Could Daniel Jones Help Jumpstart the Rushing Game?
In coaching, it's only natural to want to stick with your hot hand, especially in the running game.
But when that hot hand happens to be your team's franchise quarterback, some caution needs to be exercised.
Such is the case with the Giants, whose running game currently ranks dead last in the NFL (56.7 yards per game) despite having had star running back Saquon Barkley in the lineup for five of the 12 quarters of football played.
In a somewhat surprising development, quarterback Daniel Jones, who offers mobility, is the team's leading rusher with 92 yards on 12 carries through three games.
“We’ll take production from anyone we can,” head coach Joe Judge quipped when asked if having Jones lead the team in rushing each week was sustainable.
Quarterbacks leading their teams in rushing are nothing new, certainly not in an era where classic pocket passers have mostly gone the way of the dinosaur in favor of the more mobile types.
Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only seven quarterbacks have led their respective teams in rushing: Bobby Douglas (1972, Bears), Randall Cunningham (Eagles, 1987-90), Donovan McNabb (Eagles, 2000), Cam Newton (Panthers, 2012, 2017), Russell Wilson (Seahawks, 2017) Josh Allen (Bills, 2018), and Kyler Murray (Cardinals, 2019).
But having the quarterback as the leading rusher doesn't always translate to a winning record or a postseason berth.
Of those teams whose quarterbacks ended up as the season rushing leader, only the three Eagles teams, the 2017 Panthers, the 2017 Seahawks, and the 2019 Ravens posted winning records, with five of those clubs reaching the postseason and none advancing to the Super Bowl.
The Giants are a long way off from before they can even think about the postseason or, so it would seem, a winning record. But at this point, they'll probably settle for a jumpstart on offense where they have struggled to sustain drives and have only held the ball on offense 24:11.
"He’s a good runner--he’s fast and he does a good job with the ball when he’s out in space," said quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski of Jones.
"He has that ability to do it and I think we all encourage that, myself included if he can get up or out of the pocket and make a play out there."
But Schuplinski also reminded people that Jones's budding career as a rusher shouldn't surpass his career as a passer.
First, running with the ball puts the quarterback at risk for injury, and second, quarterbacks who morph into more of a runner sometimes develop happy feet whereby they start running when they have more time to set up and throw.
So far, Jones doesn't appear to have fallen into that rut, though he still has a lot of room to grow when it comes to speeding up his mental processing to where he's not holding the ball after his receivers make their breaks.
But as Jones becomes more comfortable in the Giants offense, the hope is that any of the hiccups he's experienced so far in Jason Garrett's system, which is different than the one he ran for Pat Shurmur as a rookie, subside.
"I certainly feel comfortable," Jones said when asked about his comfort level running Jason Garrett's offense, which Jones has said in the past is different than what he ran last year.
"There are certainly things I need to improve on, and continue to learn and grow. We need to do that as an offense, and I certainly need to do that as well."
And if that includes running the ball on designed plays, well count him in.
"I think this offense gives us versatility for different people to run it and run it at different looks," Jones said, adding. "I’m certainly willing to do that, and I think it’s a valuable part of our offense."