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Daniel Jones' running game becoming an increasingly large part of Giants' plan

Daniel Jones #8 of the Giants runs the

Daniel Jones #8 of the Giants runs the ball for a long gain during the second quarter against the Washington Football Team at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Daniel Jones didn’t have a lot of impressive numbers in Sunday’s win over Washington. His totals in passing attempts (19), completions (12) and passing yards (112) were all career lows for games in which he started.

There was one number that stood out, however. Perhaps unexpectedly.

It was 20.64.

That was the top speed, in miles per hour, that Jones reached on a 49-yard run in the second quarter. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, it was the fastest of his career, the sixth-fastest speed hit by any player in Sunday’s games, and faster than any quarterback but one this season. Jones played a read option, pulled the football from a potential handoff to Devonta Freeman, then sprinted almost half the length of the field. It was the longest run by a Giants quarterback in the Super Bowl era.

"I thought it was Daniel Jackson there for a second," said wide receiver Darius Slayton, comparing Jones to reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, the Ravens’ quarterback (and the only one clocked faster than Jones’ 20.64 mph). "It’s definitely huge having his ability to run to keep defenses off balance."

It may be more than that. Jones’ ability to carry the football — in the absence of Saquon Barkley, amid struggles to get it to Evan Engram and with a dearth of wide receiver options because of injuries — is no longer just the wrinkle in the game plan.

It is becoming the game plan.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Giants have run nine zone-reads like the 49-yarder this season. Jones has kept the ball seven times and gained a total of 101 yards (including three for 60 on Sunday). The two times he handed it off the Giants gained a total of 8 yards.

"I’m certainly willing to do that," Jones said of maintaining his impact with rushing yards on designed runs. "I think it’s a valuable part of our offense."

It may even be the deciding factor in Thursday’s game against the Eagles. They, too, are without their starting running back in Miles Sanders and their star tight end in Zach Ertz, both injured. They, too, are dealing with thin receiver numbers that could limit the passing game.

But they, too, have a quarterback who can run. Less than an hour in real time after Jones’ 49-yard dash, Carson Wentz took off on a 40-yard run of his own that helped the Eagles nearly complete a comeback against the Ravens.

Given the shape of both offenses, this quarterback duel may be more of a leg race than an arms race. Both will come into Thursday as their team’s leading rusher for the season among active players.

"When he runs the ball, he’s a big, physical, tough guy," Joe Judge said of Wentz. "You can’t just tackle this guy like any quarterback. You have to treat him like a running back in the open space. You have to wrap him up and get him on the ground. This guy runs physical. You watch that run against Baltimore last week, he’s not looking to get out of bounds. He’s looking to extend it vertically and gain as many yards as he can."

Just like Jones.

"There are definitely parallels you could draw with them," Judge said.

Even their stats are somewhat similar. Jones’ 204 rushing yards on 27 carries are slightly better than Wentz’s 171 yards on 28 carries, but Wentz has four rushing touchdowns to Jones’ none as a counterweight.

Having a running quarterback is nothing new for the NFL, but it is new for the Giants. Jones is producing rushing yardage better than anyone at the position in the last five decades of franchise history and is the only quarterback to lead the Giants in rushing yards through six games of a season during the Super Bowl era.

Since becoming the starter, Jones has led the Giants in rushing in seven of 18 games, already a Giants record. The only other NFL quarterback to be his team’s rushing leader more during that span is Jackson, who has done it 12 times.

Jones’ 204 rushing yards are just 75 fewer than the 279 he totaled all of last season, and that was the third-highest figure by a Giants quarterback in the Super Bowl era. Fran Tarkenton holds the first two spots with 306 yards (1967) and 301 (1968). Needing 103 yards in the team’s final 10 games to top Tarkenton’s single-season record, Jones may wind up shattering it.

Why do those numbers go back only to the Super Bowl era? Quarterback rushing records for the entire 95-year history of the franchise are harder to establish because there is doubt whether some players actually played that position in the team’s early years. Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician of the NFL, considers Harry Newman’s 483 rushing yards in 1934 to be the team’s single-season record, only because Newman accounted for more than 60% of the team’s pass attempts that season. Others who were listed as quarterbacks threw as few as five passes in a season.

Jones said he likes carrying the ball as much as he likes carrying the burden of becoming the focal point of an otherwise stagnant offense. He has three of the top four runs for the team this season.

"When my number is called to run it, I’m certainly excited for those opportunities," he said.

It’s one of the most explosive numbers the Giants dial up. On Thursday night — and for the rest of the season — it may be called a lot.

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