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Pass blocking/pass rush data could be good news for Giants

ESPN analytics show Giants may have had proper offseason focus

NFL: New York Giants at Carolina Panthers
Nate Solder
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN’s Next Gen Stats has, for the past year or so, been producing data on what it calls pass blocking and pass rushing “win rate.” ESPN recently released what I believe is its most in-depth information on the findings from those numbers to date, and there is positive news for the New York Giants in the results.

ESPN’s post is headlined “Pass blocking matters more than pass rushing, and we can prove it.”

The hard data shows that the Giants were 27th in the NFL last season with a pass block win rate of only 43 percent. That means that 57 percent of the time a pass rusher defeated his block in less than 2.5 seconds. ESPN says it uses that number simply because, from the snap, it equates roughly to how long it takes NFL quarterbacks to throw the ball.

In terms of pass rush win rate the Giants fared surprisingly well. The Giants were 18th in the league with a 50 percent pass rush win rate. This corresponds with research from Dan Pizzuta showing the Giants, per Sports Info Solutions, were ninth in the league in pressure rate at 32.14 percent. The fact that they were second-last in the league with 30 sacks means simply that they didn’t turn enough pressures into sacks.

Why could this data be good news for the Giants?

Because of what they accomplished in the offseason.

Pass blocking

We know that Eli Manning was under siege in 2018, especially the first half of the season. He was sacked a career-most 47 times. That amounted to Manning being taken down on 7.5 percent of his pass attempts, also easily a career-worst.

As Geoff Schwartz recently reminded us, the data tells us that “passing the ball is more important than rushing the ball” and that “passing efficiency is the most important stat that correlates to winning a game.”

ESPN’s Seth Walder says:

Teams that blocked well won more than teams that rushed the passer well.

In a given game from 2016-2018, the team with the better season-long PBWR won 60 percent of the time, while the team with the better PRWR won 52 percent of the time.

Walder also points out that “Three of the four conference finalists in 2018 finished the regular season ranked in the top four in pass block win rate.”

Back to the Giants.

The left side of the Giants’ line, Nate Solder and Will Hernandez, surrendered 12 sacks last season. Only one (Solder) came in the second half of the season, though, as the veteran and rookie got used to each other. That improvement should continue.

Jon Halapio is back and will be the center if he’s healthy. Matt Williamson tells us in his film study that Halapio does his best work in pass protection. In his two-game 2018 sample, Halapio graded far better in pass protection per Pro Football Focus (87.5) than run blocking (69.4) and did not allow a single pressure.

New right guard Kevin Zeitler allowed three sacks last season while, per PFF, compiling the league’s highest pass blocking efficiency rate among guards at 98.9.

Right tackle Chad Wheeler allowed five sacks and 43 pressures in 534 pass blocking snaps. His 95.3 pass blocking efficiency rating was 53rd of 58 qualifying tackles.

Remmers, playing his weaker position of guard, gave up seven sacks and 42 pressures in 705 pass blocking snaps. His pass blocking efficiency score was 96.3. In 2017, Remmers played 337 pass blocking snaps at right tackle, did not allow a sack and had a pass blocking efficiency score of 97.0.

In other words, the Giants should be improved across the entire offensive line in pass blocking.

Pass rushing

The Giants are gambling on the potential of Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, a return to form by Markus Golden, and hopeful improvements in the secondary to help them create enough pass rush.

What if the Giants don’t get the production they are hoping for from these guys, or the push they are hoping for from defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson?

ESPN’s research says simply that inability to rush the passer is less important than inability to block for one.

On this, the results are more clear. It’s better to have the best offensive line. It just matters more. Given the attention and accolades that pass-rushers receive, this is somewhat surprising. But offenses across the league have a wider distribution of skill than defenses. This means that the best offenses tend to outperform the top defenses.

When in doubt in team building, it makes sense to lean toward the offense where an advantage is leveraged the most. And along the line of scrimmage is no different. Good pass blocking bests good pass rushing.

So, if we accept ESPN’s data and Pizzuta’s assertion that the secondary was a bigger problem for the Giants than the pass rush in 2018, this data is all good news for New York.

Of course, whether or not you accept these findings as correct is entirely up to you.