Listening to the New York Giants talk about quarterback sacks, or their lack of them so far this season, is sort of like listening to political spinsters. Regardless of the numbers, or the facts, they spin the news to make it line up favorably for their pre-existing belief.
The Giants have a pitiful nine sacks in seven games. Only one team, stunningly enough the Pittsburgh Steelers, has fewer. The Giants get a sack on only 2.93 percent of opposing team’s pass attempts, 31st in the league.
Don’t come at head coach Ben McAdoo with these numbers, though. For that matter, don’t recite the team’s bottom-of-the-league offensive numbers, either. Why?
“Stats are for losers.”
That is what McAdoo said Friday when he was asked a question about Jason Pierre-Paul, who has only 1.5 sacks this season. By extension, the question could have and probably should have been phrased to apply to the totality of the pass rush. Or, it could have included the awful offensive statistics compiled by the Giants through the first seven games.
“We say it all the time, stats are for losers,” McAdoo said. “We need to make the quarterback uncomfortable. We need to make him move, make him chatter his feet, make him early or late with the throws. Numbers are numbers.”
McAdoo isn’t the only one spinning that story.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was offering that same line of thinking three weeks ago:
“I only really know the sack numbers when somebody tells me. Sacks are great, they're effective, they make a huge difference. It is not the telltale, in my opinion. It's not one of the statistics that we use that has a great correlation between points allowed and points not scored,” Spagnuolo said. “To us, we take the most important that correlate most to points allowed.”
Defensive line coach Patrick Graham spun the same “sacks aren’t a big deal” yarn when he met with reporters this week.
“I expect to disrupt the quarterback and win games. As long as we keep winning, I’m good. As long as we disrupt the quarterback and make him uncomfortable, I’m good. The numbers, I’m not concerned about that. I haven’t been ever and never will be. Except for the W,” Graham said. “I think we’ve done what we’ve needed to do to win the four games that we’ve won. Those four games, I think we’ve disrupted him. Can we do more? Yes. In the three games we lost we definitely could’ve done more to disrupt the quarterback. I think that’s the goal every week.”
So, no one cares about the sack total as long as the Giants win. Sacks don’t correlate to winning. Making the quarterback “chatter his feet” is good enough.
I’m not buying.
Sacks are not the be-all, end-all, but the Giants are selling a story that makes them feel better because the pass rush hasn’t been good enough most of the season. Lots of things haven’t been good enough on offense, either, but our primary focus here is the pass rush.
The last four games are illustrative about the impact of a pass rush. And yes, we have to turn to more stats.
In losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, the Giants got no sacks and six quarterback hits in 81 pass attempts. In victories over the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Rams in their past two games, they accumulated five sacks and 12 hits. They also magically managed to intercept Case Keenum of the Rams four times.
Sacks matter. The Giants aren’t paying Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul all those Mara-bucks to make quarterbacks “chatter” their feet. They are paying them to make game-changing plays, to change field position, to force turnovers. Both guys are top 10 in the league in hurries, but hurries don’t always equate to making successful defensive plays.
The Giants have struggled all season to get off the field on third down, allowing opponents to convert on 43.2 of third downs, 24th in the league. The league average for sacks at this point in the season is 13. If the Giants’ defense had gotten off the field on eight more third downs this season they would be at 36.4 percent, top 10 in the league. They might have more than one fumble recovery, which came on special teams. They might be better than -7 in takeaway/giveaway ratio, 28th in the league.
Somehow, I think those numbers might make a difference.
We have hammered away the past couple of weeks at the problems facing the Giants’ offense, which is at or near the bottom of the league in just about every category you can think of. Between the offensive struggles and the lack of a consistent pass rush it is actually remarkable that the Giants have posted a 4-3 record.
In McAdoo’s mind, stats might be for losers. Of course the bottom line is winning, regardless of any other number.
Unless some of the numbers pointing to the Giants’ deficiencies, including the pass rush, improve over the final nine games, though, the chatter at year’s end might well be about how to rebuild the Giants after a fourth straight losing season.