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Can the Giants ride Daniel Jones’ arm if they have to?

The Giants have played a conservative style all season — what happens if they have to abandon it in a high-scoring game?

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Unio / USA TODAY NETWORK

There has been a great deal of discussion in recent weeks about whether or not the way the New York Giants are playing offense — run-heavy game plans reliant on star back Saquon Barkley, use of quarterback Daniel Jones’ mobility in the run and pass games, a safe, conservative passing attack — is sustainable.

It has been sustainable enough to carry them to a 7-2 record. Will that continue down the stretch as the Giants’ schedule ramps up in difficulty and the games become increasingly important?

Let’s dive into this, mostly focusing on the passing attack. What have the Giants done statistically? How are they doing it? Can Barkley keep handling this workload, by far the heaviest of his career? Are Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka working around Jones’ limitations, or using Jones’ strengths to cover limitations of the rest of the offense? Inevitably, the Giants will be in situations where they have to open things up and score more points. What happens then?

A few numbers

  • The Giants are last in the league, by far, in pass plays of 20 yards or more, with 12. The Baltimore Ravens are 31st with 18.
  • The Giants are 29th in the league in passing attempts per game, with 26.7.
  • The Giants are 30th in the NFL in passing yards, with 1,607.
  • The Giants are 28th in the league in yards per completion at 9.2.

How are the Giants throwing the ball?

More numbers:

Jones is the only full-time starting quarterback in the league with fewer than double-digit passing attempts of 20+ yards from the line of scrimmage. In 237 attempts, Jones has just eight. Sam Ehlinger of the Indianapolis Colts has eight such attempts in 52 passes, and Denver Broncos backup Brett Rypien has eight in 46 passes.

So, no, your eyes are not deceiving you. The Giants are taking fewer downfield chances than any team in the league.

The Giants were never more conservative throwing the ball than they were Week 10 vs. the Houston Texans.

In that game, Barkley carried the ball a career-high 35 times for 152 yards.

The Texans are, of course, a bad team with the league’s worst run defense. Still, there were times when the Giants’ reliance on the run — or reluctance to pass — seemed excessive. They did not even attempt a pass in the fourth quarter.

Daboll said this week he doesn’t care what it looks like, as long as it results in a victory.

“I just like to win. That’s the name of the game. It’s hard to do that in this league, and whatever we need to do for that week, you always put the team first,” Daboll said. “Whether you’re a play caller – obviously I’m the head coach now – but our whole objective is to do what we need to do that week to give ourselves a chance, coach and play well. That’s really all my focus is on.”

Scoring is down across the NFL. In 2020, the Atlanta Falcons provided the midpoint in points per game, 16th in the league at 24.8 points per game. Five teams averaged 29.0 points per game or higher.

This season, the scoring midpoint is 22.2 points per game (Los Angeles Chargers). The Kansas City Chiefs are averaging 30.0 point per game, but no one else is close. The Buffalo Bills are No. 2 at 27.8 points per game.

Are the Giants working around their own weaknesses at wide receiver and the offensive line? Is there perhaps some trepidation about letting Jones sling the ball all over the yard in a multi-read, downfield passing attack? Are they at the forefront of a trend around the NFL where we are seeing a resurgence of power running as a response to defenses getting lighter and faster to respond to offenses trying to spread them out?

“I think it’s really a combination of all of it,” said Tom Rudawsky, former Giants scouting assistant and current member of the 33rd Team. “I think Daboll has realized and believes that how he’s going to win and be effective with this offensive personnel is with giving DJ those quick, easy reads into open space and having an offense built on ball control. Clearly they lean very heavily on Saquon and he is truly the straw that stirs this offense (hence the rumored contract negotiations and usage of him).”

Maybe, as Rudawsky says, it is some combination of all of it. It is a fascinating question, and the discussion below about the changing trends in offensive play-calling is part of it, and absolutely worth your time.

What does this mean for Daniel Jones?

Everyone who follows the NFL knows that the Giants have a decision to make about Jones at the conclusion of the 2022 season. Do they go forward with Jones, probably making a modest (by quarterback standards) long-term investment in the 2019 No. 6 overall pick? Do they move on, probably drafting a young quarterback and maybe taking a temporary step back as that young signal-caller develops?

Jones has been efficient. He is completing a career-high 65.8 percent of his passes, has a career-best passer rating of 92.7, and a career-best interception percentage of just 0.8 percent. He has led four fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives. He has run for 387 yards, just 36 shy of his career-high with eight games to play.

“I think he’s doing a really good job for us right now,” said offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. “He’s executing the offense. He’s coming in early. He’s watching a bunch of tape. He’s putting in all the work, which was no surprise. He’s been like that since the day I got here. I’m happy where he’s at.”

Jones was asked this week about the idea that he is playing the best football of his career.

“I think I’ve improved week to week,” he said. “I think I probably am playing better than I have in years past, but that’s the goal, to improve every year. I’ll continue to try to do that going forward.”

Does Jones wish the Giants were letting him sling the ball around the field more?

“I think we all just want to win. Regardless of what position you play you want to win, you want to score as many points as you can and win the game. That’s where we’re all focused, that’s where I’m focused,” he said. “We’ve won in different ways this year and depending on what the defense is doing, depending on how the games going we’ve adjusted our style.”

Back to something I asked earlier — are the Giants working around Jones’ limitations, or using Jones’ strengths to cover limitations of the rest of the offense?

“You want to try to use your players’ strengths the best you can,” Daboll said. “Again, it’s Week 11; I think we have a fair idea of what some of those are.”

Rudawsky believes the Giants are leaning into what Jones does well to mask the deficiencies around him.

“They’re doing what the previous coaching staffs couldn’t - make things as easy as possible on DJ given the lack of talent at WR and a developing OL,” Rudawsky said. “This offense is totally based around the personnel and the coaches have done an amazing job tailoring it to this team and what they have. Daboll has realized what NYGs 2022 formula to winning games is and is formulating game plans around that, and it’s worked out brilliantly so far.”

Tony Racioppi, a New Jersey-based quarterback trainer who has worked with Jones and Kenny Pickett of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a fan of what Daboll and Kafka are doing.

“I love what they are doing with Daniel,” Racioppi said. “Moving pocket with naked/boot game and then max protect throwing over routes. High percentage throws and he is protected throughout it. The best NFL offenses constantly move the launch point and get guys flooding zones on the run.”

Can they win in a high-scoring game?

Eight of the Giants’ nine games have been decided by one score. The Giants have neither reached nor allowed 30 points in any game this season. They are fourth in the league in time of possession (32:04) and have, for the most part, dictated the terms of how their games would be played.

The only double-digit loss of the season came against the Seattle Seahawks, a game that was tied with 11 minutes to go but saw the Giants unable to match two late Seattle touchdowns.

Sooner or later, the Giants are going to have to compete in some track-meet style games. They are going to have to push the envelope and get to 30 points or more to win a game. They are going to have to flip their tried and true script, take some risks, and lean on the passing game to win.

Can they?

“I don’t know,” was Daboll’s response this week when asked if the Giants could win a game where they are forced to lean on Jones’ arm for, say, 40 or more passes.

The Giants have only thrown 30 or more passes three times this season. They lost two of those games, throwing 37 times against the Dallas Cowboys and 31 times against the Seahawks. Jones threw 30 passes, completing 19, in a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Dan Hatman of the Scouting Academy told me that while the Giants have been successful using bootlegs and scheme with “eye candy” to befuddle defenses that they “will just hit a wall when opponent has high end players and you can’t scheme past that consistently.”

Is that going to be the case?

The Giants average 20.8 points per game. The Giants face Dallas (23.4 points per game), Detroit (24.3), Minnesota (25.1) and have two games with the 8-1 Philadelphia Eagles (27.8) remaining on their schedule.

It figures that they are going to have to find out if they can keep pace, and win, some higher-scoring games.

Wide receiver Darius Slayton said this week that “there’s more meat on the bone” for the Giants in the passing game.

Does Slayton believe the Giants can win a game if it becomes a pass-happy, high-scoring shootout?

“We’ll find out when it comes to that, won’t we?,” he said.

Eventually, they will. The answer could help determine just how far they go this season, and how much longer Jones is their quarterback.