EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The numbers against Janoris Jenkins so far this season are scary. It’s problematic in that the New York Giants cornerback is supposed to be their best and most accomplished defensive player.
Not that there is much competition.
But what is defensive coordinator James Bettcher supposed to do if his best player on a talent-bereft unit can’t cover anyone? He’s in even bigger trouble than anticipated.
That is where Bettcher and the Giants stand entering Sunday’s matchup with the Washington Redskins (1 p.m. ET, Fox). They haven’t even been able to count on their top cornerback to limit opposing receivers each of the past two weeks.
Imagine this: Jenkins is ranked 108th out of 111 cornerbacks with at least 45 snaps played this season with a 31.0 grade against the pass, according to Pro Football Focus. He has allowed 14 first downs and nine passes that have gained 15-plus yards, most in the NFL in both categories. His three touchdowns allowed is the second most of any cornerback.
Call it what you want, it has been a rough start to the season for the player teammates and coaches call Jackrabbit.
“A slump?” safety Antoine Bethea said. “Obviously, you’re going to have good days and bad days. I wouldn’t necessarily say a slump.”
Well, they better hope the soon-to-be 31-year-old cornerback isn’t physically deteriorating. That can’t be reversed.
The Giants don’t see that, though. That’s why Jenkins has stunningly remained in New York even as the rest of the 2016 free-agent class was exiled. Even through these recent struggles, the Giants’ confidence in him hasn’t wavered.
“Honestly, I don’t have concern,” Bettcher said. “I don’t have concern about any of our players, as long as they are working the process. I think Jack is doing that. I think he is coming to practice — I saw it today — he’s diving to knock balls away. He’s competing. He’s working on fundamentals and techniques in individual [drills]. He’s all-in on fixing what he needs to fix.”
Much of the damage came last week when Jenkins was asked to follow Tampa Bay Buccaneers top receiver Mike Evans around the field. Evans had a field day. He had eight catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns one week after Jenkins let his frustration get the best of him after a loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Matthew Berry says it was great to see Mike Evans’ breakout performance against the Giants, scoring three touchdowns in the first half.
“I mean, when you got time and get no pressure, I can’t cover nobody for 10 seconds. Who can cover anybody for 10 seconds?” Jenkins said after the Buffalo game. “Go look at within the first five seconds of the route. He’s not open. If he scrambles and there is no pressure, what do you want me to do? I can’t cover this side and that side. Come on, bro. We have to play football around here.”
The Bucs didn’t need 10 seconds on Sunday. Almost all of Evans’ damage came in one-on-one coverage against Jenkins, who also struggled the prior week as the Bills completed seven passes on seven targets for 75 yards when Jenkins was the nearest defender.
The Giants insist they’re not going to shy away from using Jenkins against No. 1 receivers moving forward. He’s still by far the best of what they have right now. Rookie DeAndre Baker is one of the few cornerbacks graded lower (28.2 overall) than Jenkins this season, even though he played better Sunday against the Bucs.
“Sure.” He’s out there and he’s going to compete,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “He’s going to be involved [against top receivers] when we play zone and when we play man. We expect that when he’s out there, he is going to play at a high level, which he’s done for a long time.”
The Giants believe all it will take is one mistake by a quarterback to get Jenkins back on track.
“Just make a play. Get your confidence back up. I think that is the biggest thing,” Bethea said. “I think a lot of guys when you [have] two games where you’re not playing at the top of where you wish [you were] playing, I think it’s one of those things where you make a couple plays, get your confidence back and then everything else is history.”
Jenkins has been a solid contributor for the Giants each of the past four seasons. He made the Pro Bowl in 2016. He has a track record of success.
That and the fact he has been close make it reasonable to think this is nothing but a momentary downturn. He has allowed an average of 2.3 yards of separation per target, according to Next Gen Stats. That is a more than respectable number for a starting cornerback, especially one matched against top receivers.
That’s a reason for optimism and the minimal concern among teammates.
“Zero,” veteran safety Michael Thomas said. “That’s Rabbit, man.”