Ted Ginn Can Impact the Super Bowl for Better or Worse
Or like Ted Ginn Jr. in college.
And seeing the speedster get over the top of a defense for a Cam Newton launch downfield is about as breathtaking as an NFL play can get.
Of course, that's all negated when he doesn't actually catch the ball, which happens quite often.
This season, Ginn dropped 10 of his 96 targets (10.4 percent), which was the worst drop rate among receivers with at least 50 targets this year.
Sigh. What could have been.
But still, Ginn caught 10 touchdowns this year, so the risk of a dropped pass is worth the reward. And when you break down his advanced numbers, you can see just how deadly a Ted Ginn catch can be.
Against the Denver Broncos, who boast the best pass defense in the league, per our metrics, the Panthers could need some of those fireworks from Ginn on Super Bowl Sunday.
What Is a Ted Ginn Catch Worth?
That's the real question here.
Yards per catch a fine stat, but it doesn't differentiate between a 20-yard grab on 3rd-and-25 and a 20-yard-grab on 3rd-and-10 near the red zone.
Net Expected Points (NEP) does differentiate. NEP indicates how a team or player performs relative to expectation level. So that "big" play on 3rd-and-25 leading to a punt doesn't really generate points above expectation quite like a big play on a crucial down near the end zone. Over a full season, that adds up, and it can help identify the true playmakers from the garbage time heroes.
In the regular season, Ginn's Reception NEP on 44 catches was 77.39, which ranked 36th among all players. That doesn't scream game-changer -- especially when tight end Greg Olsen posted a 93.12, which ranked 22nd.
But we all know that Ginn's damage isn't cumulative. It happens in bursts.
Then again, among 136 players with at least 50 targets this year, his Reception NEP per target score of 0.80 ranked a pretty modest -- for a big-play guy -- 25th.
So what makes him so special?
When he actually caught the ball, things get real good real fast for the Panthers.
Among the 465 players with at least 64 targets in a season (4 per game over a full year) since 2011, Ginn's Reception NEP per reception of 1.76 ranked fourth best. Only 11 players topped 1.60, so he's in rare company with that mark.
Again, the issue is that he caught only 45.36 percent of his targets this season. That catch rate ranked him 453rd out of the 465 players in the subset.
Even factoring in those missed chances, Ginn's Reception NEP per target of 0.80 ranked 100th. That's still solid, but it's a big, big step backward from his per-catch rank of fourth.
It's when factoring in the missed chances and not rewarding him for the what-if-he-catches-it scenarios that really knocks Ginn down a peg.
On targets directed at Ginn this season, the Panthers gained 26.02 points above expectation, which ranked a fairly middling 219th in the group. That's the risk you take when throwing deep to Ginn, right?
Well, kind of.
Remember, his Reception NEP was 77.39, so there's about a 50-point gap in plays that resulted in catches for Ginn and wasted plays -- or turnovers.
This regular season, Newton threw 10 interceptions. Five of them were intended for Ginn, but only two of them occurred on "long" attempts. Those five picks led to -20.44 NEP for the Panthers, -4.09 per interception.
Is that Ginn's fault? No, not exactly, but in addition to 10 targets that led to drops, an additional 5 resulted in interceptions. This is all from a guy who saw fewer than 100 targets this year.
A Winning Combination
While this is true for all players to an extent, targets to Ginn that were caught were immensely important to the Panthers' seventh-ranked offense, per our metrics. But the drops, incomplete passes, and interceptions proved to be unusually plentiful or costly.
Sure, the Panthers are 5.5-point favorites as of now, so they might not need Ted Ginn to break a big play or two to beat Denver, but the Broncos did have the best pass defense -- by far -- this season, per our expected points metrics.
If things get tough for the Carolina offense, Ginn clearly has the potential to break the game open, but whether he cashes in on it could end up being the biggest story of Super Bowl 50.