The New York Giants face an incredibly consequential decision this year, one that could influence the direction of the Giants’ franchise for the next decade. The Giants’ brain trust of Joe Schoen, Brian Daboll, and Mike Kafka need to decide whether quarterback Daniel Jones is “The Guy” or just “A Guy”.
This is a decision the Giants absolutely need to get right.
While former GM Dave Gettleman left the Giants in cap hell (at least in the near term), he also presented a warning with regards to the quarterback position shortly after being hired. Back in January of 2018, Gettleman said,
“If you take a guy just to take a guy, especially at the quarterback position, and he fails, you set yourself back five years. You set yourself back five years because there are teams that are in what I call quarterback hell. They’ve got quality defense, they’ve got a good special teams, and they’re going 7-9, 8-8, 9-7. And now if there is a legitimate guy, they’ve got to trade up and give away the farm to get the guy.”
For all his faults as a GM — and I’ve been frank in my criticisms of Gettleman — he does nail the importance of getting the quarterback position right.
Personally, I truly believe that the quarterback is the foundation upon which the rest of the team is built — not the capstone to be added at some future date when the rest of the roster is assembled. I wrote back in the summer than not only do I believe that quarterback play is necessary to facilitate great play from the rest of the roster, but that good quarterback play helps (and is even necessary) to evaluate the roster as a whole throughout the building process.
One of Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll’s first moves leading the Giants was to set a hard limit on the evaluation of Daniel Jones. They declined to pick up his guaranteed option for 2023, setting a firm end-point for his evaluation period.
Discussing Jones has been a fraught proposition since he was drafted. Emotional attachments and personal biases have abounded since he first put on a Giants hat in the spring of 2019. Everyone from John Mara down to Internet commenters have voiced concerns over coaching, injuries, and the Giants’ roster whenever the subject of Jones’ development has come up.
In declining Jones’ $22.38 million option, Schoen and Daboll declared quite loudly that none of things matter anymore. In doing so, the goal posts were set in concrete and the Giants essentially set a salary floor of $31.5 million, the non-exclusive Franchise Tag (the exclusive tag is $45.5 million).
To be sure, Jones won’t be evaluated on 2022 alone. He is the sum of his play since taking over as the Giants’ starter in 2019, and while the Giants’ brain trust is giving themselves a year with him in person, they should be taking his previous seasons into account as well. But this year’s play will likely weigh heaviest on Schoen and Daboll.
So I took advantage of the Giatns’ bye week to go back over Jones’ tape from the first 8 games, watching every play multiple times from multiple angles on the Coaches’ Tape. I won’t be offering judgement on whether Jones has shown enough to be a Franchise Quarterback. I will only be relaying what I saw on tape, charting all of Jones’ plays.
I should also note that I took my cues from Schoen and Daboll and am holding Jones to the standards of a player who deserves to be paid $30 million.
Jones’ greatest assets this season are his legs. The quarterback running has become a central pillar for the Giants’ offense in 2022, to the point where almost everything is built off of it. Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka have embraced the read-option and have also leaned into the QB scramble. Jones always seems to have the green light to pull the ball down and run when if nothing appears open right away. The result has been a career-high in rushing attempts and yards per game — as well as a jump in Jones’ overall efficiency numbers as a quarterback.
For the most part, Jones has done a good job with his decision making on RPO and read-option plays. He’s shown solid judgement in distributing the football when reading a single defender on those plays. He has usually made a decision that’s resulted in a positive gain for the offense. Jones has also shown impressive ball handling on read-option, RPO, and play-action mesh points. At times he has even fooled the NFL’s own sideline and end zone camera operators.
The effect of Jones running is also seen in the rest of the Giants’ offense. They frequently use mesh points to introduce indecision and slow down defenses. The Giants also make very heavy use of play-action, leaning into their use of mesh points in RPOs and read-option plays. They are currently third in play-action passes, with 64 passes off of play-action through eight games. On tape, the play-action is usually paired with a bootleg rollout. That play pairing was particularly devastating for the Chicago Bears, but it’s proven to be pretty consistently effective at creating simple, open reads for Jones, stressing the defense while also moving him away from opposing pass rushes.
The Giants are second in the NFL in scrambles, with Jones pulling the ball down and running 30 times in the first eight games. It’s known that Daboll makes a point of heavily incorporating his quarterbacks’ favorite plays into game plans. The (extreme) prevalence of play-action, bootleg rollouts, and scrambles suggests that they are among the plays with which Jones is most comfortable.
As a whole, the Giants’ offense doesn’t seem to put much on Jones’ plate, but he typically moves through his reads well within the structure of the offense. While he may only have one or two downfield reads before moving to a check-down or scramble, he hasn’t gotten hung up on individual reads or stared down receivers as much as in previous seasons.
For the most part, Jones has been at his most crisp when outside the pocket and on the move. He seems to sort through his reads most efficiently in those situations. Likewise, he delivered most of his “wow” throws when outside the established structure of the offense. In short, he’s capable of being legitimately impressive when he doesn’t have time to think but is simply reacting to a flash of color rather than reading the field and working through a full-field read.
The bad and frustrating
Jones has shown positive things on tape through the first eight games of the 2022 season, but he’s also shown some things that have limited the Giants or are downright frustrating from an evaluation standpoint.
While Jones’ running is an asset overall for the Giants, he isn’t without his issues in that regard. He’s shown the ability to make would-be tacklers miss in the backfield with subtle moves to alter their timing or angles. However, he’s a long-striding “leggy” runner in the open field and something of an awkward athlete. He doesn’t consistently protect himself as a ball carrier, leading to big hits or slides that look more like stumbles. Likewise, he has relatively poor contact balance and can be tripped up by arm tackles.
Moving on to the passing game, Jones has posted the best completion percentage of his career thus far in 2022. And while that’s a positive development, that raw stat is a bit misleading.
No quarterback can be expected to be perfect as a passer. Humans aren’t machines and even the most consistent passer is still inconsistent in his ball placement. But just as a professional receiver should be expected to haul in a pass he gets his hands on, a top quarterback should be expected to place the ball such that it makes his receivers’ lives as easy as possible.
Not every completion is a good pass, and not every incompletion is a poor throw.
For instance, ball thrown ahead of a receiver running a crossing route allows him to catch it in-stride without sacrificing speed, so he can stay ahead of any coverage in a trail technique and turn upfield. Even if the receiver doesn’t make the catch, that could still be considered a good pass. By contrast, a poorly placed ball, such as one thrown behind the receiver or low, forces the receiver to slow down or robs him of his momentum completely. Even if he completes the catch, that shouldn’t be considered a good ball.
Of Jones’ 220 pass attempts, I charted 53 “poor” passes. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m holding Jones to an admittedly high standard and not all of those “poor” passes were blatantly bad throws — Pro Football Reference credits him with 27 “bad” passes.
I don’t know PFR’s criteria for a “bad” pass, but as far as passes that make you wince and think “he has to want that one back”, that’s probably a fairly accurate number.
However beyond even the obvious over or under-throws, there were still quite a few instances where Jones’ ball placement limited the receiver’s options. Jones had periods of frustratingly inconsistent placement and touch at all areas of the field. It was most pronounced when throwing down the field, but there were even quick “catch and throw” passes where Jones’ placement put receivers in poor position to turn upfield or forced them to make acrobatic catches to haul the ball in.
Despite the Giants having a lot of receiving options who are dangerous with the ball in their hands, and scheming them ways to get run with the ball in space, the Giants are only 20th in yards after the catch and 19th in YAC per completion. Low passes or throws placed behind running receivers would force them to slow down, allowing defenders to rally to the ball. There were also instances where Jones would throw the ball high, forcing receivers to leap or expose themselves to hits unnecessarily — or putting the ball where defenders could make a play on it.
Speaking of potential turnovers, Jones has two interceptions and three fumbles on the season. Examining each of his plays in detail, I came across 19 “turnover-worthy” plays that put the ball in danger of being turned over.
Some of these, such as Frankie Luvu’s near Pick 6 in Week 2, or the sack-fumble in Week 8 where the ball bounced right back up into Jones’ hands, were obvious. Others involved near-turnovers that were negated by penalties that had little-to-no bearing on the play, such as Devin Lloyd’s interception in Week 7.
But there were other more innocuous plays that were concerning, like scrambles that saw Jones carrying the ball away from his body like a loaf of bread.
Jones has certainly improved his ball security since his rookie year, and even the best quarterbacks in history have put the ball in jeopardy on occasion. But it’s still frustrating to see old bad habits cropping up in Jones’ play. And while they (by and large) haven’t hurt the Giants this year, their presence is still frustrating.
But perhaps most frustrating is Jones’ persistent habit of passing up big plays for short gains.
While Jones is posting his best completion percentage to date, he is also posting the lowest yards per attempt (6.4) and completed air yards (4.6) of his career, as well as his second-worst adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) of 5.27.
I came across 30 plays over the first eight games where Jones had receivers running open downfield only to see him pull the ball down and either scramble or opt for a short pass instead. In particular, the Week 8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, there were five different instances where the Giants had Darius Slayton or Wan’Dale Robinson open downfield for big gains or potential touchdowns, only for Jones to opt for shorter passes.
Jones has completed 28 of 63 passes of at least 10 yards downfield, or 44 percent. That shrinks to to just 2 of 9 passes at least 20 yards downfield, or a 22 percent completion rate. We generally consider plays of at least 20 yards to be “explosive plays”, and Jones is currently 35th in the NFL in attempted explosive passes.
I need to qualify this by saying that I’m not in the classroom when the Giants installed these plays. I can’t say with certainty how many of the routes I saw open downfield weren’t in the progression read and were actually clear-outs or misdirection. Likewise, I can’t say if the offense is read from “shallow to deep” or “touchdown, check-down”.
To account for that I tried to exclude plays where the receiver seemed to simply sprint down the field and didn’t appear to expect a pass, or Jones’ head never turned to that side of the field. But by the same token there were also plays where receivers were looking for the ball or throwing their hands up to try and get Jones’ attention, only for the ball to be thrown to an underneath route.
So we can’t say precisely why the Giants are so averse to throwing the ball down-field. Perhaps Jones isn’t comfortable doing so, or maybe the Giants don’t want to risk potential turnovers. Whatever the reason, the plays seem to have been there where protection held up and receivers were open downfield.
Since the Giants’ victory over the Green Bay Packers in London, I’ve maintained that Daboll is the frontrunner to be named Coach of The Year. Since then I’ve expanded my praise to the entire Giants’ coaching staff for their work in the team’s 6-2 record thus far. I honestly believe that the Giants have one of the — if not the — best coaching staffs in the NFL.
These men deserve an absolute thoroughbred of a quarterback, a player who can allow them to scheme and coach to their fullest. The Giants’ coaches deserve a player who will allow them to fully open their playbook and get the most out of all of their players. Perhaps they’ll decide that Jones is that player, or perhaps they’ll decide they want to pick their own quarterback for the future.
Whichever way they go, the Giants owe it to themselves to maintain high standards for the most important position on the field.
As Mark Schofield noted back before the 2022 NFL Draft, last year’s AFC Divisional game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills was a wake-up call for the NFL.
“In that game, fans were treated to a showcase event from two of the league’s best young passers, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. As those two quarterbacks dazzled with their athleticism, arm talent and ability to create on- or off-structure, fans of the other 30 teams started to ask themselves this simple question:
Does our team have a quarterback who can do that? And if not, do we need one?”
Daboll and Mike Kafka coached that game. They helped develop Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen — and Schoen was part of the front office that traded up for Allen. That, to my mind, is the caliber of quarterback Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll deserve, and the kind of player to whom they should be tied for the foreseeable future.