There is no controversy about the quarterbacks in New York. When Daniel Jones is healthy, the New York Giants are still his team. Nothing Tyrod Taylor has done the past two games has likely changed that.
But that also doesn’t change the inconvenient truth for the Giants that Taylor, their veteran backup, performed better on Sunday than Jones had in most of his five starts this season. And the Giants offense, while only marginally more productive, looked much better with Taylor in charge.
Taylor was efficient and careful with the football. His quick decisions helped out the struggling offensive line. And at least in the first half of the Giants’ 14-7 win over the Washington Commanders, New York’s offense moved far more smoothly than it has for most of the year.
That’s not because Taylor, a 34-year-old journeyman, is better than Jones. It’s not a sign that he gives the Giants a better chance to win. And it’s definitely not a reason for the Giants to make a quarterback change less than eight months and half a season after signing the 26-year-old Jones to a four-year, $160 million contract.
Though to be fair, when asked after the game if Taylor had done enough to remain the starter even when Jones (neck) is finally cleared for contact, Giants coach Brian Daboll didn’t exactly say no.
“I would just say Tyrod had a good game this game and he’s a true pro,” Daboll said, “and I’m glad we’ve got him.”
While that non-answer was perfect fodder for the talk-radio shows and tabloids, it’s almost certainly not an indication that any change is coming. Still, Taylor’s “good game” is a chance to learn, even for Jones, to see why he was so relatively successful running the offense. Taylor was 18 for 29 for 279 yards and two touchdowns, and the Giants had 356 yards of offense — their second-highest total of the season and highest in the last five games.
Some of it was situational. Some was circumstantial. Some of it was because of things Taylor did. But it’s still worth looking at what went right and what factors contributed to Taylor’s success, and whether any of it can help Jones when he returns:
Quick passes/decisions: In the first half, at least, Taylor looked extremely decisive, and it appeared the offensive game plan was designed for him to get the ball out quickly. That makes sense, given how good the Commanders’ defensive line is. It remains the best way to counteract a pass rush. It also allows the offensive playmakers to do the work. And a big sign of that focus was how effective tight end Darren Waller was in this game — his best as a Giant, with seven catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. He’s such a big target he should always be the quarterback’s best friend when they need to get the ball out fast.
Taylor looked more comfortable in a collapsing pocket: There are no stats to gauge this, but compared to the way Jones looked so jittery over the past few weeks, it was hard not to see how calm Taylor appeared. He was able to stand more in the pocket and get throws out under pressure. And when he had to escape trouble, he wasn’t just running away in a panic. He made several terrific, off-schedule throws when he was flushed out of the pocket and found a receiver on the run. Of course, given the beating Jones has taken — 28 sacks in his five starts — it’s easy to see why he had lost his comfort level. Taylor didn’t come with that baggage. And he reminded everyone how important that is.
More deep throws: Taylor completed two passes for 75 yards to speedy rookie Jalin Hyatt and targeted him five times — the most the 22-year-old receiver been targeted in a game this season. In fact, in Taylor’s two starts, he’s thrown in Hyatt’s direction nine times. Jones only threw to him five times in the first five games. So it’s about time the Giants made him a big part of their offense. Taylor rightfully called him “one of the fastest guys on the field, if not the fastest at any given point.” It’s true that Jones had been under so much pressure in the pocket in general that the idea of waiting for Hyatt’s deep routes to develop seemed like a fantasy. But as Taylor noted, there is value sometimes in just throwing it up quickly and letting the kid see if he can catch up to the ball and make a play. Speed can kill in this game. It also can soften up the defense and open up more of the mid-range routes. That’s what it did against Washington’s struggling secondary, which made it easier for Taylor to find open receivers all over the field.
The return of Saquon Barkley: Don’t underestimate this. In Taylor’s two starts, Barkley has rushed 45 times for 170 yards. In the previous three games, with Jones at quarterback and Barkley out, the running backs combined for 47 carries for 107 yards. Without Barkley, the Giants were completely one-dimensional. Defenses didn’t respect the Giants’ rushing attack and they found it easier to close off Jones’ running lanes too. With Barkley on the field, it changes their approach. They have to commit more defenders to the line of scrimmage. That leaves fewer players to cover and gives a quarterback more options when he throws. Barkley doesn’t even have to be good to have an impact. He just has to be there.
The offensive line was better: Don’t get the wrong idea. The Giants’ offensive line still isn’t good. But it has stabilized a bit the past two games, and Taylor had a decent amount of time on Sunday against a strong Commanders front. It’s hard to know why. Justin “Straight off the couch” Pugh had his issues at left tackle with Chase Young, and Tyre Phillips wasn’t perfect at right tackle either. Veteran guard Mark Glowinski has definitely played better since his return to the lineup. But they are still missing three starters — left tackle Andrew Thomas, center John Michael Schmitz and right tackle Evan Neal. The why doesn’t really matter, though. A better performance from the line makes all the difference in the world for a quarterback. And their performance was enough to help Taylor. That’s a luxury Jones didn’t have.
The Giants hope, obviously, that when Jones returns — possibly as soon as this Sunday against the New York Jets — that Barkley will still be in the lineup and the offensive line will still be trending up. That will definitely help him rediscover his comfort in the pocket. And it’s a good bet the coaching staff will put an emphasis on more quick passes, mixing in Hyatt and the occasional deep throws.
Don’t forget, though, that even with all that going right the Giants’ offense is still somewhat dysfunctional. For all the praise Taylor is getting, the Giants are still only averaging 11.5 points per game during his two starts — almost a full point less than they were averaging under Jones (12.4). But the offense is undoubtedly moving better. Under Jones, the Giants averaged just 255.2 yards per game. In two starts for Taylor, they’ve averaged 336.
Again, it has a lot to do with the circumstances — including the competition. Don’t forget, the Commanders statistically have the fourth-worst defense in the NFL. The Giants are sure Jones can do better if the circumstances are similar. They were so sure of it that they made a $40 million-per-year bet on it back in March. A little very modest success by Jones’ backup isn’t going to change their feeling about their franchise quarterback — at least not yet.
What Taylor’s success does, though, is give them a window into what a semi-functional offense looks like. And it gives them a roadmap for finding ways to help Jones have a little of that same success.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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