3 players to watch in New York Giants V Cleveland Browns pre-season game

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

After falling to the New York Jets in the first preseason game of the season, the New York Giants are looking to bounce back on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. Having hosted joint practices in Cleveland, the Giants have their fair share of positives and negatives.

Big Blue is expected to rest wide receivers Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay and will also be sitting running back Saquon Barkley. With three of the team’s primary offensive weapons failing to make a preseason appearance due to injury, they will all target the final game of the off-season to add some live action against the New England Patriots next week. For now, with roster cuts quickly approaching, the Giants are gauging the value of bubble players.

Nonetheless, preparing the starters for a grueling 17-week regular season is essential, so let’s take a look at several players we should keep an eye on against Cleveland.

Three players to watch in New York Giants V Cleveland Browns pre-season game:

1.) Andrew Thomas

Left tackle Andrew Thomas is going into his second professional season, and he has looked far better this training camp compared to his rookie campaign. Most reports regarding Thomas have been positive, as he stood out against the Browns in joint practices. ESPN coined Thomas, a second-year breakout candidate, and he is living up to expectations thus far in camp, but live-action is an entirely different ball game.

Last week against the Jets, Thomas was on the field for 18 snaps, successfully stopping any pass rushers from generating pressure on the quarterback. He will be looking to produce a second consecutive positive performance and based on his practice this week, that should be the expectation.

2.) Azeez Ojulari

The Giants’ 50th overall pick in the most recent draft class was Georgia stand out pass rusher Azeez Ojulari. After dealing with a minor injury to open camp, Ojulari has showcased his abilities the past few days.

Shedding massive left tackle Mekhi Becton to make a play in the running game last week against the Jets stood out, and he’ll be looking to gain a little bit more exposure against Cleveland. With a solid offensive front, Ojulari dominated tackle Jedrick Wills at times on Friday, forcing a defensive holding and getting into the backfield for a sack on Baker Mayfield.

Ojulari led the SEC last season in sacks and forced fumbles, and he will be looking to roll his success over to the NFL. While it will take him some time to adapt to the physicality and speed, Ojulari will immediately be used as a pass rusher. He’s an expected starter to open the year at this point in the off-season. Another solid outing against Cleveland would further cement that expectation.

3.) Daniel Jones

There is plenty of anticipation revolving around quarterback Daniel Jones and his first action of the preseason on Sunday. It is yet to be known if he will take the field, but Jones could use the reps and a full series to get his legs working. While live-action drills during practice are beneficial, the emotion and feel of a live NFL game are quite different, and with Patrick Mahomes enjoying few snaps against the Cardinals on Friday, it is fair to imagine the Giants will approach Jones similarly.

The hopeful franchise quarterback has had his fair share of ups and downs this training camp but had a stellar outing against Cleveland on Friday, picking them apart in red-zone drills and finding his receivers routinely. He connected with TE Evan Engram several times up the seam and hit Darius Slayton on numerous occasions in the end zone.

He seems to be more comfortable in the pocket, but Jones will only go as far as the offensive line takes him, and the Giants are still nervous about allowing too much pressure and potentially putting him in harm’s way. Allowing him to take a few snaps shouldn’t curate too much fear, as sooner rather than later, the Giants are going to have to test things in real-time.

New York Giants: Daniel Jones speaks on progress going into preseason opener

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants open the preseason tomorrow night against the Jets, but Daniel Jones won’t be on the field. That’s not because of an injury, but because of Joe Judge keeping Jones out by coaching decision and choosing to focus on evaluation over playing starters. Even if Jones is sitting out, however, he can’t escape the attention of the press.

Jones was asked on Thursday about his thoughts on sitting out but didn’t have any answers outside of the expected ones. He pointed out the truth of the matter, which is that the decision isn’t in his hands. However, his statements about the team’s progress as well as his own expectations in year three may be more interesting to some.

“I think if you look at where we were three weeks in last year versus where we are now in terms of what we were installing or the conversations we were having about certain plays, we’re obviously at a much higher level this year. I think we are able to install plays faster, which puts us further ahead week three than where we were last year,” Jones told reporters. “So that’s an advantage for us and for the whole offense.”

The Giants haven’t had to deal with the same widespread COVID-19 restrictions that impacted last year’s training camp.

The hope has been that with a full offseason, Jason Garrett’s offense will be properly implemented unlike last year. While the preseason is ultimately unimportant outside of evaluating players, it will be one of the few chances before the regular season to see if that has happened.

Daniel Jones in year three

Daniel Jones stopped short of talking directly about the expectations placed on him this season, but was asked about the year three progress of Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield. While Jones did give a safe answer, he appeared to acknowledge the comparison.

“Yeah, there’s certainly stuff to learn from those guys and learn from people who have had success early in their careers, whether it be year two, three, four, whatever it is. I’m focused on improving myself and making sure that I’m in a position to play well and this offense is in a position to play well,” Jones said.

But the spotlight won’t be on Jones just yet, as Mike Glennon has the start against the Jets. There’s still some time before we’ll see Jones in a game that matters, so in all likelihood, his future performance will remain a subject of speculation and debate right up until the start of the regular season.

New York Giants: Daniel Jones sitting out preseason opener

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants are set to open their preseason with a local rivalry against the Jets in only a couple of days, and we now have official announcement from Joe Judge that quarterback Daniel Jones will not appear.

Other notable names that will be absent include Lorenzo Carter and Saquon Barkley, who have both been ruled out. In the case of the latter two players, it looks like the decision was made because their recoveries from injury aren’t far enough along.

Of course, it won’t be a surprise to anyone that Barkley is sitting. It’s debatable whether he’ll even be ready for week one of the regular season, so most aren’t expecting to see Barkley suit up during the shortened preseason this year.

However, Daniel Jones might be more of a surprise absence as he has no injury and will head into the season as the team’s starter at the most important position.

Why is Jones sitting out the preseason opener?

Joe Judge explained a bit of his logic in keeping Jones out. It seems like Jones is being excluded so the Giants can get a better idea of the players behind him on the depth chart.

“I will say this, the priority for me is to treat this more like a traditional game four and when I say that, it’s more of a make sure all of the players that we really have to evaluate get an evaluation. Because of the rules this year, we have to cut five guys after the Jets game. I want to make sure that we don’t make any decisions that impact our or their future without a proper evaluation,” Judge told reporters on Thursday.

Jones’ absence means that Clayton Thorson and Mike Glennon will get more time on the field to compete for the backup job that Colt McCoy held last year. The position at stake may be a bigger deal than anyone can imagine right now.

After all, as recently as last year the Giants ended up relying on their backup when the offensive line couldn’t protect Jones and the QB was injured. There’s no telling if that will happen again, and the Giants have experience with neither backup starting a game.

The preseason has been shortened by one game to make room for the expanded regular season, so the Giants will have less time to make the kind of evaluations that Judge and the staff are looking for from this game.

With a lot of roster change this season and with the team signing some lesser known free agents who will fly under the radar, this evaluation game will probably have a fair amount of impact on the final cuts. And it may just help the Giants make the right decision in keeping a future breakout player on the roster. Even if it comes at the expense of the on the field result, it should be well worth it.

New York Giants: Daniel Jones will not play in first preseason game this Saturday

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants are preparing for their first preseason game of the 2021 season this Saturday. The Giants will face the Jets at 7:30 pm on Saturday after an exciting week of practice. The fans were finally welcomed back in MetLife Stadium on Wednesday as the New York Giants hosted Fan Fest, a fun-filled event that featured a team practice/scrimmage. Quarterback Daniel Jones has gone viral on social media for a head-scratching pass thrown during Fan Fest.

Some fans are not worried about this one throw made during a team scrimmage. But other fans are watching this play and becoming concerned that Daniel Jones will fail to break out in his “prove-it” third season. All fans are excited, though, to watch Daniel Jones suit up against another team in a game with some meaning. However, fans will have to wait a bit longer as head coach Joe Judge announced that Daniel Jones will not be playing in the team’s first preseason game of the season.

Daniel Jones will not play in Week One of Preseason

New York Giants head coach Joe Judge announced that starting quarterback Daniel Jones will not play in the team’s first preseason game this weekend. Judge’s game plan for this matchup is to treat it like a traditional Week Four preseason game from years past. Typically, in the final week of the preseason, the starters see minimal playing time if they see any playing time at all.

Daniel Jones will not play this week, but Joe Judge is not expected to take the same approach as the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers announced that their franchise quarterback Justin Herbert will not play at all in the preseason in an effort to prevent any injury risks. The Giants, however, are expected to let Daniel Jones and the rest of the starters play a good portion of the first half in their third preseason contest. The strategy here will be to get the players prepared to handle the speed of a full game.

New York Giants: Saquon Barkley’s return will open up the passing game for Daniel Jones

New York Giants, Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley

The New York Giants received a huge boost to their offense this week as superstar running back Saquon Barkley was activated off the PUP list and returned to practice. Fans are excited for Barkley to rejuvenize the Giants’ rushing attack in 2021 and give them the ability to move the ball efficiently on the ground. But Saquon’s return not only impacts the running game. His return also opens things up for Daniel Jones in the passing game.

Saquon Barkley as a receiver

Saquon Barkley is one of the best running backs in the NFL. Every time he has the ball in his hands, there is a chance he will take it to the end zone. This is true for Barkley is a rusher, and even as a receiver. In his historic rookie season, Saquon set a franchise record with 91 total receptions as a rookie. He also notched 721 receiving yards and 4 receiving touchdowns.

The Giants have one of the NFL’s best receiving backs in Saquon Barkley. Even in his banged-up 2019 season, Barkley totaled 438 receiving yards. Through one-and-a-half games in 2020 he caught 6 passes for 60 yards.

With the improvements that the Giants made to their receiving corps this offseason, Saquon might see less volume as a receiver. But less volume could lead to greater efficiency. The ball will be spread out more to New York’s talented weapons. As the defense keys in on a receiver like Kenny Golladay, they could forget to cover Saquon out of the backfield as he rips them down the sideline on a wheel route. This same principle works inversely, too.

More one-on-one opportunities for wide receivers

If a team stacks the box to try to slow down Saquon Barkley, they leave wide receivers like Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton in one-on-one coverage. These are talented wide receivers that absolutely have the ability to win one-on-one matchups. As teams hone in on stopping Saquon, they will squeeze their defenses into tighter formations to defend against the run, allowing the Giants’ offense to spread out and attack the defense through the air. Daniel Jones will have a fun time throwing to more open wide receivers in 2021 after his previous group failed to create separation in 2020. There is no understating the impact that Saquon Barkley will have on the New York Giants offense.

New York Giants offense struggling early in camp, why we shouldn’t jump to conclusions

new york giants

The New York Giants re-tooled their offense this off-season, acquiring Kenny Golladay in free agency and Kadarius Toney in the first round with the 20th overall pick. Golladay, a big 6’4″ possession receiver, offers Daniel Jones a great security blanket in the passing game and downfield threat. The offense last season stuck to a more West Coast-style scheme, dinking and dunking for short yardage rather than targeting receivers downfield seeking chunk plays.

Ultimately, the scheme must adapt, taking risks downfield and applying Jones’s arm strength. However, Jones and the offense have looked outmatched thus far during training camp compared to the defense, which is expected to be a top 10 unit this year once again.

The defense was one of the more surprising factors during the 2020 season, showcasing a unique blend of zone coverage and blitz packages. Coordinator Patrick Graham is set to return to his roots, a man-coverage-based game that relies heavily on the pass rush. That is a primary reason why the Giants allocated assets toward drafting Azeez Ojulari, Elerson Smith, and signing several options like Ifeadi Odengibo and Ryan Anderson.

The defense always had the upper hand for the New York Giants starting camp:

The offense was always going to be outmatched early in camp, as Jones missed several passes on Friday, including a short dump off to Devontae Booker and throwing an interception to Logan Ryan on a fade route to Evan Engram in the end zone.

The Giants’ secondary has been working all off-season together in Tampa Bay, simply transitioning over to the Quest Diagnostic Center for training camp. Their chemistry continues to grow, and it is showing off against Jones and the offense, who’ve had two consecutive tough practices, littered with drops and mistakes.

However, with so many new pieces on offense and new coaches, it will take time for the unit to gain their sea legs. Making assumptions and justifications just three days into camp is a bit overzealous, but if the unit continues to struggle a few weeks down the road, then concerns will have some legs.

Both Jones and Golladay have spent time after practice refining their chemistry and building their timing. After Friday’s practice, Golladay stated that it’s all about “getting the chemistry down like clockwork.” Nonetheless, he’s had a tough time facing off against top corner James Bradberry, but it is important to remember that Kenny missed the majority of the 2020 season and is still working his way back to football form.

New York Giants: Freddie Kitchens’s promotion could lead to a more vertical offense

New York Giants, Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns

The 2020 New York Giants offense was pitiful. They averaged a putrid 17.5 points per game, ranked 31st in the NFL. But things might change drastically for the stale dink-and-dunk Giants passing attack in 2021. Joe Judge and the Giants made crucial changes to their coaching staff this offseason to fix their offense, including a key promotion of Freddie Kitchens.

Last offseason, the New York Giants hired Joe Judge as their next head coach. Coach Judge built an impressive staff that included numerous former-head coaches as assistants. In 2019, Freddie Kitchens was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns before being fired and ultimately hired the same offseason by the Giants as a tight ends coach.

Freddie Kitchens’s role has changed this offseason. Kitchens received a promotion from tight ends coach to “senior offensive assistant.” This promotion will give Freddie Kitchens more responsibility with the offensive line’s connection to the scheme and could also give him a greater influence on the offense’s passing attack.

How Freddie Kitchens can influence the Giants’ offense

Working with the offensive line

Head coach Joe Judge said that Freddie Kitchens’s “primary responsibility is going to be working with the front” in his new senior offensive assistant position. Judge explained, “tying into having two young offensive line coaches with Rob and Ben, I think Freddie is going to be an asset up front working directly with them and helping bring together the game planning, like all of our coaches will, but working directly with (offensive coordinator) Jason (Garrett) with some of the things that are going to happen upfront.”

This move could lead to less miscommunication along the offensive line. Kitchens will work to streamline the communication between the offensive line and the offensive coordinator. Freddie Kitchens will work to help the Giants’ young offensive line develop this year, but his influence in the team’s offensive scheme might be even more exciting.

Creating a more vertical passing attack

It is no question that the Giants want to get more vertical on offense in 2021. They added one of the best vertical weapons in the entire NFL this offseason with they signed star wide receiver Kenny Golladay. The Giants also added speedy wide receiver Kadarius Toney in the draft. These two could create an elite vertical receiving duo.

The Giants’ new wide receivers will go as far as the scheme lets them. The biggest criticism of Jason Garrett’s offensive scheme in 2020 was the lack of vertical passing concepts. That is bound to change in 2021 with the new weapons acquired and the promotion of Freddie Kitchens.

Freddie Kitchens’s influence

Quarterbacks in Freddie Kitchens’s offense tend to have a high average depth of target. Under Todd Haley in 2018, Baker Mayfield’s ADOT was just 6.8 but shot up to 9.1 once Freddie Kitchens took over. According to PFF, Mayfield’s ADOT under Kitchens in 2018 was 9.6 yards, a very deep average. Kitchens again had him over 9 yards in 2019, averaging 9.2 yards ADOT.

Compare this to Daniel Jones’s first two seasons in the NFL. Under Shurmur in 2018, Jones’s ADOT was 8.4 yards. Garrett’s notoriously non-vertical offense in 2018 brought Daniel Jones’s ADOT down to 8.0 yards. Now, as a senior offensive assistant, one must assume that Freddie Kitchens will help Jason Garrett implement more vertical passing concepts and try to raise Daniel Jones’s ADOT in 2021.

Baker Mayfield threw 72 total 20+ yard passes in 2018 and 76 attempts in 2019. Kitchens had him airing the ball deep frequently. Daniel Jones threw 54 deep passes under Shurmur in 2018, playing in only 12 games. In 14 games under Garrett in 2020, Jones threw far fewer deep balls, only 43 total. This is obviously a problem, especially when considering Daniel Jones had a 132.5 passer rating on 20+ yard throws last season, the highest in the NFL.

What this means for Daniel Jones and the Giants’ offense

It’s time to see more Danny Dimes. Daniel Jones was, statistically, one of the best deep passers in the NFL last season. NFL’s Next Gen Stats listed Jones as the top-ranked deep passer in 2020. Next Gen Stats notes that Daniel’s CPOE (completion percentage over expected) on deep passes was +14.8%, the highest percentage in the league.

According to Pro Football Focus, Daniel Jones was the third-highest graded quarterback in the NFL on deep passes in 2020. Jones’s 95.6 deep-passing grade ranked behind only Russell Wilson and Derek Carr last season.

As the Giants’ offense moves toward a more vertical passing attack in 2021, this could be huge for Daniel Jones in his make-or-break third season. Daniel Jones is an efficient deep-passing quarterback. He has not thrown the deep ball very often in his first two NFL seasons. But when he has, he has proven to have elite downfield accuracy. Freddie Kitchens will work to increase the volume of deep passes that Daniel Jones throws this season, leading to a more explosive New York Giants offense.

New York Giants: Eli Manning injects inspiration into Daniel Jones debate

New York Giants, Eli Manning, Daniel Jones

With expectations that New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones will take a step forward in his progression this upcoming season, the offense should experience growth alongside him. Jones is coming off a troublesome 2020 season at 23 years old, throwing for 2,943 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also threw 10 interceptions and fumbled 11 times, compared to 18 during his rookie season in 2019.

Jones has all the tangible traits to be a fantastic quarterback at the NFL level, and the Giants finally spent significant capital on bolstering the unit, adding the likes of Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and of course, the return of Saquon Barkley.

But Jones has more positive variables set to expedite his improvement, including experience in Jason Garrett’s scheme and his comfort level behind the current offensive line.

The OL is one of the more prominent catalysts in Jones’s development, considering they ranked near the bottom of the NFL in pass-blocking last season. The hope is that better coaching and consistency, including in-person training and preseason, will inspire growth among the young players.

Former Giants quarterback Eli Manning spoke about Jones and his momentum, inspiring optimism into the debate:

“I think also just the fact that from your first year to second year, Jones had a new offensive coordinator, a new coach, and everything going in,” Manning told NFL Network. “Now, at least going from [year] two to three, he has the same offense and the ability to grow within the offense. It’s not just the quarterback getting comfortable; it’s the offensive line, the receivers, everybody getting on that same page. I’m excited for him, I’m excited for the team, and I look forward to good things.”

As we saw during Daniel’s rookie season, he’s capable of throwing 20+ touchdown passes per season and deploying fantastic mobility to pick up yards on the ground. Last season, he tallied 423 yards and one touchdown with his legs but desperately needs to improve with his ball protection and decision-making in the passing game.

The acquisition of Golladay will provide an efficient deep target for Jones, who was one of the most accurate passers 20+ yards downfield in 2020, despite fewer than 10% of his throws traveling that distance.

In addition, signing Kyle Rudolph will provide a safety net in the middle of the field, where Evan Engram was connected to six interceptions last year off tipped passes. The Giants seem to finally be realizing their weaknesses and filling them with players who have those exact strengths. Jones should benefit tremendously, as long as his protection scheme can hold strong in 2021.

New York Giants: NFL’s Gil Brandt has ‘faith that Jones will answer the doubters’

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The pressure is mounting for New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones entering his third season in the NFL, but there is hope he can take his game to the next level with the bolstering of the offense. Last season under coordinator Jason Garrett, the offense sputtered to a minimum, as Jones posted less than 3,000 yards and only 11 touchdowns.

While Daniel saw his completion percentage increase from 61.9% to 62.5%, his production was mostly disappointing, but the variables that had a negative impact held him back considerably. Ranging from the lack of preseason and in-person training to an arsenal of weapons that would best mimic a Monty Python movie, he was set to fail from the beginning.

However, despite failing to increase the talent levels on the offensive line, the Giants spent an exorbitant amount of capital bolstering the wide receiver corps, adding Kadarius Toney, Kenny Golladay, and John Ross. On paper, the Giants have a much-improved unit, which Jones should benefit from, especially in the passing game.

NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt is confident that Jones will take a big step in 2021 after the bolstering of the offense:

I have faith that Jones will answer the doubters and settle his spot as the Giants’ long-term QB in Year 3, thanks in no small part to the massive improvements made around him in the lineup. The additions of Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Kyle Rudolph, along with the return to health of running back Saquon Barkley, mean Jones will be working with the most firepower he’s ever had at his disposal. Don’t be swayed too much by Jones’ lackluster TD-to-INT ratio (11:10) last season; the fact that he completed 62.5 percent of his passes despite working with pass catchers who had a hard time hanging on to the ball (the Giants ranked 12th in the NFL with 30 drops, per Pro Football Focus) is a good sign. I think the former top-10 pick has a chance to put up 20 TDs and complete over 64 percent of his passes in 2021.

The return of Saquon Barkley should have a major impact on the attention defenses allocate toward Jones and the receivers. It will force teams to operate with more defenders in the box, opening up the deeper portions of the field and shifty route runners like Toney and Sterling Shepard to dominate in space.

Jones has all the tangible traits to be a fantastic quarterback, including mobility, accuracy, and downfield prowess. If he can click on all cylinders and gain confidence as the season progresses, Jones could see that Year 3 jump we desperately need, otherwise the Giants will once again have to revert to the drawing board. Luckily, they have two first-round picks next year they can utilize as a last resort.

Giants’ running back Saquon Barkley raves about Daniel Jones

New York Giants, Daniel Jones, Saquno Barkley

The New York Giants have made it a priority to inject the roster with high-quality people, let alone players. When they drafted Saquon Barkley second overall in 2018, they saw generational talent that coupled with a fantastic human being. Upgrading the roster also meant elevating the locker room and the leadership that quietly makes an impact behind the scenes.

While Barkley has been rehabilitating from a torn ACL, MCL, and partially torn meniscus, his spirits have been as high as ever. He spoke with Rich Eisen this past week, avoiding questions of his return and timetable for recovery, but was quick to rave about one of his teammates, quarterback Daniel Jones.

“I really don’t want to speak for Daniel, but just knowing Daniel, it is what it is. He has an amazing work ethic,” Barkley said. “I think anyone in the facility can see that clear as day. He’s a guy that’s going to come into work and is a guy that’s going to lead you and is a guy that’s going to compete. So I think that’s his mindset, is come in and try to get one percent better every day and lead this team.”

Jones had a bumpy start to his NFL career, showcasing his arm talent with 24 touchdowns in his rookie season before dropping to 11 this past year with a lack of playmakers and a debilitating hamstring injury.

The Duke product is hoping to take a step forward in the upcoming season after the Giants spent an egregious amount of funds to acquire Kenny Golladay in free agency and drafted Kadarius Toney with the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft.

Jones’s future success entirely relies on his protection scheme in the trenches, and the Giants didn’t do much to upgrade the unit aside from hiring two new couches consultant Pat Flaherty and OL coach Rob Sale. The expectation is that their young players on the line will see an increase in efficiency, specifically in pass blocking. If that ends up being the case, Jones will reap the rewards, with more time in the pocket to spread the ball to his playmakers.

Of course, the return of Barkley will have an immediate impact, drawing more attention from defenders in the box and allowing Jones to operate without additional blitzers being sent his way. If there’s anything we can guarantee, it is that his work ethic has helped him improve in various categories, but until we see him apply his talents during live-action, it’s all just hearsay.