When a team has won only eight games in its last 32, clearly there’s a lot of room for improvement across the board.
But in looking at the New York Giants and the statistical areas in which they were grossly deficient (other than the number of wins column), there was clearly a lot of work to be done by head coach Pat Shurmur and his brand-new cast of characters if they want to extend their regular-season run to the playoffs.
Here is a look at some of the most glaring statistics the Giants must find a way to improve upon — fast.
Ask any defensive-minded coach, and he’ll tell you that while sacks are the desired result of a pass rush, a close second is being able to get the quarterback off his mark by either forcing a hurry or getting a hit on him to interfere with the ball’s flight path.
So although the Giants managed just 30 sacks on defense last year, tying them for 30th with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, the Giants defense only managed to get 255 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. That comes to a rate of one pressure of some sort for every 8.4 pass attempts.
Now while the Patriots’ rate wasn’t that much better — one pressure per every 13.27 pass attempts — the most significant difference in the overall pass rush was on the back end.
Breaking down the yards allowed after the catch, the Patriots allowed an average of 4.93 YAC to opponents whereas the Giants allowed an average of 5.26 YAC.
That might not sound like a big difference — and on the surface, it’s not. However, football is a game of inches, and an extra yard here and there does add up.
This is a big reason why the Giants placed a hefty premium on adding speed to the back end of the defense. They have a mostly new defensive secondary — cornerback Janoris Jenkins is the only holdover from last year’s starting group.
Except for Alec Ogletree, it looks like they’re going to have new starting linebackers with Lorenzo Carter and Markus Golden as their edge rushers, and Ogletree and either Ryan Connelly or Tae Davis as their off-ball linebackers.
For those wondering about the sack rate, the league’s official stat service has the Giants ranked 20th in sacks per pass attempt (8.06 percent), and the Patriots ranked third (3.48 percent).
Solve the Tight End Coverage Mystery
Fantasy football players who had the flexibility in making weekly roster changes knew that if they picked up the opposing tight end of the team the Giants played that week, they’d probably score a nice chunk of points.
They were right. According to Yahoo! Fantasy Football stats, last year the Giants defense allowed opposing tight ends to catch 72 of 96 pass targets (75 percent) for 847 yards and six touchdowns.
A part of the problem over the middle was a lack of speed combined with some players not being able to shed blocks. The Giants hope they have addressed this matter this year by adding more speed on defense, but it won’t mean much if the defenders can’t shed blocks and get to the ball carriers.
Red Zone Production
Last year the Giants converted 50 percent of their red-zone trips into touchdowns, well below the league average of 59.06 percent.
One problem in the Giants’ struggles in the red zone was the predictability of who was going to get the “look” (either a carry or a pass target) in the red zone.
Last year, Barkley was the most frequently looked at Giant in the red zone, averaging 3.75 looks per game. He was followed by Odell Beckham Jr (1.58 looks per game) and Sterling Shepard and Wayne Gallman (1.19 and 1.13 looks per game).
Based on these numbers, the Giants became a little too predictable in the red zone. But while predictability is part of the problem, it still boils down to execution — of the Giants’ 26 dropped passes last year (both in and out of the red zone), Shepard, Barley, and Beckham combined for 16 of them.
Late Down Success
Another of the most glaring issues on offense was the lack of late-down — third- and fourth down — conversion success.
Last year, the Giants converted just 38.94 percent of their third- and fourth-down attempts (88 of 226) into first downs.
Interestingly, they ran 11-personnel (1 running back, one tight end) on the majority of their third-down attempts, recording just a 35.94 percent success rate whereas when they ran 12-personnel (1 running back, two tight ends), they recorded a 50 percent conversion success rate.
The use of 11-personnel on late downs isn’t surprising—most teams do try to optimize their receiving firepower on third downs, especially when a team has third and more than 5 yards to go.
But this might be an instance where the Giants’ decision to use multiple receivers as their “third” guy hurt them simply because no one separated himself from the pack.
Whether it was the run or the pass or a drive-killing penalty, it seemed that no matter what the Giants did last year when they had a goal-to-go situation, they had all kinds of trouble scoring.
According to league stats, the Giants finished 28th in the NFL in goal-to-go, converting 61.54 percent, an 11.91 percent difference from the league average.
If you’re looking for the measuring stick, look no further than the always prolific New Orleans Saints, who converted 84.62 percent of their goal-to-go situations.
As for the Giants, overall 26 of their 135 penalties last year (19 percent) were drive-stallers, with offensive holding and false start being the two biggest drive-stallers.
Additional stats via Sports Radar.