Pat Shurmur is walking a tightrope on which many NFL head coaches have previously tried to keep their balance.
Like anyone in his position, Shurmur’s primary objective is to win football games. His concurrent and sometimes contradictory challenge is to win them while developing a rookie quarterback, Daniel Jones. And right now neither endeavor is as seamless as Shurmur would prefer.
The Giants yesterday fell to 2-5 with their third consecutive loss, 27-21 to the Arizona Cardinals in soggy MetLife Stadium. Jones passed for 223 yards, including a perfectly-thrown 28-yard touchdown to tight end Rhett Ellison. But he also threw an interception and lost two fumbles, turnovers that led to 17 Arizona points. Jones had a third fumble that was recovered by tackle Nate Solder.
In five games since taking over as the starter, Jones has thrown six touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He has also lost five fumbles for 11 total giveaways, or more than two a game.
Both Shurmur and Jones believes those miscues will decrease as the rookie gains more experience. Until then, Shurmur will emphasize the importance of securing the ball.
“We have to continue to do that,” Shurmur said. “Certainly, ball security is primary, especially for the quarterback. He got it swatted out of his hand on a screen. He was trying to hold off, Saquon (Barkley) popped a little bit late. But generally speaking, yeah, he has to secure the ball better.”
Asked how he can avoid some of the turnovers, Jones said, “I think just making sure I have two hands on the ball in the pocket is a big thing, just not letting myself get lazy with that at all, just making sure I’m consistent with that. And when I’m running, keeping the ball secured, I think all those little things that you’ve heard for a long time that are just kind of fundamental to anyone holding the ball I think are things that I need to do better.”
Another emphasis is for Jones to release the ball quicker. He was sacked eight times yesterday and could have avoided some of them by simply releasing the ball a tick or two earlier.
“That’s always something that they have to do,” Shurmur said. “They have to get the ball off on time, and most of the time he does. But those couple of plays he doesn’t, we have to get those fixed.”
Jones conceded he might have to speed up the play timer all quarterbacks have in their heads.
“I think that’s important to always have that in mind, and I think I need to do a better job in a lot of cases of just sensing when that timer is going off or when maybe I do have an extra half-second,” he said. “I think kind of just developing that, continuing to learn in those situations, and I’ll be using that to help me progress and help me in the next situation. So, yeah, I think I need to do a better job with it.”
Shurmur was asked if he would consider a quarterback change if neither the turnover situation nor Jones’ performance improved. That would presumably mean going back to Eli Manning, who, by the way, also threw seven interceptions – against three touchdowns passes – but lost only one lost fumble in his first five career starts 15 years ago.
“No,” Shurmur said. “I think Daniel is going to learn from everything that’s going on. Just like all the other rookies and their playing, they’re going to learn from the things that happen. But you have to learn and you have to win games, and I’m well aware of that. I’m totally well aware of that.”
Though the turnovers tend to obscure the fact, Jones is making strides.
“I think I’ve made progress in some senses,” he said. “In some plays, in certain situations, I’ve made progress, and in others, I haven’t. So, that’s the challenge, to keep making progress and to make progress throughout the game, throughout the situation, whatever it is, to continue to improve on everything.”
“I think he made a lot of nice throws in the game yesterday,” Shurmur said. “Obviously, that was a tight throw to Rhett in the end zone for a touchdown. He’s aggressive. He made another one down the sideline to Evan (Engram) that would have put us in scoring position (but the ball was dropped). He made some other really good throws. He’s tough, he’s resilient, and I think he has a bright future. That’s what I like about him.”
Jones’ youth and inexperience are not atypical of these Giants, who have 23 players on their 53-man roster who are rookies or second-year players.
“I think we’ve all made that point, that we’re very young,” Shurmur said. “There are a lot of rookies out there. We have to win games, and we have to find a way to do it this week (at Detroit).”
*Shurmur was asked to review his decisions late in the fourth quarter yesterday, most notably eschewing a punt at the Giants’ 33-yard line with 2:35 remaining and going for it on fourth-and-15 with the Giants trailing by three points. Jones was sacked for a 13-yard loss by blitzing cornerback Patrick Peterson, who forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Hasson Reddick. Zane Gonzalez kicked a 35-yard field goal that extended Arizona’s lead to 27-21.
Barkley had gained just three yards on a third-down draw. Shurmur, who had decided before that play to try to get the first, was asked if anything could have altered his decision.
“Anything could change anything as you go along,” he said. “The flipside of it is if you punt the ball away, you may never see it again. That’s the flipside. The reality of it was we didn’t make it, so I’m here standing here with the scrutiny of not making it. I get that. But the reality of that was we then stopped them. We had two timeouts and the two-minute warning. We did stop them and make them kick a field goal, and we still had another opportunity to go in there and win the game. I get that. We all live with the decisions we make. The ones that we make that don’t work, we have to live with it and you try to learn from it.”
*Shurmur did have one bit of good news: “There were not really any injuries to speak of from yesterday.”