Can Brian Daboll save Daniel Jones’ Giants’ career?

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — There was a collective sigh when Daniel Jones threw an ugly interception late in the New York Giants’ season opener in Tennessee. It wasn’t just from Giants fans who have seen this type of throw too many times over the past three seasons. It was also from the team’s new head coach.

First-year coach Brian Daboll approached Jones on the bench shortly after. He took off his headset, put his hands on his hips, and vividly expressed his displeasure at his quarterback’s decision. It was Jones’ second turnover of the game and this one – the result of running back Saquon Barkley staring down in the end zone before forcing a pass – was particularly costly.

“I said, ‘What did you see?'” Daboll said afterwards. “He thought he might be able to shoulder it back. I said, ‘That’s not what I saw,’ but…”

That’s the kind of tough love Jones will get from his new coach. And while it was eye-opening for some, Jones says things like this happen all the time. It just doesn’t usually get caught on camera. He can handle it, although on a stage as big as a starting quarterback in New York that should better be true.

“Everyone always says the same thing, ‘Do you think it’s going to hurt his confidence?’ said former Giants quarterback Phil Simms. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God. If so, get him out.’”

The Giants (2-0) got the ball back after interceptions against the Titans and rushed for 73 yards in 12 games. Jones threw the game-winning touchdown and converted a two-point conversion shovel pass into a dramatic 21-20 win over last year’s No. 1 in the AFC.

It’s been a promising start for a coach and quarterback pushed into this shotgun marriage last year by Jones’ rookie contract. The question now is whether Jones has reached his full potential or whether Daboll’s expertise can take him to new heights. The Giants aim to do the latter for the benefit of their franchise under the supervision of Daboll, offense coordinator Mike Kafka and quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney.

Time is running out as Jones is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and veteran Tyrod Taylor is currently the contingency plan. The final Test comes Monday night when the Giants host the Dallas Cowboys (8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN) at MetLife Stadium as they seek their second win over their division rivals since 2016.

JONES HAS A Pedestrian outing in Week 2, completed 22 of 34 passes for 176 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers, but New York won again, beating the Carolina Panthers 19-16. Jones completed 70.9% of his passes in his first two games — 4.1% above expectations, according to NFL Next Gen Stats — despite being pressured with 35.2% of his dropbacks, the fourth most in the NFL.

“I think he made really good decisions,” said Daboll. “There are always games where we can be better. But his decision-making process – where he went with football – he made the right decision, I would say, many times.”

For Jones and many of these Giants players, this is the first time in their pro careers that they have a track record. New York has a 14-25 record when Jones started. The fourth-year signal caller has 51 turnovers in 40 career games in three different offenses under four different coordinators. He showed promise as a 2019 rookie after taking on Eli Manning and throwing 24 touchdown passes on Pat Shurmur’s offense. But he’s only thrown 24 TDs on offense since then with Jason Garrett, Freddie Kitchens and now Kafka and Daboll.

His pocket presence in particular was a lack early in his career. With 21 fumbles lost, Jones is ahead of Carson Wentz four times since the start of the 2019 season, the most in the NFL. He has one fumble and one interception so far this season.

“I think it is [something that can be taught]said Troy Aikman, former NFL quarterback and current Monday Night Football analyst. “Because Sam Darnold came out in it [2018 draft] Great, he was a sales machine down at USC. And I said [at the time], “I don’t think you can train accuracy, but I do think you can train football protection. There just has to be an emphasis on it.’”

This is partly what Daboll is trying to fix while reviving Jones’ ability to make splash plays. The Giants’ receivers have had just two 20+ yard receptions so far this season. He completed just 24 such throws last season after throwing more than 30 each in his first two seasons.

DABOLL COMES TO The Giants have spent most of the last 15 years working with quarterbacks or directing an offense. He’s seen Tom Brady dominate, worked with Jalen Hurts, Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa in Alabama, and oversaw the rise of Josh Allen in Buffalo. Daboll has been exposed to many different schemes, making his own system a good weave of concepts.

“What’s unique about this offense is that it changes schematic week to week,” said Giants backup quarterback Davis Webb, who joined Daboll from the Bills this offseason. “I think that’s why it’s successful. We are a great attack strategy. Whatever we think will create particular difficulties for this defense, we’ll try to make the best of it. Whatever our strengths are, we build on them.”

Daboll has served as the Bills’ offensive coordinator for the past four seasons, where he helped Allen develop into one of the best quarterbacks in the game. Allen went from a quarterback with serious accuracy concerns (56.3% completion percentage in his first two NFL seasons) to a player who is currently completing 75.4% of his passes this year.

The Giants would love for Jones to prove he’s their Jersey Josh Allen and quarterback of the future. It would save them from pouring endless resources and assets (possibly multiple first-round picks) into filling the toughest position in the sport. There are teams that have spent years, even decades, trying to find their answer.

New York turned down the fifth-year option on Jones that offseason, leaving his future in New York in the dark. A team source said this summer that the Giants are still open to signing Jones for an in-season contract or franchise-tagging him in the off-season if things are going really well. They would prefer not to have to go through it all again.

Jones, 25, was the sixth overall pick in Duke’s 2019 NFL draft. He has the arm, mobility and work ethic to offer hope his Giants career can be salvaged. Daboll and co. have built an offense aimed at getting him moving, finding easy scripted throws, and creating a little bit more.

“I think the system brings out a lot of our guys’ strengths,” said Jones. “In the pocket, out of the pocket, playing with my feet, whether it’s a scramble or quarterback run. All of these things have been good for me and we will continue to work on them.

“I find [the system] has built in many answers. Things we’ve been working on since spring and can jump into quickly. Put us in a good position depending on what the defense does.”

Jones’ biggest plays this season have been his legs. He had a 2-yard run on a naked bootleg in fourth place and second on the game-winning drive in the opener, then rushed to a big first down to freeze the win over the Panthers. It’s clear the focus is on Jones using his legs to his advantage.

The Bills under Daboll did the same with Allen, who was third all quarterbacks with 122 carries last season. Jones is averaging eight rushes per game over the first two weeks. That’s well above his career-high 5.6 carries per contest last year, before missing the last six games with a neck injury. At this rate, Jones would finish with 136 rushing attempts if he played all 17 games.

“I think he did a good job of seeing seams and hitting them,” Kafka said. “He converted for us on several great thirds and fourths downs. That’s part of his game, he’s an athletic guy who can step out of the bag. They definitely don’t want to take that part of a game away from him.”

IT DEFINITELY DID NOT been perfect under Daboll and Kafka. Jones, whose deep ball accuracy is one of his best attributes, has only thrown one pass for at least 20 air yards. His 30.2 QBR ranked 28th out of 32 qualified quarterbacks in two weeks, he was 23rd in the NFL with 6.6 yards per attempt, and he threw for no more than 200 yards in any contest.

Jones hasn’t seen too many open receivers downfield either. There were a handful against Carolina last week, including one where he failed to recognize wide receiver Kadarius Toney, who undisputedly came across the field on a two-man route.

It shows there’s still a long way to go, but at least Jones has a chance. Offense is designed to best suit his abilities, Barkley is healthy and the offensive line seems to be slightly improved – at least with her run blocking.

“Daniel can do a lot of things. He’s got the ability to run, he’s got the ability to play with his feet, he’s got toughness and he can throw,” said former Giants quarterback Eli Manning. “[Daboll will] Be creative and get Daniel to play loose. Get out there and be aggressive, make plays and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

“Hopefully there can be a quick turnaround. I feel for Daniel. He had many different offenses, many different coaches and offensive coordinators as a quarterback. Here’s another one.”

The Giants have 15 games left, including Monday against the Cowboys, to decide if the Jones project will work or if it’s time to move on — to see if Daboll can get the best out of a quarterback once the former GM Dave Gettleman had deemed worthy of a top 10 selection. Daboll and Co. were nothing but compliments to Jones at the start of their tenure. They’re determined to pull it off, at least for most of this season.

If Jones is the answer, it would hasten the turnaround of an organization that started this season with the New York Jets for the worst overall record in the NFL in five years. It would also elicit another palpable sigh from the Giants’ fan base — that of relief. Can Brian Daboll save Daniel Jones’ Giants’ career?

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