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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Giants QB Daniel Jones needs to step up in the pocket, be more of a presence if he isn't able to run

Dennis Gardeck #45 of the Arizona Cardinals sacks

Dennis Gardeck #45 of the Arizona Cardinals sacks Daniel Jones #8 of the New York Giants during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Jim McIsaac

If it wasn’t remarkable enough as it was happening over a 16-year period, life after Eli Manning should only reinforce how incredible it was for Giants coaches to know that Manning would be there game after game . . . after game after game.

In less than two years as Manning’s successor, Daniel Jones already has missed more games because of injury than Manning missed in his entire career.

In fact, Jones went just 10 games last season before missing more starts — one — than Manning missed to injury from 2004-19. Jones missed two games with an ankle injury last year, missed another with a right hamstring injury last week and might be limited moving forward because of the hamstring and a left leg problem that had him hobbling off the field near the end of Sunday’s dispiriting 26-7 loss to the Cardinals.

Tom Coughlin often talked about how much of a luxury it was for a coach that he could count on Manning being in the lineup every week. Coughlin never took it for granted, and Manning’s durability was a big reason the two won two Super Bowl championships.

Joe Judge doesn’t have the benefit of an ironman quarterback and already finds himself having to make major adjustments because of Jones’ physical condition.

Judge presided over an impressive performance last week in Seattle, when the Giants upset the heavily favored Seahawks with backup Colt McCoy at quarterback. But with Jones back against the Cardinals, Judge experienced something that he’ll have to contend with until his starting quarterback is fully healthy: the limitations of Jones’ game when he can’t use his ability to run as part of his repertoire.

At his best, Jones provides the threat of running for big yardage — sometimes touchdown yardage, as was the case in a win over the Eagles last month. But as Jones showed Sunday, when he was sacked six times in part because the Cardinals knew he presented no threat to run, he’s no pocket passer in the mold of Manning.

Make no mistake: Part of his problem Sunday was poor blocking from an offensive line that had shown signs of progress in recent weeks. That regression was stunning against the Cardinals, who toyed with the Giants’ line and saw Haason Reddick achieve a career day with five sacks.

On many plays, Jones was simply overwhelmed, and no quarterback could have survived some of the pass rushes.

But he also was unable to function properly when he did have time, in part because he couldn’t adjust to life as a pure pocket passer because of his physical limitations.

"They had a good game plan going in, a few different things, but every team does every week," Jones said. "We got to do a better job identifying. I have to do a better job with that and getting the ball out on time."

Translation: He needed to make his reads much more quickly and deliver the ball, a hallmark of the game’s top pocket passers, Manning included.

When he’s healthy, Jones can buy time if he doesn’t like what he sees by escaping the pocket and scrambling around before either finding an open receiver or darting upfield for a sizable gain. Without that luxury, he became one-dimensional and laid bare the limitations that being a young quarterback will expose.

Judge was second-guessed for starting Jones, in part because the quarterback’s physical limitations changed his game. Judge said he had no regrets, and I’d agree that playing Jones was the right call, even though he didn’t have the luxury of being able to run freely. McCoy, who is far less mobile than Jones, would have been a sitting duck, too. Jones is your guy, and you have to ride with him. He just needed to play better when he did have the time to throw.

Jones appeared to suffer some sort of injury to his lower left leg late in Sunday’s game. Judge was vague about his condition during his Monday afternoon Zoom chat, but if Jones has problems with both legs, he might have to sit.

Again.

Regardless of whether he plays or not, though, Jones needs to improve his play from the pocket if he is to survive as the Giants’ quarterback of the future. As all mobile quarterbacks have discovered at some point, you can’t rely solely on escapability in the face of aggressive defenses. You need to make big throws in a conventional offense if you are going to succeed over the long haul, because running gets you only so far.

Jones learned that painful lesson on Sunday, and he needs to respond accordingly. How he reacts will tell us a lot about whether he’s the answer moving forward.

Or not.

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