When a young quarterback has to step in for an NFL team, particularly a rookie making his first start, the instinct for a coaching staff often is to pare down the playbook. They try to trim as many superfluous calls as they can and simplify things for the kid. The defense a quarterback faces already is going to make his head spin. There is no reason for his own offense to do the same.
But when the Giants start Daniel Jones on Sunday, it may have the opposite effect on the way they run their offense. Rather than be limiting, Jones’ presence should allow Pat Shurmur and the offensive staff to expand the number of plays that they call.
With Eli Manning at quarterback, there were entire chapters of the playbook that went unused in games. Rollouts, run-pass option, designed keepers — they’re all in play now with a more spry quarterback.
“There will be some different things that we can do on the ground, running the ball, some zone stuff,” tight end Evan Engram told Newsday this past week. “It definitely adds a little bit having a mobile quarterback and a more athletic guy.”
To be clear, the basic structure of the offense is unlikely to change. The Giants aren’t benching the system. But having Jones on the field could affect the play-calling within that system, and it certainly will have an impact on the way those plays are executed.
Shurmur was fond of saying that he had Manning running more bootlegs and rollouts than he had done since his days at Ole Miss. What he failed to note was why no one in between had been making such calls. Now he has Jones and his ability to make plays — passing and running — on the move.
“Every play that goes in, the quarterback that’s running that play has a little bit different interpretation of it,” Shurmur said. “His eyes sometimes go to a place slower or quicker than others. [Jones] has the ability to run our full offense.”
Shurmur said he decided to switch from Manning to Jones after watching Manning play in the first two games of this season. Perhaps he was watching the opposing quarterbacks more closely than his own when he finally reached his verdict. The past two games have shown the Giants exactly how effective a dual-threat quarterback can be. The Cowboys’ Dak Prescott was able to scoot around and pick up some key first downs in Week 1, and the Bills’ Josh Allen used his legs to help beat the Giants last week.
Allen scored on a 6-yard designed run, and in the fourth quarter, he kept a drive alive when he was able to juke B.J. Hill and escape, buying more time before completing a conversion pass on the run.
Those types of plays are not in the Giants’ arsenal — at least not with Manning at quarterback. Jones, however, could bring that element to the offense.
“He has a much better skill set to do those types of things than Eli,” Shurmur said of Jones on Monday. “Yes, that’s fair.”
In fact, when the Giants tried to run a similar play on a key third down in Dallas, with Manning rolling out, the only quick part of it was the speed with which it fell apart.
Shurmur always knew the advantages of having a QQB (quick quarterback). He was the offensive coordinator with the Eagles when Nick Foles first helped usher in the era of the run-pass option under Chip Kelly. He used it to his advantage with Case Keenum in Minnesota.
Now he finally will get to employ it with the Giants and Jones. This is a quarterback whose athleticism has been compared to that of Cam Newton by offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who coached Newton as a rookie.
Even in the spring, when Jones was running second-team reps in minicamp, it was clear that there eventually would be a difference after he took over. At a point when most people were latching on to how similar Manning and Jones were, on the practice field the Giants were showing just how different they could be. That was never more clear than during 11-on-11 drills on the first day of minicamp. Jones kept the ball on a read option, rolled to his right and took off down the field for a long run.
“Man, he pulled that thing and picked the knees up,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said of the play at the time. “He looked good.”
Shurmur said the Giants have had that play in their repertoire in the past. Up until then, it always resulted in a handoff. Having the quarterback keep it? “Depending on who the quarterback is and his skill set, certainly that’s always available to us,” Shurmur said.
It definitely is now.
“One of the things that we hung our hat on in high school besides his throwing was we ran a lot of zone read,” Larry McNulty, Jones’ coach at Charlotte Latin School, told Newsday. “We had a complete package of quarterback runs for him and he was extremely effective at the zone read. He was really good at riding that thing and pulling it and going.
“I hope they weave that into their offense because they’re missing something if they don’t try it. And Saquon [Barkley] ran it in college at Penn State. I’m not coaching that team, but maybe we’ll see it on Sunday.”
Manning brought things to the field that Jones lacks. He had wisdom, experience, savvy. Maybe one day Jones will be able to accumulate those intangibles.
Jones, though, brings something Manning has never had. He ushers the Giants’ offense into the 21st century, when pocket passing is important — but not as much as outside-the-pocket play.
Shurmur has known that for years. He helped bring that style to the NFL. Now, after a season and two games of calling plays with one arm tied behind his back, Shurmur is ready to punch and call plays with both hands.