How the New York Giants Can Get Back to the Super Bowl
The New York Giants are no strangers to the Super Bowl. They are, however, strangers to consistency.
The G-Men made the playoffs every year from 2005 through 2008, winning the Super Bowl in 2007. Since, the team has made the playoffs just once (fortunately, that one appearance led to a Super Bowl title), and they've failed to reach the postseason in each of their last three seasons.
How can they get back? How can they begin to sustain excellence -- or at least a high level of play -- like we saw from 2005 to 2008? Let's take a look.
It Starts in the Trenches
The Giants were hurt throughout the secondary this season, but do appear to have enough talent to sustain a moderate level of play moving forward. Just a year ago, according to numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, New York's pass defense ranked sixth in the NFL. A little more on NEP before we move forward:
Every single situation on the football field has an expected point value; that is, how many points an average team would be expected to score in that situation (given down, distance-to-go, and yard line). For example, the Chiefs may be facing the Pittsburgh Steelers, with a third-and-two on the 50-yard line. That's a ton of variables, but luckily, numberFire has data from the past dozen years of every single play, so most situations have come up at least once. According to our data, an average team may be "expected" to score 1.23 (estimated number) points on that drive. However, Jamaal Charles reels off a 32-yard run to bring the Chiefs into the red zone, increasing the "expected" point value of the next play to 4.23 (still an estimated number) points. Jamaal Charles then gets credit for the difference, in this case 2.96 points, as his NEP total. That's Net Expected Points.
Since passing is often more efficient than running the ball, you'll usually see running backs with negative NEP per play scores, meaning that they are losing their team expected points every time they touch the ball. Receivers and tight ends, meanwhile, will usually have high, positive NEP per play scores, since receivers don't touch the ball unless it's a high-yardage completion. Quarterbacks can be in the middle, either positive or negative: completions typically help their score, while incompletions lower it. So when you're looking at NEP, it's important to look at the numbers based on position. Expected points do not take score and time left into account like win probability, and as a result, are a better measure of pure efficiency (since teams will alter their game plan significantly based on score and time).
If you were to replace the Giants' secondary from 2013 with an average one, numberFire analytics would expect to see a 65.15-point swing over the course of the season through the pass defense alone, or a little over four points per game.
Injuries didn't help the group in 2014, as they fell below average, ranking 22nd in the NFL. That, however, still wasn't as bad as their 30th-ranked run-stuffing unit.
The Giants need help on the defensive line. Jason Pierre-Paul is a free agent, and getting him back next year -- perhaps via franchise tag -- will be important for a shallow line. He ranked first on the team in quarterback hurries in 2014, but he still was just the 53rd-ranked player in the NFL within the statistic. Expect them to make moves in the draft.
The offensive line isn't in great shape right now either, though it had its fair share of injuries in 2014 as well. The unit got little push, and aided in the rushing offense's poor ranking of 22nd this year, per NEP. We should all expect them to address both lines this offseason, especially from a depth perspective.
Consistency at Quarterback
And then there's Eli Manning. Admittedly, the veteran quarterback had a pretty strong 2014 thanks to the emergence of wide receiver Odell Beckham, ranking 12th in the NFL in Passing Net Expected Points. 2014 ended up being the fourth-best season from Manning, according to our numbers, as a result.
The problem with Manning, as Giants' fans know, is his inconsistency. A year ago, Manning was one of the worst starters in the league, finishing the year with a -43.56 Passing NEP total. Even this year, according to our numbers, his week-to-week performances fluctuated more than almost any other passer in the league.
The Giants' most recent Super Bowl came during one of Eli's best statistical seasons, where he compiled a 95.65 Passing NEP. In 2007, however, Eli was analytically the fifth-worst quarterback in the NFL. He just peaked at the right time.
That doesn't exactly cut it. If the Giants want some sort of method to their madness as opposed to having a little fortune during a Super Bowl run, they'll need some consistency from their quarterback. Certainly a guy like Odell Beckham will help that out tremendously.
A Running Game Helps
Running backs are becoming more and more replaceable in today's NFL, but the Giants have an interesting situation in their backfield. Veteran Rashad Jennings was easily the best runner for the G-Men this year, finishing with a 0.00 Rushing NEP per rush average. That may appear as though he's just ordinary, but the average per rush NEP rate among running backs this past season was -0.03 -- that's because passing is far more efficient than running.
Rookie Andre Williams, in mostly the same situation as Jennings, finished with a Rushing NEP per rush rate of -0.08 this year. Among the 17 backs with 200 or more carries, that average was only better than Andre Ellington's.
Williams has trouble catching the ball out of the backfield, too, which doesn't give much promise for his future in a pass-friendly NFL.
Jennings is the better runner, but he's also going to be 30 in March. You can't rely on that in the long term, and given Andre Williams' rookie season, it may be smart for the Giants to find running back talent in this year's draft.
How Many Years Away?
In 2014, the Giants finished with a nERD of -2.63, which ranked 23rd in the NFL. nERD tells us the number of points we'd expect a team to win or lose by against an average squad on a neutral field. As you can see, the Giants were below average.
That's been the theme in New York over the last two seasons, as 2013 saw them reach a nERD of -3.57, the second-lowest score they've had since the turn of the century.
But there is hope. Back in 2004 -- remember, 2005 was when they started winning consistently -- the Giants had a nERD of -4.19. The next season? 6.44 -- the eighth-highest score in the NFL.
With a now strong group of wide receivers, a secondary that, when healthy, can perform at a high level, and a quarterback who has just as much experience as any other in the game, there's reason to believe the Giants can turn things around quickly in today's pass-driven NFL. They just need to make both lines stronger, and find a running back who can, you know, stay healthy and catch a football out of the backfield.
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