I'm almost reluctant to say it, but is it possible that this New York Giants team is actually quite good? I mean, sure, there are problems -- big ones -- but they're 3-2 right now and some minor game management details away from being 5-0. Does this team deserve to be undefeated? Probably not, but neither did the 2009 Denver Broncos, who started 6-0 and eventually finished with an 8-8 record.
It's all relative, and a lot more goes into the wins and losses than just two numbers. As always, we're going to take a look at some of the more in-depth statistics in the hope of better understanding how the Giants have performed to date. Let's start with some positives.
There were a few times on Sunday when you thought Eli Manning had just thrown the game away. There was an ill-fated interception at the end of the first half and at least two others possibilities in the second-half that the Giants got lucky with. This game was luck, for sure, but Manning has been exceptionally good with turnovers this season. On his 197 pass attempts in 2015, the Giants' quarterback has thrown just two interceptions. That works out as just 1.01 percent of the time. Only Tom Brady is better this year, and that's because he hasn't thrown one at all yet, though he did also play one less game due to a bye week.
Manning's season-best number came in 2008 when he finished with a 2.1 interception percentage, though last year was a very close 2.3 percent. It's hard to imagine that this is the same quarterback from 2013, when one in nearly every 20 throws was picked off by an opponent.
Sack percentage isn't necessarily a reflection of a great offensive line, but it does point to an efficient offense. The offensive line, quarterback and game plan all work in unison to get the ball out before the defense can pressure. With Ben McAdoo's scheme, Manning doesn't have to stand in the pocket for dynasty-long periods of time waiting for downfield routes to materialize. The prioritization of yards after the catch -- rather than yards through the air -- is what differs between McAdoo and his predecessor, Kevin Gilbride.
Anyone watching the Giants this year knows about their offensive line struggles. They have a banged-up rookie left-tackle and a ... shall we say ... underwhelming right tackle. Their interior is solid, but even that keeps getting shuffled about. New York has had only one week this season where all five linemen played every snap of the game.
So, it's easy to understand that sack percentage is about more than blocking. It's a cumulative measure of multiple moving parts, and thankfully, the Giants are up there with the best of them right now. In fact, they're second-best in this metric, with only the New York Jets performing at a higher level.
46.3 percent of Giants' offensive drives end in a scoring play, good for third-best in the league. Only the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots have had more success in putting points on the board, though the Giants aren't revered like the other top powers in the NFL because of their high-propensity to score field goals rather than touchdowns. We saw this on Sunday, when the Giants rolled out their kicker on two separate occasions inside the San Francisco 49ers five-yard line; a fourth-and-2 and a fourth-and-1. Both times, Tom Coughlin wanted to come away with some kind of points.
The second chance was particularly strange, because they only needed one yard to get a first down -- though we did hear Cris Collinsworth refer to it as "a long one" in the broadcast. It was a tie game and late in the fourth quarter, and on average the 2015 Giants are getting 1.9 yards on every rushing play when 1-3 yards are need, and a respectable 7.6 yards on every passing play when 1-3 yards are needed. The Giants could have gone for it, and in all likelihood, they would have gotten it. They didn't and it worked out for them this time, but it's more heavy conservatism from Coughlin with the game on the line.
Manning completed nearly 76 percent of his passes against the San Francisco defense on Sunday, which pushes his completion percentage to 66.5 on the season. We are a long way from laughing about the idea of Manning completing 70 percent over a whole year. I'd say it's fair to upgrade the possibility from "questionable" to "probable". It doesn't mean he will, but he's taking all the right steps to get there.
Giants are on pace to allow 4,867 passing yards this season. If my numbers are correct, this would not only be a franchise high, it would set an NFL record for worst passing defense. I've been reporting on this stat the past few weeks with the hope that it regresses as the season goes on, but it hasn't. The Giants are legitimately on pace to go down in the bad kind of history books.
The important thing to note here is that this record is going to keep breaking over and over in an era of accelerated passing numbers. Teams are so reliant on big air that these statistics are getting inflated. You need to be a 5,000-yard quarterback just to be in the conversation of top passer lately, so it's no surprise that defenses on the other end are suffering, too.
If the Giants can win despite this, good for them, but the current record holders are the 2011 Green Bay Packers and they went 15-1 only to have Hakeem Nicks catch a a hail-mary in the playoffs. All it took was one off-day from Aaron Rodgers and the whole system went up in smoke. I'm not convinced that the Giants can make it all the way to the end of the regular season without that happening a few times. Heck, it's already happened twice.
Pass Yards Allowed
Pass Yards Allowed
The fourth-quarter defense remains an issue for this team. As you can see, the average passing yards allowed in the fourth quarter is more than double that of their next worst period. The Giants defense is actually not too bad in terms of passing yardage through the first three quarters and then falls apart right at the end.
The narrative surrounding this team in 2015 is that they simply cannot close out games. The tape says it, the critics say it, and here we can see that the numbers say it too. In fact, if the opponent is trailing inside of four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Giants allow 85.7 percent of the opponent's passes to be completed. The NFL average is 61.4 percent. It's all there, and it's scary to keep watching it unfold.
The Downright Confusing
Manning had his second 400+ yard game in Ben McAdoo's system and seventh overall for his career. Manning has never had a 400+ yard game where he didn't throw an interception, and normally doesn't have a great touchdown-to-interception ratio, compiling 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in such games. Often, these games aren't a sign of Manning having his way with the other defense, but rather fighting to keep his team alive in close contests.
This was a game where cliché keys to the game were thrown out the window. Despite having more turnovers, a drastically less effective ground game, and more penalties, the Giants won this game. Those are three areas often cited as being a necessity to victory, yet this team failed in every one. How many times have you heard announcers rely on the troublesome inexact science of "conventional wisdom"? I bet this game left a bunch of lazy analysts shrugging their shoulders on Monday morning.
Odell Beckham Jr. is on pace for 1,370 yards, 99 catches and 10 touchdowns. This is coming from a relatively slow start to the season. So far, he has averaged 85.6 yards per game with a touchdown on 5.7 percent of targets. The team would be ecstatic to get back-to-back 1,300-yard seasons from a young receiver, but amazingly, these numbers are a decrease from his rookie year. In 2014, he averaged a league-high 108.8 yards per game with a TD on 9.2 percent of targets. Insanity.