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Now Garrett is gone and the offense he leaves behind is relatively healthy – or at least healthier than it’s been for most of the season. That means the spotlight is now on the man who has always been the most important part of the Giants’ offense.
And they now have seven games to see if quarterback Daniel Jones really is the right man for that job.
Maybe it’s a little unfair to put that much of an emphasis on a less-than-two-month stretch at the end of another lost season, but that’s really where the Giants are with their 24-year-old franchise quarterback. Two-and-a-half years into his career, he’s left them with more questions than answers. There have been times when he’s looked great, and too many times when he has not.
But until now it was easy to give him excuse after excuse. How was he supposed to run an offense with no Saquon Barkley and Kenny Golladay, and with a host of other receivers in and out of the lineup? And even if he could, how was he supposed to thrive with Garrett’s archaic playbook – one that many around the league, and some in the Giants organization, have criticized as too conservative, unimaginative, and at times just bad?
Now on Sunday, against the Philadelphia Eagles, Jones will have Barkley at his side and Golladay on the outside. It’s unclear if he’ll have Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard, but at least Darius Slayton and tight end Evan Engram will be in the huddle, too. And most importantly, Freddie Kitchens will be calling plays with what everyone thinks will be a more aggressive approach to the offense.
It could work. It should work.
But that’s really up to Jones.
“I feel responsibility for our lack of production as an offense,” Jones said on Wednesday afternoon. “I feel that. I think we all should feel that, and I don’t think that’s changed today.”
What has changed is the trajectory of the Giants’ offense in recent weeks, after so much optimism that things would change as their offensive stars returned. It all bottomed out in a 30-10 loss in Tampa on Monday night in which the Giants had only 215 total yards. That was Garrett’s last stand and was obviously rock bottom for Jones – or at least what appeared to be rock bottom. He was 23-of-38 for just 167 yards with two horribly ugly interceptions.
But it’s not like Jones was lighting up the stat sheet before that. The Giants offense was praised for its strategy and efficiency in a pre-bye, 23-16 win over the Las Vegas Raiders, but in that game, Jones was 15-of-20 for 110 yards and a touchdown. That’s an absurd stat line in an era of wide-open and explosive offenses all around the league – numbers most quarterbacks usually reach in less than a half.
In all, in his five games since leaving the game in Dallas on Oct. 10 with a concussion, he’s completed 63.8 percent of his passes for an average of just 188.8 yards per game with only five touchdowns and six interceptions. That’s a passer rating of just 73.1, and for a franchise quarterback it’s nowhere near an acceptable level of play.
But is that Jones’ fault? Is it because he’s been checking down too often, unable to connect on big plays or find receivers down the field? Or was it all about Garrett’s uber-conservative play-calling? Or the fact that Barkley and Golladay and so many other key players haven’t consistently been on the field?
If that happens again on Sunday, the Giants will have their answer – and it’s not going to be an answer that they’ll like.
In other words, now more than ever, the pressure on Jones is high.
“I haven’t really focused much on that,” he said. “My focus is on preparing to play the best I can. That’s what it always is regardless of the circumstances.”
In fairness to Jones, no one expects miracles here. Dumping Garrett wasn’t an instant cure for their issues and Kitchens isn’t a magician. Jones will also be standing (and running) behind the same bad offensive line. The Giants aren’t suddenly going to become the Kansas City Chiefs and Jones has shown no signs that he can morph into Patrick Mahomes.
But an improvement is expected and necessary. And at the very least the Giants expect to get some answers about what their quarterback is realistically able to do. And they do need answers, because big decisions about Jones will soon have to be made. He’s signed through the end of next season, but the Giants have to decide whether to pick up his fifth-year option for 2023 in May at a likely cost of about $21 million.
And looming over all of this is the fact that they’re sitting on two possible Top 10 picks in next year’s draft, putting them in the perfect position to take Jones’ successor if they choose.
They won’t base those decisions on just these seven games, of course. They’re only a piece of a complicated puzzle. But they could be a huge piece because the deck has been cleared of excuses. It’s possible Jones has struggled because of his offensive coordinator and because he was missing so many key players.
But with some of those players back and a new offensive coordinator in place, if Jones’ struggles continue, it’ll be hard to conclude that the real problem isn’t him.