Friday, March 24 2023

The Giants‘ offense had basically stopped functioning in the second half this past Sunday against the Commanders, and desperate times call for desperate measures. That explains why, in the final minutes, the coaching staff let Daniel Jones try to win the game with his arm.

It was a bold, surprising strategy, and it actually almost worked. With 1:45 remaining and the score tied, needing only 40 yards to set up a game-winning field goal, Jones uncorked two passes that each traveled 40-50 yards in the air. Both throws were perfect, right where they were supposed to go. It said a lot that the Giants coaches trusted him to do that in that situation.

It probably said even more that their plan didn’t work.

And that’s the biggest problem for the Giants as they head down the stretch of what they still hope will be a season that culminates in a playoff berth. Their offense has mostly shut down as teams load up to stop Saquon Barkley, their one truly dangerous player. They desperately need a passing game to stretch out defenses and give Barkley some support.

But it’s just not there. Jones has shown plenty of moxie this season, along with a strong and accurate arm, but he’s still averaging only 197 passing yards per game and has thrown just 11 touchdowns — numbers that put him in the company of quarterbacks like Atlanta‘s Marcus Mariota and Houston’s Davis Mills. Of course, it’s not all Jones’ fault. He has no reliable weapons beyond Barkley.

So at a moment when the Giants really need to air it out just a little more to keep defenses off balance, that’s not exactly a plan they can trust.

“I’m very confident in the skill group, quarterback, running back,” offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said. “The skilled positions have done a great job, and my confidence is high on that group.”

Well, the Giants’ actions rarely back that up. Up until the out-of-character series at the end of regulation against the Commanders, their actions proved their lack of faith. There was the third-and-5 in the second quarter where Jones dumped off a short pass to Richie James for a loss of 1 yard to set up a field goal, rather than trying to throw past the marker for the first down. There was Jones’ run on third-and-1 from the 11 with time ticking away in the first half, setting up a field goal rather than taking a shot at the end zone. There was also the fourth-and-3 with 1:42 left in overtime from the Washington 45, when coach Brian Daboll called the offense off the field and punted instead.

All game long, even long after Barkley was rendered ineffective, there were examples of the Giants refusing to throw it — or throw it far — as if they didn’t trust what would happen if they did.

The lone exception was the sequence at the end of regulation, when they were reminded why. Jones’ first deep pass landed right in Darius Slayton’s hands, only to fall out as he tumbled to the ground. His second one landed just inside the sidelines, right where Slayton would’ve been had he not been bodied out of bounds.

A bigger, stronger, better receiver probably makes both catches. But the Giants don’t have one of those. Their most talented wideouts (Sterling Shepard, Wan’Dale Robinson) are injured. Their most expensive one (Kenny Golladay) looks done. They traded away last year’s first-rounder, Kadarius Toney, leaving them with a cast of journeymen (James, Marcus Johnson, Isaiah Hodgins), bottom-of-the-roster players (David Sills) and Slayton, who at times has been the lone bright spot under this dark cloud. Slayton has 33 catches for 566 yards but has dropped more than 15% of the passes thrown his direction.

Jones, of course, would never say anything bad about his teammates. But if anyone demurs that the Giants “have done everything possible to screw this kid up,” as co-owner John Mara said back in January, just look at the team coming to the Meadowlands on Sunday. The Eagles drafted quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round in 2020, and since then GM Howie Roseman has given a master class on how to build a team around a young quarterback. He traded up to beat the Giants to receiver DeVonta Smith in the first round of the 2021 draft. He traded one of his first-round picks in 2022 to get receiver A.J. Brown, then gave him $100 million. He even traded away aging tight end Zach Ertz, so Dallas Goedert would have room to emerge as one of the best tight ends in football, and then rewarded him with a four-year, $57 million deal.

It’s no wonder the NFL is raving about Hurts’ development this season, going so quickly from a flawed-but-promising young QB to the “top of the list for MVP right now,” as Daboll asserted. Yes, Hurts is talented and smart and unique, and he works hard at his craft, but he’s also surrounded by a cast so good that Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale quipped, “I know they’re not going to play the Pro Bowl this year, but they’re playing it in Philly.”

Imagine if the Giants had done right by Jones like that.

A weak supporting cast is a huge problem that GM Joe Schoen will have to fix this offseason, no matter who his quarterback is in 2023. For now, the Giants have no choice but to roll with what they’ve got. They have to play two games against the Eagles, who are the NFC’s highest scoring team (28.2 points per game). They have to play the Vikings, who rank 11th (24.1) and a Commanders team surging since Taylor Heinicke has taken over at quarterback.

They probably need three more wins to make the playoffs — definitely at least two. And with Barkley averaging just 41.3 rushing yards over his last three games, they’re going to have to throw well to have any chance at all.

Can they? Kafka said he’s confident. Jones said he trusts his playmakers. The receivers said they’re ready to prove their worth. But really, what else can any of them say? There’s been nothing trustworthy about this passing attack or any of Jones’ receivers all season.

But the Giants have no other choice. If they want to make the playoffs, they’re going to have to trust them now.

Top stories from FOX Sports:

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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