EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants tight end Darren Waller made a significant impact nearly every day of training camp. Down the middle, in the red zone, underneath, jumping over the heads of cornerbacks or safeties, it was clear that he was going to be quarterback Daniel Jones’ No. 1 target.
Waller even caught three passes on four targets for 30 yards on the starters’ only preseason drive. That all screeched to a halt before October. Waller hasn’t reached 30 receiving yards in either of the past two games.
While Waller has still been Jones’ top target, the chemistry hasn’t quite carried over to the regular season. Their connection has been modest, the numbers (15 catches on 23 targets for 153 yards and no touchdowns) pedestrian.
It was evident again in Monday night’s 24-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks when Waller was mostly silent while being targeted once for five yards until late in the fourth quarter. He finished with three catches for 21 yards.
“As a playmaker that is a tough pill to swallow,” Waller said after the latest disappointment on Monday night. “Like I said, all I can do is go out there and execute the game plan that they put in front of us.
“But, yeah, as a playmaker I can’t just go home and go to sleep knowing what I’ve done in this league and knowing what I’m capable of. It’s tough.”
New York wants to feature him -- given Waller’s track record and physical skill set -- they just haven’t been able to do it effectively when it counts. The Giants (1-3) have to figure this out quickly. They play the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
“I think it’s important [he’s a bigger part of offense],” Jones said. “He’s a talented player and poses a big threat for defenses. I have to do a better job of finding him and getting him the ball.
“I think there are just some opportunities that I have to get him the ball and give him a chance to make plays.”
History suggests that as long as Waller is healthy, he will produce. The Pro Bowl tight end averaged 64 receiving yards and almost a touchdown per game over the previous four seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders.
It seems inevitable that the production will even out as long as the Giants offense settles in. They’re last in the NFL in points scored (11.5 PPG). It should help that running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) is nearing a return and left tackle Andrew Thomas (hamstring) is not far off.
But the Giants’ problems to date have been bigger than just the Waller-Jones connection. Jones was sacked 18 times in the Giants’ two home games this season, an NFL record since sacks became an official stat. They’ve lost those two games a combined 64-3.
The offensive line’s struggles have leaked into their top pass-catcher’s production.
“I was just doing a lot of chipping and helping out with the protection most of the time,” Waller said after the loss to the Seahawks. “Not really a lot of chances to go out there to make a lot of plays.
“Like I said, all I can do is what the coaches ask me to do.”
The Giants traded for Waller to give Jones some kind of security blanket. The big plans weren’t for Waller to be featured as a blocker, but it has been necessary more than they would have liked. Part of that against Seattle was that backup tight end Daniel Bellinger left with a knee injury on the opening drive.
Waller ran 38 routes on 68 total snaps Monday night and moved at times to Bellinger’s spot as an in-line tight end while another wide receiver took his spot.
“Certainly, we used some of that [chipping] where we had to keep tight ends and backs in to try to help out protection at times,” coach Brian Daboll said. “The longer-developing plays, you need a little bit more time. So, there's certainly some protection things that you have to try to do to try to push the ball down the field. Then you have to take your calculated chances of when you want to do that, and how you want to do that when you don't.”
Chipping or blocking makes it almost impossible for Waller to attack the deep middle of the field. This was supposed to be where he, perhaps, made his biggest impact.
But Waller has only been targeted three times over 10 yards in between the numbers through four games, none of which came against Seattle.
The Giants insist it’s not for a lack of effort.
“I’d say that there were play calls for Darren, but certainly can do a better job of that,” Daboll said. “I’d say there was a number of them that we just couldn’t get to. Whether it was the progression, whether it was the pressure, whether it was the read. But we have to do a better job of that as a coaching staff.”
With this kind of emphasis, it seems like the production will eventually follow. Waller is averaging close to six targets per game. He appears to be past the hamstring injury that had him questionable for Week 1.
Waller wants to contribute, even if it’s not with big numbers.
“There is situations for honest dialogue [with the coaches], but it’s really about what can we do as a team. I’d love to be a part of that,” he said. “I feel I’ve been a part of that for most of my career and feel I can contribute.
“But whatever the solution is for the Giants offense to go out there and make something happen, I’m all for it. Whether it’s a lot more targets for me or one target every week. It’s a team game and I’m trying in any way to help this team out.”