Running Game Unable To Mask Daniel Jones’ Woes

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The New York Giants have, interestingly enough, had a disappointing season. For a team that was coming off a miserable 6-10 year, has an improved roster in many areas, and a returning Saquon Barkley, one win in six games seems to be below the already-low expectations. However, their win-loss record is not the only means of measurement that unveils the Giants’ struggles. So do the many unit metrics, in several of which New York is closer to the bottom than to the top.

Often when a team is facing times as tough as the Giants are, the quarterback is quick to be blamed. This time, though, critics might have a serious point. However, Daniel Jones should not be alone in being publicly “at fault”.

Daniel Jones’s Struggles Are Not Overstated

Many NFL quarterbacks who are ridiculed, without any context, due to bad form, are often victims of insufficient support. Frequent examples in that department have ranged from Sam Darnold‘s tenure with the Jets to Matthew Stafford‘s stint in Detroit. However, Daniel Jones has very strongly nodded that his underwhelming numbers are indicative of individual issues more often than not.

A new era of New York Giants football was thought to have kicked off when the club announced the hiring of Joe Judge as a head coach in the offseason preceding the 2020 campaign. However, the team has not been able to live up to the expectations in the past two years. The Giants ended 2020 at the lowly 6-10 and have won just one of their first six games this season.

As of recently, the former New England assistant coach has received all the blame for New York’s disappointing efforts. Yet, it seems precisely apparent that a plethora of players has struggled regardless of play calling. Those include Daniel Jones and even Saquon Barkley, but for now, the focus will fall only on the former.

Last year, Daniel Jones completed just 62.5% of his attempted throws. This year, he is on pace to replicate that. At first sight, this might not look catastrophically bad. Despite this figure being the fifth-lowest among qualified passers in 2020, Jones has the chance to average a completion percentage north of 60% for the third straight year. That would be something that neither Sam Darnold nor Baker Mayfield, nor even Josh Allen, has accomplished in his young NFL career.

Yet, having examined the capital he has available in terms of receiving corps, his numbers do not look as impressive.

It is clear that Daniel Jones has achieved subpar levels of productivity with at least an average receiving core. For instance, both of his primary pass-catchers in the intermediate game, Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate, caught more than two-thirds of their targets last winter. In contrast, tight end Evan Engram, who got the largest piece of the pie with 109 targets, has an abysmal 57.8% figure on just 10.4 yards per catch.

Some might argue that Engram’s woeful turnout outweighed the stability of Shepard and Tate because of the bigger workload. In such a case, this could be characterized as a play-calling mistake, which it is, and subsequently given as a reason for Jones’ problems.

However, now Engram averages a much more pleasant 66.7% and his role has faded substantially. Moreover, there is no significant Giants pass-catcher with an efficiency level even close to being as low as Engram’s in 2020. Amongst players with more than 20 targets, all three short-distance weapons (Shepard, Barkley, and Kadarius Toney) have a catch percentage of over 70 percent. Furthermore, they rank first, fifth, and second, respectively, on the team in targets. Therefore, the air raid runs predominantly through them. Yet, while they have individually impressed, Jones has not managed to be sufficiently accurate.

Another argument in defense of Daniel Jones and his long-term ceiling has happened to be the frequent absence of Barkley from the running game. The usage of a productive running faction can indeed take some baggage from a quarterback, which makes the passer more efficient too. New York definitely has not possessed the former thus far, with their rushing unit ranking 23rd in yards per carry.

What is also true is that the Giants have run the ball a lot less than they have thrown it in each of their last two campaigns. This season, the air attack has averaged 39 passing attempts per game, ninth-most in the league. However, Jones himself has averaged just two throws more per game in comparison to last year’s 32. Along a minimal jump, his completion figure has so far remained the same. However, this output should be seen as underwhelming due to the marginally more improved air reinforcements.

A sample of just 208 passing attempts is too small for its results to be conclusive as a full-season prediction. The lack of support on the ground could keep holding Daniel Jones back. However, he has not shown any signs of improvement except for a slight decrease in interception risk. That is despite the gradual breakout that is expected as he matures in the professional game, in addition to the better results anticipated because of the interaction with noticeably better weaponry and a seemingly more solid offensive line.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – DECEMBER 29: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Daniel Jones #8 and Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants in action against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on December 29, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New York Giants 34-17. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Running Stable Has Not Helped Either

Despite all the flaws that can be recognized within his game, Daniel Jones should not be seen as the lone “scapegoat” to blame for all of New York’s problems. In fact, the play-calling displayed by Judge and his staff being called mediocre is justified, to say the least. However, nothing has dragged the former Duke prospect down worse than a group that used to be in charge of the Giants’ offense. This, of course, refers to the Saquon Barkley-led running faction.

As already mentioned, the Giants’ rushing group was abysmal throughout the first six games of the 2021 NFL season. It has only produced 3.9 yards per carry, the tenth-fewest in the National Football League.

The shaky state of the unit is not a shock per se for Daniel Jones, considering the environment he has been a part of since becoming a Giant. In each of the two seasons heading into 2021, New York’s ground game was amongst the seven least-reliable in the NFL, in terms of utilized runs. Meanwhile, that phenomenon has remained a constant entering 2021 – NYG’s 138 carries are ninth-fewest in the league.

However, what has dramatically changed is the levels of efficiency of the group within that limited workload. Across both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the unit turned in numbers that ranked in the top half of the league. Specifically, the Giants produced 4.7 and 4.4 yards per carry, respectively, with the former figure being the sixth-best in the NFL. However, this year, these values have plummeted at unexpected rates – 3.9 yards per run, tenth-worst in the league. And all of that despite having Barkley available instead of Wayne Gallman, who led the unit in 2020.

Moreover, Barkley himself has thus far put on numbers in complete contrast with the performance he showcased during his first two years as a pro. The former Penn State standout averaged just 3.6 yards on 54 rushing attempts over the five games he played at the start of the campaign.

Next up, behind Saquon Barkley, on the depth chart are the likes of Devontae Booker and Gary Brightwell. Therefore, there is not much choice beyond the fourth-year running back. Subsequently, that whole component of New York’s offense suffers from Barkley’s issues as a result. However, their unproductivity is not dooming just from the perspective of it limiting play-calling alternatives. It also forces the QB to throw the ball more, which often proves problematic. Daniel Jones is no exception.

As previously discussed, Jones’s workload has increased by more than two throws per game, from 32 in 2020 to 34.7 in 2021. Many would argue that this is mostly due to the Week Six matchup with the Rams when Barkley was injured. Consequently, the young passer had to make 51 throws, which resulted in his lowest accuracy rate for the season (save for the 13 attempts he made against Dallas).

Yet, Saquon’s weak turnout had prompted the decision-makers to limit his usage long before the ankle injury. Not including the Cowboys showdown, when he had just two rushes, Saquon has averaged 13 carries per game. That is a substantially lower figure than the 16-plus he had in each of his first two campaigns on the professional level.

Furthermore, the reason for that cannot be a lower play total for the Giants. The offensive unit would be on pace to have the most offensive plays in four years even if the 2021 season was not seventeen games long. Because of this sharp decline in productivity and utilization, the run has amounted to just 35 percent of the load. That, in turn, would make for a six-percent year-to-year downturn.

Daniel Jones’s efficiency will definitely be in jeopardy should Saquon Barkley remain sidelined for an extended period of time. However, should he not improve his output once he comes back, the threat will stay well and alive.

Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Back when Daniel Jones was surprisingly drafted sixth overall in 2019, there were avid concerns about his potential. Unfortunately for the New York football Giants, he has not proven the doubters wrong yet. Injuries to key offensive figures promise to plague Jones but the short span that saw him provided with high-quality reinforcements did not leave great impressions.

The sample of those observations is a lot smaller than that of the full-season stats that serve the comparison. Nonetheless, positivity is yet to avidly emerge. Meanwhile, Saquon Barkley gives the Giants the best chance to turn around a disappointing year if he is able to remind the organization of his old self.

Thanks for reading my article on Daniel Jones’s 2021 performance. Follow me on Twitter @TeodorTsenov for more of my content and follow @OT_Heroics!

Don’t forget to check out the OTH Football Podcast on both Spotify and Youtube!

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Teodor Tsenov is a writer in the NFL Department of Overtime Heroics. Teodor joined the media in March 2020, previously writing for Franchise Sports UK. Also a second-year International Sport Management student at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in Den Haag, the Netherlands. Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria.