The Giants were slow to this party. They are through the door now and probably won’t leave unless they get kicked out.
The modus operandi that overtook the college game and spilled over into the NFL did not exist in the world the Giants occupied on offense. The increasing thirst for quarterback mobility left the Giants parched, of their own volition. The zone-read trend did not infiltrate their thinking as long as Eli Manning was under center or back in the shotgun. As rushing yardage for quarterbacks soared, Manning stood in the pocket, rolled out when called upon and put the ball in the hands of others.
When other outposts around the league brought in backups capable of providing change-of-pace looks with their legs, the Giants stayed the course with traditional No. 2 options.
The Giants are in it now, though. Daniel Jones took off and ran a career-high nine times as the Giants beat the Eagles, 27-17. He ran for 64 yards and led the team in rushing for the sixth time in 10 games. For the sixth time this season, he had the longest run (a 34-yard touchdown) of the game for his team. Sure, this indubitably would be different if Saquon Barkley was around to churn up yardage, but the point remains: Jones is a runner.
There are zone-read runs, sneaks on short yardage and non-designed scrambles. Jones is fast and athletic, and is doing a much better job of protecting the ball, especially the past two games.
Jones taking off also increases the chances he gets hurt. Defenders are always keen on taking extra shots at a quarterback who turns into a ball-carrier.
“Daniel is a tough dude,’ coach Joe Judge said. “That being said, we don’t need him to take unnecessary punishment. We’ve talked to Daniel, a lot of times there is a time to lower your shoulder and get the extra yard, and there is a time to step out of bounds, slide and protect the ball. I think he’s made pretty good decisions.’’
Sometimes, it is impossible to make these decisions, with defenders flying at Jones as he spins one way and gets crushed by a hit. He is a statuesque, 6-foot-5 athlete, and there is plenty of target-area to punish. Smaller, more compact quarterbacks, such as Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray, can curl up and protect themselves. Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson are 6-foot-2 and more skilled at avoiding contact. The Bills are going through this delicate balancing act with Josh Allen, their tall swashbuckler.
Late in the first quarter, the Giants in their most recent game were on the Eagles 11-yard line, and Jones took it twice around the right side, gaining 5 then 4 yards. On the second run, Jones tried to spin away on the 2-yard line, hoping to squeeze his way into the end zone, and got nailed by defensive end Derek Barnett. There was nowhere to hide, and Jones took his punishment.
Judge acknowledged “it was a very competitive game,’’ and the first-year head coach knew the second-year quarterback was not thinking self-preservation there, within a few yards of paydirt.
“There was a lot of positions he was in with the ball where there wasn’t really the opportunity to just slide and get down,’’ Judge said. “A lot of them were close to the goal line. A few of them were on third down situations where he had to really go ahead and drop his weight to try to get that extra yard to get the first down for us. We’ve talked to him, I think he understands that.
“I think he’s done a good job of balancing that out. He’s definitely aggressive, very competitive dude. He’s a tough-natured guy. He’s definitely a guy you have to pump the brakes on a little bit more and kind of take less hits off of him. He’s not the guy who is going to shy away from contact at any point.’’
Jones is not an Eli Manning clone. Manning started 210 consecutive games because he almost never ran, almost never was asked to pile-dive on a quarterback sneak and because he was gifted at absorbing big hits rather than getting hurt by them. He was also a tough dude, without using his legs. Manning in 236 games gained 567 rushing yards. Jones in 23 games has 663.
The speed and elusiveness Jones displays are outstanding additions to the Giants offense. But every step he takes, someone is out to get him. Risk vs. reward is real.