There is the ideal way to break in a young quarterback, blueprinted for Tom Brady and copied by Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.
And there is the way the Giants are forced to do it with Daniel Jones.
If the Giants are going to make a surprising playoff run, it likely will be on the back of Jones and not with him complementing other team strengths. So he hasn’t been able to pile up wins and other confidence-boosters early in his career like many Hall of Famers.
“Just think about how many of those guys were able to have high degrees of success before they had to truly carry a team,” coach Joe Judge said. “Think about those real great ones who are going to be wearing gold jackets and played in this league for 15-20 years: How many of those guys have the benefit early in their career of working with teams that were either carried more by defense or run game or a great arsenal of guys around him who supported him?”
The NFL banned cheerleaders from the field this year, but the Giants want Jones to listen to one of their favorite pearls of wisdom: Be aggressive! B-E aggressive! Be aggressive!
Jones’ struggles with turnovers continued in his 14th career start — throwing two interceptions in a 26-16 loss to the Steelers — but Judge isn’t going to strap on the handcuffs and turn his playmaker into a game-manager beginning Sunday against the Bears. Not with an unproven defense, an offensive line hampering Saquon Barkley’s ability to run and an injury-plagued receiving corps on a roster with two former Pro Bowlers outside of special teams.
“You can be aggressive and at the same time make the right decisions,” Judge said. “As a quarterback, you can’t be effective in this league if you are playing cautious, if you are playing scared. You have to be aggressive. As a coach, what you can never do is take away the teeth of your players by pumping the brakes on them a little bit.”
Jones is the only quarterback in NFL history with three games of four touchdown passes or more and no interceptions as a rookie.
“It’s our job to instruct them, coach them and give them keys to help them develop,” Judge said. “Everyone is going to make mistakes at certain points. The important thing is not to repeat the mistakes. You can’t take away the aggressiveness of any player. Ultimately, that’s going to weaken them — and that’s not good coaching.”
Despite all the attention focused on Jones’ end-zone interception when he should’ve thrown the ball away, another telling play happened earlier in the fruitless 19-play drive. Jones scrambled for a 4-yard gain on third-and-5 but didn’t stretch the ball past the chains before stepping out of bounds. Did he shy away from leaving it vulnerable to a strip because he led the NFL with 18 fumbles and 11 lost last season?
“It’s something Coach Judge has emphasized: We are not going to stretch the ball out in those situations unless it’s fourth down or something where it’s absolutely necessary to get the yard, and the risk is worth it,” Jones said. “Protecting the ball is certainly the most important.”
The Giants are facing this week a good example of what they hope is not Jones’ future. Mitchell Trubisky went 4-8 as a rookie, 11-3 as a Pro Bowler in his second year and has had a tenuous grip on the starting job since early last season, with the Bears’ true feelings best expressed by declining their fifth-year contractual option for 2021.
“Playing quarterback in the NFL is the toughest job in all of professional sports,” Judge said.
One positive sign for Jones’ development: He isn’t easily flustered by mistakes.
“He’s really steady with the highs and the lows,” Jones’ favorite target, Darius Slayton, said. “I know he’s hard on himself. He wants to be perfect. But he does a good job of keeping himself even-keel.”