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Pass the Ball and Stop the Pass


"Run the ball and stop the run" was Joe Judge's mantra, and it dovetailed nicely with Dave Gettleman's worldview. But the (NFL) world has changed, as I think most of us know (why the two people in charge of the Giants didn't, I have no idea). But here is some proof: A chart showing final pass block, pass rush, run block, and run stop scores for each team, plotted as two independent metrics (ESPN's vs. PFF's) vs. each other from @benbbaldwin on Twitter:

The two metrics roughly agree overall but there is some divergence, represented by the scatter away from (what I am guessing is) the best fit line. That's not important here. What matters is the general part of the diagram on which good vs. bad teams lie. Good teams in both metrics = upper right part of diagrams, bad teams = lower left part.

If you look at pass protection, you can see that 10 of the 14 playoff teams protect the passer well or at least satisfactorily according to both metrics. One more, PIT, protects well according to PFF but not according to ESPN. It's not unanimous - CIN, TEN, and LV managed to get into the playoffs without protecting the QB well, but you wouldn't want to bet on your chances if you don't pass block. And poor WFT didn't sniff the playoffs despite good pass protection, so other things (QB play?) matter too. Your New York Football Giants are of course way down in the lower left (partly hidden behind the ATL symbol), to no one's surprise. Imagine where they would be on the diagram without Andrew Thomas. It's enough to make a man call consecutive QB sneaks.

Run blocking is a less reliable indicator: 8 of the 14 playoff teams run blocked better than average, but there were almost as many teams that did but missed the playoffs. 4 playoff teams run-blocked worse than the Giants (who were below average but not as bad as in pass blocking).

Pass rush is not quite as reliable an indicator as pass blocking, but 9 playoff teams rush the passer well, and the 5 that don't aren't terrible at it (the Giants aren't terrible in pass rush either, they're just somewhat below average). On the other hand, only 3 teams that are elite in stopping the run are playoff teams. None of the playoff teams are terrible in run defense, but the majority are middle of the pack or slightly below average (as the Giants are).

So it's clear what our new GM's priorities need to be in the coming draft:

1. An OL that can pass block. I know, dog bites man. Yet we are seeing mocks appear in articles by paid "experts" that skip the OL completely in round 1. That just won't fly. As WFT this year shows, a good pass-blocking OL doesn't guarantee success, but it sure does help. It would be nice if they're good run blockers too, but it's not necessary in today's NFL. One thing I notice in reading stories by draft analysts with rankings of prospects is that they almost always discuss an OL prospect's run blocking prowess first, which seems to dominate their ranking choice, and then maybe they add a sentence at the end about pass blocking. This is backwards. Be wary of any OL prospect who is not graded high on their pass blocking.

2. A good pass rusher would also be nice. I'm willing to take one in round 1 if it's one of the unicorns (Hutchinson or Thibodeaux). If they're gone, then I probably wait until round 2 to grab an EDGE and focus on OL first. But I do want to see us have another option at EDGE, even of we bring Lorenzo Carter back.

3. I feel we need an IDL. But this time one with some pass rush chops. If we are going to draft one in a high round, he better be someone that collapses the pocket and bothers the QB. Dalvin did that occasionally, but not enough. Dexy does that occasionally, but not enough. I know there's only one Aaron Donald. That's OK. I'll take Fletcher Cox II.

4. We also need an ILB. If Blake Martinez is back and fully recovered (a big if), and if we don't cut him for cap space, then we're set as far as run defense in the middle goes. But Blake's not great in pass coverage, and he isn't used a lot in things like double mug fronts to pressure the passer. I want to see us draft an ILB with speed who can cover RBs and TEs, and who can create that inside pass pressure in double mug looks. (Yes, that could have been Micah Parsons, I get it, but if we get two stud OLs in round 1 because of the trade-down, I'll be just fine.)

Question 1 to the GM and HC candidates should be: What is your philosophy of winning football? If their answers aren't, "Pass the ball and stop the pass," the interview should end quickly.

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