Every summer, particularly in the ‘dog days’ of late June and July, pretty much every football outlet is faced with the conundrum of how to fill the time until training camp and the return of real football.
Stats and analytics service Pro Football Focus has been spending their time by releasing various stats and comparisons from the 2016 season. While their goal is likely to drum up interest in their product for the 2017 season, I thought it would be fun to round up some of their stats regarding the New York Giants and see what they have to say collectively.
We’ll get started with the defense.
In Johnathan Cyprien, the Tennessee Titans added our highest graded safety against the run from the 2016 season. pic.twitter.com/NW8iWa7Zh3— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 18, 2017
Landon Collins can do it all at safety for the @Giants pic.twitter.com/a7UF0aY6DV— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 10, 2017
Back healthy at OTAs, @Vikings safety Harrison Smith looks ready for another big year in 2017. pic.twitter.com/WUToRMEtlr— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 7, 2017
The Giants’ defensive turnaround can be attributed to a number of factors. The return of Jason Pierre-Paul, the additions of Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, and Janoris Jenkins all played a role. But one of the biggest — and arguably the most galvanizing — was the emergence of safety Landon Collins as a defensive star. It seemed as though whenever the Giants’ defense needed a play to be made, Collins was there to make it. We all remember his improvement in coverage and the interceptions, as well as his hits on the quarterback when used as a blitzer. But while he was always expected to be a strong run defender, these two graphs illustrate just how great he was against the run in 2016.
In 2016, Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul finished as the 10th highest graded player at his position - the highest he's finished in his career. pic.twitter.com/Bc08MMKilm— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 18, 2017
Roughly a year ago we had no clue what to expect from JPP. He wasn’t even a year removed from the life-changing fireworks accident that left him with a permanently maimed hand. And though he showed impressive determination to come back from that, and made an immediate impact on a pathetic defense, nobody knew how well (or even if) he could play with a glove.
As it so happened, JPP was still JPP. It took a few games for the revamped defense as a whole to gain traction, but Pierre-Paul stayed characteristically stout against the run. Once Spagnuolo was finally able to bring more of his schemes to bear, JPP emerged as a game-wrecker who was still able to get after passers and was knocking down passes at an astounding rate. While his impressive 2011 campaign is held up as his gold-standard (especially as a pass rusher), PFF says JPP was better last year, and had his best season with respect to the rest of the league.
How good was @BigDame900 last year? He had more defensive stops against the run than any team combined for on the defensive interior. pic.twitter.com/fGd9w2ZeEY— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 17, 2017
If Landon Collins’ run defense didn’t seem impressive last year, that’s probably because of the presence of big Snacks Harrison in the middle of the Giants’ defense. Harrison was so dominant against the run, it could probably be argued that his favorite “snack” was opposing running backs.
That dominance often forced offenses to consider the risky proposition of having to pass against the Giants’ talented secondary to move the ball, which would lead to a whole host of other problems.
Studs against the run. Top pass rushers. The Giants defensive line is ready to dominate. pic.twitter.com/9vkxzQDUQD— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 15, 2017
More impressive than the raw talent the Giants have assembled up front, is that at 26, 23, 28, and 28, Vernon, Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison, and Pierre-Paul are all under contract for the next four years and none of them are “old.”
Best cornerback in the NFC East? pic.twitter.com/D7oIcTn163— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 14, 2017
Quarterbacks HATE them! The @Giants discovered two revolutionary free agent cornerbacks to give them a top-10 graded pass defense pic.twitter.com/rrc61MbPpB— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 2, 2017
Getting back to the secondary, the Giants built themselves a good one. Earlier in the off-season we took a look at the Bleeding Green Nation “All-NFC East Defense,” and it featured Josh Norman starting at cornerback opposite Janoris Jenkins. Pro Football Focus would disagree with that. Though he transitioned to more of a “nickel” role and playing all over the secondary, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was still the stickiest cover corner in the division, and one of the very best in the league.
If Eli Apple can continue to build on a promising rookie season and capitalize on his impressive athletic potential, the potential of the Giants’ secondary is legitimately amazing.
When generating pressure, no team made their opponents pay more than the @Giants in 2016 pic.twitter.com/fBZMIfB4ht— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 3, 2017
So put it all together and what does it mean? The Giants’ defense was pretty darn good in 2016.
Between taking time to develop chemistry and allow Steve Spagnuolo to open up the defensive playbook and the late-season injury to Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants never did get the sack totals expected of them. However, they did consistently harass quarterbacks, and along with their imposing secondary, throwing on the Giants wasn’t a great option in 2016.
Not that running the ball was either, of course.
These were the top pass blocking centers in the NFL in 2016. pic.twitter.com/nO8QKyYM5I— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 19, 2017
Turning to the offensive side of the ball, the Giants have nothing but question marks up front. Will Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart develop in their third year in the league? Can Justin Pugh play a full year at the level he has thus far only flashed? Who will play right guard?
There have even been questions as to how good Weston Richburg really is. Two years ago he was arguably the best center in the league and a bona fide snub when it came to receiving Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. Last year Richburg seemingly took a step back from his sophomore heights. Still a good center, he wasn’t as surgically precise and dominant as he was in 2015. Since then we have learned that he played all of 2016 with torn ligaments in his hand, but there still have been questions about whether or not he is who he appeared to be. According to PFF, at least, he is. No center was a better pass protector.
The Giants — and Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen, Wayne Gallman, and Orleans Darkwa in particular — hope that his run blocking will get back to match now that his hand is healed.
Where Odell Beckham Jr. wins pic.twitter.com/kuQJDYdc1F— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 10, 2017
What can't @OBJ_3 do? pic.twitter.com/3cm4HD1Tn3— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 11, 2017
If we’re talking about the Giants’ offense, we pretty much HAVE to talk about Odell Beckham Jr.
Put simply, he pretty much was the Giants’ offense in 2016. Granted, Sterling Shepard had a very good rookie season (second only to the Michael Thomas on the New Orleans Saints), but OBJ was the engine that made it go.
After his third year, we almost have to caution ourselves against taking Beckham’s greatness for granted. Thus far in his career, his only peer is Randy Moss, and Moss enjoyed overwhelming physical advantages in height and speed as well as skill.
Eli Manning has an elite stable of weapons heading into 2017. pic.twitter.com/eE2PxP01a3— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 11, 2017
One of the goals of the 2017 off season was to rebuild the offense so Beckham doesn’t have to shoulder the load himself. They are expecting Shepard to take a step forward with even more detailed route running and knowledge of the offense. They have also added Evan Engram, who should be a versatile size and speed mismatch to shock defenses out of the Cover-2 shell that frustrated the Giants’ offense in 2016. Finally they added Brandon Marshall, who brings experience, consistent production, and a blend of size and physicality they haven’t had since Plaxico Burress in 2008. Marshall took a step backwards in a broken New York Jets offense in 2016, but his 2015 grade was 85.1, which would be tops in the receiving corps.