To promote the launch of their 2015 Almanac, the kind folks over at Football Outsiders have agreed to a quick interview to discuss some of their findings with regards to our beloved New York Giants. I provided some questions in the hope of getting to the bottom of some burning issues, and the great Mike Tanier of FO and Bleacher Report afforded us the opportunity to get a unique insight into their analytics process.
Before we jump into the interview, a quick note about the book. The Football Outsiders Almanac is essential reading for all football fans. I'm not saying this to serve some promotion or sponsorship, I'm saying it because every year that I've read it, I've achieved a much deeper understanding of both the sport and the Giants. My advice is to get the PDF version; it's instantly available for download and you can use your computer's search feature to find nuggets of info on specific players. That said, the summer isn't quite over yet, so the physical book would be a good pick-up should you have any late holidays planned. You can't really go wrong with either.
Alex Sinclair: Immediately, you mention that the Giants have led the league in Adjusted Games Lost for the past two years, and the book also states that "there is nothing intrinsically wrong" with this team. At what point can an anomalous repetition be seen as a pattern? Can the injuries really be something as simple as luck?
Mike Tanier: Well, we start with Jason Pierre-Paul and say ... yeah, that's pretty random. The Beatty injury was more troubling -- a weight room injury can be a sign of bad conditioning procedures -- but there's no evidence that the Giants are pushing guys past their capacity or doing anything haphazard in the weight room.
I have spoken to people who know how the Giants handle their strength-and-conditioning work and have spent a decent amount of time at their HQ in the last few years. Tom Coughlin does a lot to manage practice times, limit practices on artificial turf, use data to dictate usage patterns, etc. If the Giants are doing something horribly wrong, it's not something obvious that we can point to, like six-hour practices in the Meadowlands heat or something.
AS: Does your win projection system account for new coaching staff such as Spagnuolo on defense this year and McAdoo's offense in 2014, or is it simply player-based logic?
MT: There are variables for coordinator changes. Overall, coordinator changes don't have as huge an impact on final records as fans might think.
AS: Is there a position where, if the Giants had to lose someone to injury, they could survive with minimal impact to performance?
MT: The Giants are good at mixing and matching linebackers, though they will be in huge trouble if they lose Kennard, who they are counting on as an outside run stopper (think Cowboys and Eagles) and pass rusher this year. The Giants are deep at running back this year, knock on wood.
You probably sent this question along before all the safeties got injured [Note: Exactly]. One problem the Giants face is that one unit might get stressed by losses in another unit. So the pass rush might be okay, even without JPP, but if the Giants have no safeties, teams might just go max protect and let Dez or DeSean go crazy, and suddenly the pass rush doesn't look as good.
AS: The Football Outsiders numbers have historically reflected well on Trumaine McBride, particularly in 2013 when he topped the charts for your Adjusted Success Rate metric. What is it that F.O. sees in him that perhaps others are missing?
MT: I think it's a matter of being results oriented and purely objective. We're counting real events and results, catches and yards, and we are always open about both the strengths and weaknesses of that approach. Of course, McBride was hurt much of last year and has been banged up in camp, so we haven't had a great opportunity to put our 2013 assessment to the test.
AS: The 2015 Almanac talks about the Giants being the league-worst at defending passes into the "short-middle" of the field. Would this be a product of their patchwork linebacker corps or more of an issue regarding the nickel and dime corners?
MT: It was both. There is only so much that can be fixed with scheme or practice squad players. And of course, the Giants are about to face similar problems with all of their injury issues at safety. One thing that has fascinated me for years is the Giants' unwillingness to invest in the linebacker position at all: everyone is either a reclamation project like Beason or a fifth-round pick. Sure, Beason is great when healthy and Kennard may be a steal, but the Giants were always an injury away from some undrafted rookie or bench journeyman, even in the Super Bowl years. When linebacker is always a weak spot, short-middle is going to be a soft spot in your defense, especially when things tend to go horribly wrong at other positions.