Joe Judge didn’t win many friends during a doomed tenure as head coach of the New York Giants. In his gruff tone, Judge typically didn’t pull any punches when he gave his final verdict on Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.
It was Judge’s parting shot after being fired by the Giants on January 11 following two miserable seasons and a losing record of 10-23. Judge couldn’t win enough games with Big Blue, but his sign-off statement about Jones might change the opinions of some fans regarding the Giants’ former coach.
That’s according to Fox Sports’ Peter Schrager, who told Barstool Sports’ “Pardon My Take” podcast how Judge defended Jones: “He calls me right away and he goes, ‘Here’s what you can do’ — I love this about Joe Judge and Giants fans might be ready to run through a wall for this — ‘This is what you can do. Next time you or your co-hosts want to s*** all over Daniel Jones, or say that they know Jones is terrible, or this or that, know that Daniel Jones is tough as s***, comes prepared, and I would run through a brick wall for that guy.”
Even if Judge’s words don’t win him any new supporters among the Giants fan base, they may encourage further reappraisal of Jones. The oft-maligned signal-caller is already playing above expectations this season and putting the Giants’ new regime in a conundrum about his future.
Jones Has Taken Steps Forward After Judge
Turnovers and injuries blighted Jones after he was drafted sixth overall in 2019. He missed 11 games and threw 29 interceptions, while losing 20 fumbles.
Those issues derailed Judge’s attempts to win with Jones, even though the system directed by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett hardly encouraged development. The script has flipped completely this season, with Jones looking like a different QB on the watch of Judge’s replacement, Brian Daboll.
Helping make Josh Allen a star with the Buffalo Bills got Daboll the Giants job, and he’s working similar magic with Jones. Daboll and Garrett’s successor, Mike Kafka, who was Patrick Mahomes’ position coach for the Kansas City Chiefs, are calling games based on Jones’ strengths.
Those strengths include designed runs to take advantage of the former Duke standout’s mobility. Daboll has made read-option principles a staple of the playbook, making the most of Jones’ dual-threat talents. It’s a ploy that’s helped the QB rush for 387 yards and three touchdowns, including this one against the Chicago Bears in Week 4:
The Giants are also protecting Jones by leaning on star running back Saquon Barkley. He’s leading the NFL with 931 rushing yards gained on 198 carries, second most in the league.
A run-heavy game plan is limiting how often Jones needs to put the ball in the air. Daboll and Kafka are also giving the passer who is averaging just 6.4 yards per attempt shorter routes to aim for and quicker reads.
The cautious approach is limiting Jones’ big-play threat as a passer, something summed up by these numbers from Ian Hartitz of Pro Football Focus:
Yet, playing it safe is also making Jones a more efficient player. He’s missed on only 81 of his 237 attempts and thrown just two interceptions and lost as many fumbles, a far cry from his mistake-littered early years.
The way the Giants are protecting Jones is also in sharp contrast to what he was asked to do previously, with Judge telling Schrager, “that quarterback is tough and was put in a tough spot and I just want everyone to know that.”
Ironically, now it’s the Giants who are being put into a tough spot by Jones’ improved performances.
Jones’ Contract Situation a Tricky One for Giants
The Giants face a “major predicament” trying to prevent Jones and Barkley from entering free agency, Heavy Sports’ Matt Lombardo wrote on November 16. Barkley is the more important player of the two, but finding a competent starting quarterback is difficult.
Securing Jones’ future for the long term would help the Giants avoid the pitfalls other franchises have faced searching for a new QB. Teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Commanders and Indianapolis Colts show the risks of trusting the veteran market, with free agent arrival Mitch Trubisky and trade acquisitions Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan all struggling this season.
Giants general manager Joe Schoen won’t want to follow the same path, especially if Jones shows Daboll he can develop into something more than a game manager. The signs are positive, with the Giants beginning to trust Jones to call his own plays in key moments.
It happened during Week 10’s 24-16 victory over the Houston Texans, according to NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger:
Jones showed off good recognition and strong command of the line of scrimmage. Being able to gash defenses with in-game, on-field adjustments is what separates top quarterbacks from the average players at the position. It’s why one agent told Lombardo “the Giants may have to tag Daniel Jones,” referring to the franchise tag.
Keeping Jones around for at least another season will be the smart move if he finishes the season on the upward curve he’s traversed during the Giants’ 7-2 start.