One month ago tomorrow, Pat Shurmur shook up the Giants’ world when he announced that rookie Daniel Jones was replacing 16-year veteran and franchise icon Eli Manning as the starting quarterback.
Jones has since started four games – a quarter of an NFL season – winning the first two and losing the most recent two, including a 35-14 defeat at New England last Thursday. The 2-4 Giants are preparing to host the 2-3-1 Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, but today marked a natural point to reflect on the transition at the game’s most important position.
“I talked to him last week, I said it’s kind of an interesting month he had,” Shurmur said. “He went through a lot in the first month, learned a lot and did a lot of really good things. We’re looking forward to him continuing to improve in all facets of playing quarterback.”
On Sept. 22, Jones had the best starting debut of any quarterback in Giants history. He led the team from an 18-point halftime deficit to a 32-31 victory at Tampa Bay while completing 23 of 36 passes for 336 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 112.7. Jones did lose two fumbles. But he also led the team with 28 rushing yards on four carries, including two seven-yard touchdowns, the last which scored the deciding points on fourth down with 1:16 remaining in the game. Two days later, he was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
The following week, Jones threw for another touchdown, and his first two interceptions, in a 24-3 trouncing of Washington. But losses to Minnesota and the Patriots have evened Jones’ record at 2-2. And he has thrown more picks (six) than touchdown passes (five).
“I think it’s been, looking back on the month, kind of up and down,” Jones said. “I’ve been inconsistent overall. I’ve been good and been bad. I think there are certainly a lot of things to learn. When you look at the scheme or some of the decisions, some of my habits or bad habits, I think there are a lot of things to learn. So, I’ll kind of separate those problems, (and) those individual issues and try to improve. But also, just getting more comfortable and getting more accustomed to what we are doing. I think I’ll continue to learn and grow, but I’ve certainly had the opportunity to learn a lot this month.”
Shurmur was asked today about Jones learning to find a balance between throwing the ball away and keeping it in an effort to make a play. It’s one of the many facets of quarterback play the 22-year-old is continuing to work on.
“You have to be a good decision-maker early, in the middle and late in downs.” Shurmur said. “Young players that are hyper competitive like he is, they try to make a play all the way throughout. But as you go through this as a quarterback, there are times when it’s important you use your legs and unfortunately throw the ball away. They get used to that as they go. Just like he’s getting used to every single thing.”
Jones has yet to play without a full complement of offensive weapons. That will likely happen again on Sunday, as wide receiver Sterling Shepard and running back Wayne Gallman remain in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
In his first two starts, Jones was without wide receiver Golden Tate, who was serving an NFL suspension. Saquon Barkley sprained his ankle in the first half against the Buccaneers and has not played since. He was joined on the inactive list for the New England game by Shepard, Gallman and tight end Evan Engram (knee).
But the Giants’ most valuable ball-handlers are working their way back. Tate played in the last two games, and against the Patriots caught six passes for 102 yards, including a 64-yarder for the team’s only touchdown.
Both Barkley and Engram were full participants in practice today, seemingly making it more likely they will play against Arizona.
But when asked if it is “reasonable to assume” they will play on Sunday, Shurmur said, “We’ll just see what the week holds. I’m sure everyone has questions with regard to it, but they practiced today and they did well. So we’ll just see.”
Jones was similarly cautious when asked how the offense changes with Barkley in the backfield.
“I think we’re going to take it day by day and see how he feels,” Jones said. “I know he’s been working hard, so we’ll see. Hopefully, we’ll have him out there.”
Engram reiterated today what he said Monday, that he feels good and will play.
“It’s going to be good getting back out there,” Engram said. “I was pretty down about missing last Thursday and I’m definitely really hungry. Getting back out there is going to be fun. I’m going to be a kid in the candy shop again and just go out there and have fun, make some plays.”
Barkley is scheduled to speak to the media tomorrow.
Tate is looking forward to lining up with Barkley. He has yet to play in a game with the splendid running back, including the preseason (when Barkley didn’t play a down).
“I’m excited to be on the field with him and block for him and whatever is needed to help him score and help us win,” Tate said. “He’s a huge part of this offense, we’re excited about it. We have to do our jobs the best we can to spring each other.”
If Barkley, Engram and Tate all play, it will give the Giants a good chunk of the arsenal they envisioned having, and perhaps help makes Jones’ second month more successful than the first.
“Just more options, we can spray the ball everywhere, which makes it tough to cover us,” Tate said. “The more options we have the better off we are, the better team we are. I know we are all excited.”
*Rookie cornerback Corey Ballentine did not practice after becoming the fourth Giants player to enter the NFL concussion protocol.
The other three – Shepard, Gallman and defensive tackle Olsen Pierre – were on the field with non-contact restrictions and were officially limited.