Better or worse - that is the question! Said question should be worth a million dollars, and, in Daniel Jones’ case, it’s really worth a lot more than just a million. The New York Giants put a priority this offseason on surrounding the young signal-caller with legitimately skilled position players. One of the bigger gripes that Jones’ supporters would indicate was a product of a lackluster second year was the lack of skill on the offense, especially after a Week 2 season-ending Saquon Barkley injury.
There is more than enough merit to the claim. Compound that with a developing offensive line that struggled to the tune of being Pro Football Focus’ 31st ranked unit in terms of efficiency, while ranking fourth in pressures allowed, although the Giants threw the ball significantly less than the Eagles and Chargers - two teams ahead of them outside the Jets.
Nevertheless, heading into his third season, it remains unclear if Jones is the long-term solution at quarterback for the Giants. Much of this outcome will be decided in 2021, for his fifth-year option is due for a decision in early next May. However, Jones isn’t the only player at this position, and, given his tendency to miss games due to injury - he has been injured in both of his seasons so far - there is prime importance on the skills of the backup quarterback. Let’s make cases for why, and why not, the Giants are better or worse at quarterback than they were at this time last season.
Key loss: Colt McCoy
Key addition: Mike Glennon
[Editor’s note: This begins a position-by-position series trying to determine where the Giants have improved, and where they have not, entering the 2021 season.]
Why the Giants might be better
Another year of experience for Daniel Jones, along with a full year in Jason Garrett’s offensive system, would suggest that the situation for Jones is better. Jones showed positive signs of a quarterback that could potentially represent a franchise, but the lack of consistency was frustrating at times. I thought he did a better job with his eyes, especially with his eye-manipulation against middle of the field closed safeties.
I also saw positive development in terms of pocket maneuverability down the stretch of the season - something he struggled with early on in the season. His ability to extemporize and extend plays assisted the Giants’ rather lackluster offense, but that would end up being a catch-22; at times, when he would attempt to extend plays, he would put the ball in an ill-advised position that led to unnecessary turnovers. Furthermore, his ability to use his legs also led to the injury against the Bengals which hindered him throughout the remaining games of the year.
The injury makes honest analysis a bit more complex with the young signal-caller who was playing solidly up until he tweaked his hamstring. One would imagine that an upgrade in skilled players can allow Jones to actualize his potential in Garrett’s offense - this is most applicable to the addition of Kenny Golladay as a true “X” receiver.
It’s not just Golladay; Kyle Rudolph, Kadarius Toney, and even John Ross can also help with the explosive nature of this offense. The offense can’t be much worse in terms of explosive plays, and a healthy Saquon Barkley is going to help the Giants in this category. All the additions should theoretically help Jones, but the third-year quarterback has to put all of his intriguing pieces together on a more consistent basis - this is attainable!
I also want to acknowledge the correction of Jones’ biggest issue heading into his second season - those darn turnovers. He fumbled the ball seven fewer times and threw two fewer interceptions on 11 fewer passing attempts. The conservative nature of the 2020 offense and the concerted effort to use quick reads and search routes (spacing concepts as well) to get the football out of Jones’ hands probably helped these statistics too.
Saying Jones has more experience, therefore he should be more developed isn’t novel, so let’s discuss Glennon versus McCoy. Garrett’s system is more conservative than most offenses in the league, so there’s a place for quarterbacks like McCoy who thrive on processing, pre-snap judgment, and quickly getting through progressions.
However, Garrett’s offense is also one of the least explosive offenses that struggled, at least in 2020, to attack defenses vertically. McCoy only exacerbates that specific issue within Garrett’s offense, but Glennon does the opposite - he can push the ball downfield.
Glennon started for the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. He had the same big-time throw percentage when targeting deep as Lamar Jackson, which, honestly, isn’t saying too much since Jackson struggled with his deep passing. However, Glennon is no reigning MVP, he’s just a mere backup who, hopefully, won’t see many snaps in 2021.
The sheer fact that Glennon will force defenses to respect the vertical pass - something that Seattle and Cleveland didn’t do with McCoy - could be considered a win, especially when he could be throwing to someone with the catch radius and vertical ability of Kenny Golladay.
The most successful modern-day NFL offenses are predicated on attacking downfield and being an explosive offense. This is one reason why we see defenses adopting a college-style eight-man coverage package that only sends three men on the rush. Glennon has plenty of faults, but throwing the ball deep is something that he can do more effectively than McCoy.
Why the Giants may be worse
Jones faced middle of the field closed, Cover 1/Cover 3, far more than the league average. Typically, these coverages allow for a more crowded box and more one-on-one matchups to the outside. Defenses wanted to focus on removing the running threat and forcing Jones to beat them with his arm. He hasn’t quite proved this ability yet, but I honestly find it hard to argue that Jones is worse off heading into 2021 than last year with a lot less talent at the skilled position.
One element of the argument that I will acknowledge is this offensive line that just lost Kevin Zeitler. The Giants are putting a lot of eggs into a young, unproven basket. I am concerned about this situation, but I can easily see these players progress under the tutelage of Rob Sale, Pat Flaherty, and Ben Wilkerson.
However, if Lemieux continues to be a liability in pass protection, Thomas reverts to his early 2020 struggles, Hernandez and Gates don’t take the next step, and Peart proves to be overwhelmed, then Jones is going to struggle as a byproduct of an offensive line that can’t protect. This is possible, but I remain cautiously optimistic that some development will manifest itself within a more stable ship captained by Sale.
The backup argument is interesting. McCoy wasn’t going to excite a fanbase, and his arm is significantly less lively than Glennon’s, but McCoy is a consummate professional who understands how to put his offense into an advantageous situation with pre- to post-snap reading of the defense. The Giants’ most impressive victory in 2020 was led by McCoy (really was led by Patrick Graham, but McCoy was playing quarterback).
He was able to go up to Seattle and defeat a playoff team in the Seahawks. An argument could be made that McCoy is better suited for the conservative nature of Jason Garrett’s play-calling style. McCoy would ensure that protections are set, does a great job recognizing the blitz at the snap while throwing hot, and is quick to process. McCoy will also be more careful with the football than Glennon. The latter tends to misdiagnose coverages a bit and forces the football into tight windows.
The Giants don’t need more turnovers from a veteran quarterback, nor do they need their play-caller to call his already conservative offense more conservatively because he doesn’t trust the quarterback’s ability to process what he sees on the field.
To me, the jury is still out on Jones as ‘the guy’ beyond 2022. It is difficult, though, to say that the Giants quarterback situation position is worse than last year with another year under Jones’ belt, and the additions of Golladay, Rudolph, Toney, Ross, and a healthy Barkley vs. McCoy is an interesting debate, but this offense needs to be more explosive and McCoy just didn’t offer that ability.