Daniel Jones certainly has the tools to be a good quarterback in the NFL. He displayed that last season as a rookie, though there were things that he needed to clean up – turnovers the main priority.
But four games into the season, it’s hard to see where the progress has continued, especially when you look at how the Giants ended their fourth loss of the season against the LA Rams.
Jones threw an interception near the end zone in what would’ve been an opportunity to tie the game and send things to overtime. It was a truly poor throw to make, one where the defender timed the undercut perfectly as Jones stared down his target the entire way. And to make matters worse, he had tons of running room up the middle of the field that would’ve picked up a first down and set the Giants up nicely with first-and-goal.
Instead, Jones went to the sideline shaking his head knowing that the decision cost his team the chance at their first win. Through the first four games of the season, Jones only has two touchdowns to his seven turnovers – five interceptions and two fumbles lost. The emphasis on limiting turnovers this offseason just hasn’t seen any dividends.
I myself wrote an apology to Jones this offseason after what he showed during his rookie year. But that’s mostly because he looked to be someone that understood what he needed to do to help this team consistently stay competitive in games and come away with victories. The turnovers were chalked up as rookie mistakes, but he was able to find success with the cast he had around him and the team continuously gave stamps of approval.
That hasn’t been the case in 2020 thus far, and those turnovers to go along with a 46.9 QBR (28th in the NFL) isn’t going to cut it.
Having said all of that, though, it wouldn’t be entirely fair to place all the Giants’ woes on Jones’ shoulders. He hasn’t been playing his best football, and the head-scratching mistakes need correcting for sure. But there is much more behind why the Giants offense has only scored three total touchdowns through four games, two of which came in Week 1. The offense as a whole is reeling and it’s hard to ignore the other lapses in performance by Jones’ supporting cast.
Jones said himself that he needs to play better, but here’s where else the Giants are hurting when the ball is in their hands:
Saquon Barkley’s absence
It’s the obvious elephant in the room when dissecting what’s wrong with the Giants on offense. Barkley is who this unit runs through, but he is out for the season with multiple knee injuries, including a torn ACL.
Wayne Gallman, Dion Lewis and newly-acquired Devonta Freeman are now serving as a committee backfield – something that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett needs to alter his gameplan for. His preparation for the season involved getting Barkley the ball a bunch, owning the ground game, and helping Jones in the process by spacing out the rest of the field. But that has obviously been an issue for this team that ranks second-to-last in rushing yards per game at 76.5.
Now the Giants did have 136 yards rushing against the Rams, with Gallman and Jones both having 45 yards on six carries apiece. It’s encouraging and something to build on. But Barkley was a dual threat and someone defenses needed to have at least one pair of eyes on each play. Without that threat, the Giants become a little more predictable.
Pass blocking woes
It also doesn’t help Jones that his offensive line is making it tough for him to get comfortable in the pocket. Four of the five starting linemen rank in the Top 20 in the league in pressures allowed.
We’ve already highlighted rookie LT Andrew Thomas and his troubles, which continued on Sunday. He has allowed 19 pressures -- three sacks, 3 hits and 13 hurries according to Pro Football Focus. LG Will Hernandez has also let up 14 (ninth-most in NFL), while RG Kevin Zeitler has allowed 12 and new RT Cam Fleming has 11 pressures on his stat sheet.
Overall, the Giants rank 30th in pass blocking with a PFF grade of 48.9, well below average. That could be the reason why Jones is fixating on his first progression after the snap, knowing that there isn’t a lot of time to run through them all before the pocket collapses. A quarterback can’t function in that sort of environment all the time.
Receivers need to make more plays
Yards after the catch is a big stat for receivers because it sets apart those that make it count after the ball is in their grasp. Do they make tacklers miss? Are they getting enough separation to catch the ball and make those moves to begin with?
The Giants’ receivers are having trouble with that this year. Their leader this season in yards after the catch per reception is Barkley. Their next-best starting option, TE Evan Engram, is only averaging 4.9 yards after the catch per reception. The worst of it all, though, is the starting wide receivers in Darius Slayton, Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard.
Shepard is dead last with eight catches and only 9.5 yards per reception. He only has 13 yards total after the catch. Shepard has been hurt since Week 2, though there isn’t an excuse for Tate who has 2.3 yards after the catch per reception. And he only averages 7.4 yards per catch. Slayton is a little better because he has 15.7 yards per catch, but his deep touchdown in Week 1 skew those numbers a bit. He has 35 total YACs this season just like Tate.
When receivers aren’t making those big plays or even getting good separation to pick up extra yardage, the quarterback needs to continue chugging along and trying to find other ways to get the ball downfield. Those are game-management numbers and that’s not what the Giants want to see. When you lose your star RB, someone needs to step up on the receiving end. It’s just not happening for the Giants right now, and it affects Jones.