In this week's edition of Blue Data, we try to use analytics to process the emotional magnitude of scoring seven touchdowns against the New Orleans Saints at home but losing because your special teams unit couldn't do one thing right, and instead messed that up and added a penalty to boot. Odell Beckham Jr.'s three touchdowns? Trumaine McBride's return score? Eli Manning's insane totals? Forget those, because the punter pulled on a facemask.
Logic doesn't really appeal to the same part of the brain that makes you irrationally angry at a sports game. I know this because I have done my best four times this year to use statistics to make the internal buzzing of loss disappear. It doesn't work. This is a warning for anyone expecting an impassioned speech about how their beloved New York Giants will be okay. This isn't that. This is a bunch of dumb numbers that don't get rid of the fact that this team didn't kick it out of bounds and basically had another DeSean Jackson moment in a game that would have established them as a true contender. Damn it.
Manning has the fourth-most passing touchdowns in 2015 with 17 scores through the air. Surprisingly, his six-touchdown performance on Sunday came on the heels of being blanked by the Dallas Cowboys defense for the second time this year. If you asked me one week ago how the Giants would feature in a game that contained 13 touchdown passes -- the most in NFL history -- I likely would have said it was because the defense allowed 10 touchdown passes.
Now, I'm going to say something that a lot of people may misconstrue, but I'm going to say it anyway. Manning got lucky. I'm not downplaying the fact that he had a superb game, and made some impeccable throws, but it's clear that two of his touchdown passes should never have left his hand.
The deep bomb to Beckham was not an "in stride" throw, and could have been intercepted by either of the defenders surrounding him. I understand that the risk-reward factor is favorable for the Giants here, because a pick would have at least shifted the field position, but it wasn't one of the many great passes made by Manning in this game. Watch this play again. Keep an eye on where Manning puts the ball compared to where he could have put it. He plays it into double coverage rather than away from the safety, and it's a short throw. Beckham has to turn for it.
The second pass in question would be Dwayne Harris' first touchdown. Manning rolls right to escape pressure, and throws it back across his body into a crowded area. There were five defenders in the vicinity of Harris. Five. That's a dumb throw. A good result does not justify a poor decision. That said, the situation dictated for Manning to make something out of nothing. This was a fourth-down play so the risk was inherent in the nature of going for it at all. If we look at that play in a vacuum however, Manning got seriously lucky.
So, why am I scolding Manning in a section of the article that supposedly deals with the positive side of the game? Because this was a game that exemplified how good Manning has become since Ben McAdoo took over the play-calling duties. The fact that I'm chiding him on two plays which stood out as bonehead throws yet still produced favorable outcomes means Manning has gotten so good that it's okay to criticize the minor aspects of his game as opposed to his fundamentals. If I'm nitpicking at someone, it's because they played well enough to deserve it, and right now, that means Manning. Check out this table of categories where Manning ranks in the top 10 or higher in 2015.
|Rank Among QBs|
|Completions per game||7th|
|Lowest INT percentage||4th|
|Highest TD percentage||8th|
|Lowest sack percentage||6th|
Shane Vereen has had eight receptions in a game twice since he joined the Giants. During his four years with the New England Patriots, this happened just three times. It's good to see the offense integrating a valuable player in a way that lets him succeed because he has the potential to be a top-5 free-agency signing under Jerry Reese's management.
Beckham leads the league in scoring catches with seven touchdown receptions. He shares this honor with Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and New England's Rob Gronkowski -- a player so good only Chase Blackburn could cover him.
Combining forced fumbles (three) and interceptions (three), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is top of the league right now. Given the nature of stripping the ball from a player, it's difficult for that same defender to recover the ball they muscled out so whether or not his three forced fumbles were recovered or not is somewhat irrelevant. Rodgers-Cromartie held up his end of the deal. It's time for the rest of the league to start acknowledging DRC as one of the top cornerbacks, because his knack for taking the ball away is better than anyone in 2015 so far.
The Giants are allowing an average of 85 yards per game to opposing tight-ends including a particularly disappointing attempt at covering New Orleans' Ben Watson, who caught 9 of his 10 targets for 147 yards on Sunday. I've typed this phrase before, and it probably won't be the last either; the secret to beating the Giants is targeting the short and the middle.
The problem is that there isn't really an easy fix for this. Part of it is scheme and part of it is personnel. The defense needs to bring extra pressure to compensate for an under-achieving pass-rush, but the team doesn't have players capable of being left on an island in coverage. Add to this a could of injuries, and there really isn't much to praise.
The Saints broke a 72-year record this Sunday. Their 511 passing yards was the most allowed by a Giants' defense since the Chicago Bears threw for 488 yards in November, 1943, and the majority of those were based on short or intermediate throws. Drew Brees didn't go deep that often. In fact, 40 of his 50 throws traveled less than 20 yards through the air. The problem is that the secret to beating the Giants isn't a secret anymore. They have repeatedly broadcast it during prime hours every Sunday for the world to see.
This defense has been exposed, and I don't think it's going to get better anytime soon, because they're heading for a record of their own. In 2012, the Green Bay Packers' defense allowed 4,796 passing yards in a single season -- the most in NFL history. The Giants are on pace to shatter that number. If they keep going they way they're going, opposing offenses will have piled on 5,058 passing yards. That's like having the worst defense in history, then playing an extra game.
The Giants did not sack Brees once during his 50 pass attempts, so it should come as no surprise for me to tell you that their defense has the worst sack numbers in the NFL -- nine sacks through eight games, which means they record a sack on just 2.6 percent of opposing quarterback's drop backs.
During Steve Spagnuolo's previous two years with the Giants, they finished with a 7.7 percent sack percentage in 2008 and 9.2 percent in 2007. To match even the 2008 sack total, they would need more than four sacks in each remaining game this year. Just to finish as something comparable to last year's average, they would need 3.6 sacks per game. Even if Jason Pierre-Paul gained super powers from his accident and returns as Fireworks Man, the Giants aren't going to hit that number.
Giants are likely to go their third-straight season without a 1,000-yard rusher. It doesn't help that the team haven't had a game where a single player rushed for 100 yards. In order for Rashad Jennings to hit 1,000 yards on the ground he would need to average 86 yards per game for the rest of the season. So far in 2015, he gets 40 yards per game.
It's true that the offense favors a lot of short passes, which include running backs coming out of the backfield, so some of that yardage is made up schematically via the easy completion, but it's still troubling that this drought has continued through two offensive coordinators, numerous blocking combinations and a variety of ball carriers.
The Downright Confusing
In their past four games in the Super Dome, the Giants have allowed 45 points, 48 points, 49 points, and now 52 points. This is one of those areas that defies logic. Much like Green Bay, Seattle and New England, the Saints are one of those teams that are just simply better at home. The indoor dome stadium certainly helps, but I'd imagine the 70,000 or so screaming fans does too.
Giants/Saints combined for 101 points, tied for 3rd-most in an NFL game Record: 113-- Redskins 72, Giants 41 in 1966— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 1, 2015
Giants are 1st team to lose a game despite scoring 49+ points since Oilers lost to Raiders 52-49 on Dec. 22, 1963.— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) November 1, 2015
According to Elias, Eli Manning is the first QB in NFL history to throw six touchdowns and no interceptions in a loss.— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) November 1, 2015
Here are three tweets full of stuff that I don't have to explain, because, well ... I can't. This is just one of those weird things that gets coughed up through the stat sheets every now and then. Remember that pattern of games that made people think Washington's football team actually decided who took office in D.C.?
In the age of aerial football and high scoring games, it was only a matter of time for these "firsts" to occur and the streaks to come to an end. People say records are made to be broken, and that's true, but mainly in a basic "infinite possibilities on an infinite timeline" sort of way.
When lining up from under center, the Giants run the ball 78 percent of the time, which is almost the inverse of their shotgun snaps, where they run it a little less than 20 percent of the time. A high volume of passing out of a spread formation isn't that strange, but for an I-formation to be such an obvious clue for the run may be why the team has had such little success in that area as of late.
They average 4.7 yards per rushing attempt when lining up in the gun, and just 3.4 yards with Manning under center. Defenses know what the deal is. I'm not a big believer in the run setting up the pass and vice versa, but it's clear that the Giants need to restructure and balance their rushing offense. Think play-action. Think simple drop backs. Just do something to fix an obvious tell for the defense. I love what McAdoo has done with the passing game, but he needs to figure out how to run the ball in a less linear fashion.