Giants hoping Daniel Jones’ intelligence shines when it matters most

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Ever since the Giants introduced Daniel Jones on draft night by saying he “has the right head” for the job, praise has poured in for the quarterback’s smarts.

Why not? He earned an economics degree at Duke, and the undergraduate program ranked No. 1 nationally when he applied. He could’ve attended Harvard or Princeton. He was a three-time Academic All-ACC selection, which requires at least a 3.00 grade-point average for the academic year. He can talk his way around any tricky question.

Yes, he is smart. And that’s why his turnover-riddled play on the field can be frustrating for former NFL quarterbacks to watch.

“He needs to play as smart as he is,” ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky said. “For a guy that intellectually bright, he does stupid things with the football. Show me that when the panic moment comes, you realize you hold the whole organization in your hands. When you do that, you won’t be as careless with the ball as you used to be.”

Jones led the NFL with 18 fumbles in 13 games as a rookie in 2019. He tied for the NFL lead with 11 fumbles in 14 games in 2020. He committed at least one turnover in 20 of his first 21 games. He cut his “turnover-worthy plays” (a metric created by Pro Football Focus) nearly in half from one year to another, but still has more turnovers (39) than touchdown passes (35) and an 8-18 record in 26 career starts.

Daniel Jones
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The accepted excuse has been that Jones is trying too hard to make something out of nothing. The challenge for Year 3 is to recognize “something” and “nothing.”

“Some of his growing pains were playing games and not in practice every day,” quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski told The Post. “That was for everybody to see as he kept maturing. I don’t know if it’s fair to put a timeline on [when it clicks]. I just know he puts a lot of pressure on himself every day, as do we.”

Jones was turnover-free in four of his final six starts last season, and the decreased giveaways included an interception through a receiver’s hands and an errant hand-off exchange — not repeat red flags. Was that stretch a fluke? Or was it the beginning of football IQ catching up to the rest of his mind?

“Being smart certainly helps, and I think you can apply that to a lot of areas of your life,” Jones said. “Same way as being smart probably helps in your job. I think there’s something to be said for football instincts and football feel, as well.”

One stat casts doubt on the oversimplified idea that Jones’ struggles stem from holding the ball for too long: He was sacked on 18.3 percent of his quick dropbacks (less than 2.5 seconds) — third-highest percentage in the NFL — according to The Ringer. Blame the collective offense for protection breakdowns, but there is a hint Jones might not be identifying pre-snap blitzers and hot-route reads fast enough.

“I’ve seen improvement in his game across the board — pre-snap and post-snap — just understanding and processing,” head coach Joe Judge said. “I think it’s something that naturally happens for players as they gain more experience every year. And then being in the same system for multiple years to be able to process the decisions and the adjustments as they happen at full speed.”

Jones is expected to face the type of live pass rush that forces quick thinking Sunday in his only preseason test against the Patriots. Practice scripts are kept private, so thus far only coaches know if his decision-making is improving.

Daniel Jones
Daniel Jones
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“I certainly hope so,” Schuplinski said. “It was pretty evident that was something he improved on in the second half of last year.

“I know there are always going to be some plays in training camp where we are installing new things and it might not look the part. It could be a progression read, or it could be ‘I’m on this guy and now I have to go back to the other side,’ so be able to have a plan of attack going into it, know where you would like to go with the ball and where your outlet is.”

Co-owner John Mara recently reaffirmed the Giants’ faith in Jones, given his “leadership, his work ethic, the [way] players respond to him.”

Those are all great intangibles to have, just like smarts — if they translate to the field.

“I remember vividly the morning after Daniel was drafted, I did a breakdown tape of him versus Temple and I said, ‘His greatest flaw is that he panics with the football in moments of pressure,’ ” Orlovsky recalled. “His season will come down to 10 plays. Anybody can throw it away, take a sack and live to fight another down — literally anyone can do that — but starters do it.”

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