The way Daniel Jones is going has to stop.
Through three games, he has 25 rushing attempts, an average of 8.3 per game. That is more than any quarterback in the NFL this season other than Jalen Hurts (37 runs), Justin Fields (27), Lamar Jackson (26) and Marcus Mariota (25). Those quarterbacks each have at least one rushing touchdown; Jones has none. Jones is quite capable as a runner, but he will never be seen as having the dynamism of the far more elusive Jackson or the emerging Hurts.
At this pace, if he starts all 17 games, Jones will amass 141 rushing attempts. That is more than Michael Vick (129 in 2006) or Robert Griffin III (120 in 2012) ever attempted in a season. Jackson owns the quarterback record with 176 rushing attempts in 2019. If Jones gets anywhere near that, it portends trouble for himself, the Giants and what has been a shabby and unproductive passing attack.
This is not all by design. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, in conjunction with head coach (and noted offensive play-caller) Brian Daboll, is not planning nearly 10 rushing attempts for Jones heading into every game. That is overkill, and they know it. That will get Jones battered and beaten and, most likely, forced to the sideline for a snap or two, part of a game or entire games. Jones is big and strong and fast, and he is improving at protecting his body with slides or motoring out of bounds rather than taking on a defender. He is no gazelle, though, as far as possessing the innate physical ability and instinct to avoid contact. If he takes off, chances are he will pay for it on the tackle or with an overzealous opponent giving him a little extra shove near the sideline.
Sometimes — too often — Jones will drop his eyes and take off when he senses pressure in the pocket. No one can blame him for escaping prematurely from the sloppy and unreliable protection around him in Monday night’s 23-16 loss to the Cowboys. That the sack total that evening was limited to five is a credit to Jones’ ability to get the heck out of there. The Cowboys had 12 quarterback hits, and Jones was pressured on 40.5 percent of his dropbacks. His terrible passer rating of 57.9 factors in a late interception that was not his fault (David Sills slipped while making a cut) and several throwaways Jones made as the rush was approaching.
“Everyone knows we got to help [No.] 8, especially when he’s out there doing what he’s doing, just never giving up on the play, taking big hits, making plays with his legs,’’ center Jon Feliciano said. “I mean, he did everything he could out there. And this loss is on us up front, not on 8.”
Kafka and Daboll will continue to make it a part of the weekly game plan to utilize Jones’ prowess with his legs. Jones had a career-high 10 rushing attempts in the Week 2 victory over the Panthers, but two of those attempts were kneel-downs to end the game — everyone’s favorite Victory Formation. Jones’ 79 rushing yards against the Cowboys was his third-highest total of his career. He had 95 rushing yards at Washington last season and 92 yards (including his infamous 80-yard run and tumble) in Philadelphia in 2020.
Designed runs for Jones are smart, and it is incumbent on Jones to protect himself on these plays. His ability to pick up a few first downs per game with his legs is a boon to the entire offense. Running for his life is not going to cut it, and the possibility he’ll be forced to do so from one play to the next exponentially increases the likelihood that Jones gets hurt. Lest we forget, he has failed to get out of his three previous NFL seasons without missing time due to an injury.
“You never want your quarterback to take any hits,’’ Daboll said Wednesday. “I’d say Daniel has a unique skill set, as far as his athleticism. He’s done a good job of taking care of himself when he does run with it. I would say there’s not a lot of designed runs in there. There’s a couple. There’s a fair amount of scrambles.
“He’s got a couple different choices, what he can do when he scrambles. One is, obviously, throw it down the field if [defenders] un-cover. Two is throw it away, and three is to make yards. If he has an opportunity to make yards, you can tell a quarterback, ‘Don’t take this hit,’ and then they start thinking about things. I think Daniel is making good decisions when to take off. He’s tried to protect himself. Is that always going to happen? No. But certainly you want to eliminate or limit the amount of hits. But guys that can scramble and make loose plays cause problems for the defense in that regard of keeping chains moving, I’ll never take that away from him.’’
This weekend, the Giants face one of the league’s top running quarterbacks. Fields averaged 6.0 rushing attempts per game as a rookie last season. He is averaging 9.0 attempts through three games this season, but has picked up just 95 yards. At this point in his career, he is far more dangerous as a runner than as a thrower. He is completing 51.5 percent of his passes — and the Bears are attempting an average of just 15 passes per game. Somehow, the Bears are 2-1 heading into MetLife Stadium on Sunday, coming off a 23-20 victory over the Texans in which Fields compiled a passer rating of 27.7.
The Bears have their own quarterback conundrum to sort through.
The Giants want to get a fair evaluation of Jones in 2022 after general manager Joe Schoen decided not to pick up Jones’ fifth-year option for 2023. It is going to be an uphill battle for Jones to earn a new deal. He put up modest numbers in two Giants wins and had no chance to succeed in the one loss. Daboll’s system usually brings out the best in its quarterbacks, and there have been signs Jones will take advantage of this — if he gets the requisite time and this unimpressive collection of wide receivers can get to the games healthy and get open on the field.
First and foremost, Jones must stay available, week after week, to give him a fighting chance to stay around in 2023. The more he runs, the more those chances get muddled and the risk-reward element comes into play.
He is not ready. He was over-drafted. He is not going to be what the Giants need as a starting offensive tackle.
This was the overheated conversation about Andrew Thomas four games into his rookie year in 2020.
These were not the concerns hovering around Evan Neal, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, until this past weekend. Neal played well enough in the first two games of his Giants career, but the third game was a clunker. He allowed three sacks, five quarterback pressures and was called for one penalty in the loss to the Cowboys. DeMarcus Lawrence ate him for lunch.
Through three games, Neal ranks No. 69 among all offensive tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, with a grade of 42.2. Neal has allowed four sacks and 10 total pressures.
Four games into his Giants career, Thomas ranked No. 58 among tackles with a grade of 53.7, having allowed three sacks and 19 total pressures.
This season, Thomas is the league’s highest-rated offensive lineman, according to PFF, with a grade of 90.1. The struggles he had in the first half of his rookie year are gone and forgotten.
For his part, Neal has shown nothing to make anyone question whether he can follow in Thomas’ footsteps.
No denting the Dallas D
Want a sliver of perspective that maybe, just maybe the Giants’ woeful offensive performance Monday night was not quite as bad as it appeared? Well, the Cowboys have handled every opposing offense they have faced this season. They limited Tom Brady’s Buccaneers to 19 points, one touchdown and 195 passing yards. They limited Joe Burrow’s Bengals to 17 points, one touchdown and 165 passing yards. So, Daniel Jones and the Giants are in good company after managing 16 points, one touchdown and 169 passing yards.
That the Cowboys sacked Jones five times is an indictment of the Giants’ offensive line and the inability of their wide receivers to gain any immediate separation on their routes. But this is also commonplace when matching up with the Cowboys, who lead the NFL with 13 sacks. If misery loves company, consider the Giants happy campers.
Asked and answered
Here are two questions that have come up recently that we will attempt to answer as accurately as possible:
What happened to the rotation at left guard with Ben Bredeson and rookie Josh Ezeudu? It is over, and if so, what does it mean for Ezeudu’s future with the Giants?
The rotation was pretty much split in the first game of the season, and the next week the snaps went 2-1 in favor of Bredeson. But in Week 3, Bredeson took all 72 snaps on offense and Ezeudu did not get off the sideline. It seemed as if the coaching staff realized Ezeudu was not quite ready for the challenge of facing Cowboys sack-master Micah Parsons. Bredeson did not exactly play a clean game against the Cowboys, so his hold on the starting job might be tenuous. It is a long season. Ezeudu, a third-round draft pick from North Carolina, likely will get another chance to get on the field. He remains a solid prospect, and the snaps he received in the first two games will serve him well down the road.
What can Brian Daboll do to get his offense to wake up in the first half?
The Giants have not scored a touchdown in the first quarter in their first three games (in fact, they have not mustered a first-half touchdown in seven consecutive games dating back to last season, though Daboll’s fingerprints are not on anything that went down in 2021). Maybe Daboll needs to take the ball if the Giants win the coin toss — the Giants, like so many teams, opt to defer to get the ball at the start of the second half when they win the toss. Putting his offense on the field right away might energize the group. There needs to be an injection of something.