East Rutherford, N.J. -- It’s the same response every time the New York Giants have been asked about quarterback Daniel Jones’ performance this season. It’s a primarily encouraging endorsement with a noteworthy disclaimer.
“Daniel’s done a good job operating our offense,” coach Brian Daboll said recently, “and doing the things we’ve asked him to do.”
It’s the things they’ve asked him to do that raise questions about just how much trust exists between Daboll, offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and Jones. The Giants have a bottom-five passing attack and the fifth-fewest pass attempts in the NFL this season. They rarely, if ever, put the game in their quarterback’s hands and tell him to bring home a win.
At the end of the first half of a 20-20 tie last week against the Washington Commanders, they curiously called a running play instead of entrusting Jones with two passes to try to get into the end zone. The Giants settled for a short field goal after Jones was stuffed on a designed run. They then took the ball out of his hands with less than two minutes remaining in overtime and decided to punt on fourth-and-3 from the Washington 45-yard line.
These aren’t the type of calls that scream: “This is our franchise quarterback!”
Does anyone believe that Daboll would have done the same with quarterback Josh Allen when he was the Buffalo Bills' offensive coordinator? Or that Kafka, with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, would have wanted to do the same with the Kansas City Chiefs when he was the quarterbacks coach? Unlikely.
Of course, Jones isn’t Allen or Mahomes. But in Daboll’s first year as head coach and Jones in a contract year, these decisions are being looked at through a microscope.
New York’s new regime likes that Jones has done what has been asked -- taken care of the football, made good decisions and used his legs to make plays. Jones has thrown just four interceptions (only Tom Brady and this week’s opponent, Jalen Hurts, have fewer) and has already set a career high with 522 rushing yards.
As a result, the Giants (7-4-1) are still in the driver’s seat to clinch their first playoff spot since 2016.
What everyone is attempting to determine is whether the Giants’ reluctance to open up the passing game is because of Jones or the personnel around him. Their offensive line struggles to pass protect (23rd in pass block win rate), and they don’t have sufficient pass-catching weapons. New York’s wide receivers and tight ends have accounted for the fifth-fewest yards in the NFL, with just 2,034 combined. They are also dead last in percentage of air yard passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield at 5.7%, with Darius Slayton their only real deep threat.
“I trust the offense, and I trust the supporting cast,” Daboll insisted on Monday.
Daboll did not specifically profess full trust in his quarterback, adding to doubts about whether he trusts Jones. But it’s at least something to monitor as the decision on Jones' future nears.
The Giants did not come to Jones during the bye week to discuss a new deal. They did, however, have talks with running back Saquon Barkley.
Jones still believes the coaching staff has full trust in him and an offense that hasn’t topped 27 points in a game this season.
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “I think at points in the year we have leaned on it and will continue to work to improve it.”
This Giants offensive approach is in stark contrast to what Daboll had done in Buffalo. He ran one of the league’s most pass-happy attacks in the past few years. The Bills threw the fifth-most passes last year. They also allowed significantly less pressure (28.8% compared to 37.2%) and had a better receiving corps.
Personnel is clearly a factor. Buffalo didn’t become a pass-heavy team under Daboll until Allen grew into one of the league’s best quarterbacks, and they added Stefon Diggs as their No. 1 receiver prior to the 2020 season. The Bills were 24th in pass attempts in 2019 before they traded for Diggs.
The more run-centric approach in New York may have more to do with the Giants’ best offensive player being Barkley than anything else. It gives them the best chance to win, with Jones throwing to either Slayton, Richie James or Isaiah Hodgins behind an often unreliable offensive line.
“While every receiver wants to go out there and throw 40 times, at the end of the day you want to win the game,” Slayton said. “If it’s throwing it 40 that wins, if it’s running it 40 that wins it, you kind of have to go with the flow of the game.”
Jones abides by the same philosophy.
“We’re always studying what the defense does and how we can attack it in the pass game, as well as the run game," Jones said. "In terms of how we’re going to play and our game plan, I think a lot of those decisions are certainly above my head. But we’ve been effective running the ball all year also. I understand that. We’re doing a good job with that.”