New York Giants 2015 Year in Review: The End of an Era
It was once again another disappointing year for the New York Giants.
If the team were to hold their pace of a Super Bowl win every four years, the Giants would have been hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara this past February. Instead, the Giants posted their second straight 6-10 season, which marked their fourth-consecutive season without making the playoffs.
For many teams this would lead to a mass exodus of coaches and front office executives. The lone fall man for the Giants was head coach Tom Coughlin while the rest of the band stayed together. General manager Jerry Reese was able to keep his position, as was defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo received a promotion to head coach. These moves would suggest the organization thought Coughlin was solely to blame for the recent shortcomings of the franchise.
That philosophy will be put to the test in 2016, though the remaining pieces have a few shiny new toys to work with -- more on that later.
For now, we’ll take a look at how the 2015 New York Giants season played out.
What Went Right
There’s a legitimate reason why McAdoo was promoted to head coach, and that was the improvement of the offense. The offensive side of the ball has really been the only bright spot over the past two seasons, especially when looking at our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to perform in each scenario using historical data.
In the two seasons under McAdoo, the offense has gone from one of the worst in the league on a per-play basis to a top-10 unit. By Adjusted NEP per play, the Giants’ offense ranked 31st in the league during the 2013 season, the year prior to McAdoo’s arrival.
In 2015, the Giants ranked 10th in the league. Over the past two years it’s been the one unit that’s improved on the team, an opposite trend of the defensive ranking:
|Year||Adj. O. NEP/p||Adj. D. NEP/p|
Eli Manning has clearly benefitted from McAdoo’s more West Coast style offense, instead of Kevin Gillbride’s vertical-heavy system. Manning has been more efficient over the past two seasons and was the 11th-best quarterback in the league by Passing NEP per drop back in 2015.
Of course, Manning’s improvement in efficiency also coincides with the ability to throw the ball to Odell Beckham. Doubting Beckham could repeat the production and efficiency he put up during his rookie year was reasonable, but the receiver once again played as one of the best in the league. Among 122 wide receivers with at least 30 targets during the regular season, Beckham ranked sixth in Reception NEP per target. Among the most targeted receivers in the league -- 32 saw at least 100 targets -- Beckham had the second-best Reception NEP per target, behind only Doug Baldwin in Seattle.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Giants also saw some success on the ground with Rashad Jennings. With a full season of health, Jennings was the eighth-most efficient running back in the league by Rushing NEP per attempt among the 44 running backs who carried the ball at least 100 times. His Success Rate (50.77%), the percentage of carries that led to NEP gains, was best in the league among rushers with at least 100 attempts.
The 195 carries for Jennings was a career high in his first season playing in all 16 games, and he turns 31 years old on March 26. Even some of the good can have a bad side.
What Went Wrong
Well, the season was off to a rough start before it even began when Jason Pierre-Paul injured himself in a fireworks accident during the Fourth of July. Pierre-Paul missed half the season and totaled just one sack in the eight games he played.
Defensive futility was a theme of the Giants during the season, as they ranked 25th in Adjusted NEP per play on that side of the ball for the second straight season. And again, the Giants were impacted by injuries to what would be key players. Safety Landon Collins was the only defensive player to start all 16 games, and the rookie’s play was not a model of consistency during the season. 34-year-old Cullen Jenkins was the only other defensive regular to appear in all 16 games.
A result of the poor defense was the inability to hold onto leads late in games.
Per the win probability metrics from numberFire Live, the Giants lost five games this season when they had a 90-percent-or-better chance to win the game at one point. One other loss came when the Giants had a win probability of 85 percent, making six of their 10 losses quite unlikely. The defense was not the only thing to blame for these late game collapses. Clock and timeout management were routinely flawed, one of the biggest flaws of Coughlin’s coaching during his tenure in New York.
The Giants weren’t a great team -- they ranked 18th in nERD, which is our calculation of how good a team really is based on expected point differential against a league-average team -- but their raw point differential was that of a 7.5-win team. That would suggest a team that underperformed and could see a bounceback next season.
Those still remaining in charge will get quite a different roster to work with for the 2016 season. Jerry Reese, realizing he has a short leash after Coughlin was let go, made a splash in free agency by giving massive contracts to cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive end Olivier Vernon and defensive tackle Damon Harrison. The defense clearly needed some help, and this is the way the Giants chose to improve it. While there was a significant amount of talent brought in with an even more significant amount of money spent, it’s still fair to question how much the defense will improve.
Vernon, while still just 25 years old, has really only one half-season stretch as a top-tier pass rusher. Harrison is arguably the best run-defending tackle in the league, but during his tenure with the New York Jets, he was not needed to rush the passer from the interior, something the Giants would need him to do to stay on the field for third downs and other obvious passing situations. Jenkins is an aggressive ball-hawking cornerback, who could just as easily spark a big play for the offense as he does for the defense. That style is more manageable when there’s a rangy free safety patrolling the middle of the field, one who can cover up any aggressive mistakes by the cornerback. The Giants don’t currently have that safety on the roster and have avoided those who could fill that role in free agency.
It’s fair to assume the 2016 Giants won’t again be the 25th-ranked defense by Adjusted NEP per play like they’ve been the past two years, but it would be a stretch to imagine the unit as currently constructed to be a top-10 unit or even close to the sixth-ranked defense they owned in 2013. There are still holes at linebacker and safety, and while the Giants have the 10th-overall pick in the draft, those holes aren’t likely the ones to be filled when the Giants are on the clock.
The offense is again likely to lead the team in 2016, and that might not be enough for the team to get back into the playoff race, which could raise a few doubts about those who were allowed to stay on after 2015.