.

If Sunday is any indication, that might not happen.

One of the arguments advanced in this space last week was that even without Barkley, the Giants could be successful throwing the football off of play-action designs. As evidence for this proposition, this play was highlighted:

To refresh everyone’s memory, this is a play-action design with Wayne Gallman at running back, and it is basically a single-receiver route concept. Jones finds Darius Slayton after the run fake, and his receiver is wide open on the curl route.

The reason this play was highlighted last week was to support the proposition that even without Barkley, the Giants offense could do the things necessary to help their quarterback. Play-action is a cheat code. Consider this bit of evidence. Last year Baker Mayfield struggled from clean pockets, struggled under pressure, and just generally struggled. But the one area where he was successful? Play-action. According to charting data from Pro Football Focus, Mayfield’s completion percentage jumped 10.1 percent when he used play-action.

While Jones did not see as large a jump as Mayfield did, he did produce an increase of 3.2 percent in his completion percentage when using play-action. On play-action throws last year according to PFF charting data, Jones hit on 52 of 80 passing attempts for 687 yards, 8 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions.

Through three games, the Giants have let Jones attempt 20 passes using play-action.

That ranks 22nd in the league among qualified passers.

On Sunday, unless I missed some, they attempted just five.

Five.

Now game situation often changes game plans. If you get down by three scores or so, sometimes you have to put the play-action designs on the shelf. But that is not really the case with the 2020 Giants. Back in Week 1 this did not become a two-score game until late in the fourth quarter. In Week 2? Yes, it was 17-0 at halftime. But by my charting the Giants still ran nine play-action plays, all of which came after the first quarter, when the Giants trailed by 10 to start the second.

Again, five last week. All of which occurred before the Giants went down by two scores.

Now, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, perhaps the Giants are concerned about protecting Jones and as such as worried about using play-action, where the plays have a tendency to be slower developing. That might lead to moments like this:

On this play the Giants task the left guard with pulling to the edge to block the defensive end. He does not get there in time, Jones gets pressured and is forced to throw this away.

It can also lead to plays like this:

The left tackle oversets and is beaten with a move to the inside. The running back does not chip the pass rusher before releasing into his route, and Jones is pressured yet again. He makes the most of the moment, slides up and to his left in the pocket, and makes a throw that is not caught.

So...maybe the lack of play-action is warranted, right? Maybe I’m just overreacting, as I have been known to do. Surely the numbers will support the proposition that Jones is pressured too much on play-action, his production is poor in those moments, and the Giants would be better off not using it.

Through three games, according to PFF charting, Jones has an increase of 5.9% in his completion percentage when using play-action, which ranks him ninth in the league. His passer rating when using play-action is 91.9, well above his overall passer rating of 69.2. His Yards per Attempt of 9.6 when using play-action is well above his overall Yards per Attempt of 6.2.

If you want to evaluate your quarterback, you must do the things that put him in the best position to be successful.

The Giants need to start doing that.