The New York Giants defense has been difficult to predict this season. I can personally attest to this—two weeks ago, I predicted that the Giants defense would not be able to handle San Francisco’s offense, but it ended up holding the 49ers to three points all game. The following week, I predicted that their defensive adjustments would lead to dominant performances in the future only to watch Robert Griffin III and the Redskins offense tear them apart in Week 7.
New York’s defensive “split personality” is reminiscent of Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous 1886 novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. However, even though the defense has played inconsistently, it has still found ways to win.
We know that, as a whole, the Giants’ rush defense has been poor—the team has given up an average of five yards per carry, which ranks 30th in the league. We also know that the pass defense has struggled. New York’s opponents have averaged 8.7 yards per pass attempt, which ranks 30th in the league as well.
So, in order to figure out what has kept the Giants defense together this season, we’ll have to analyze some statistics that often go unnoticed. Even though New York has not done well in the more popular, aforementioned statistical categories, the defense has thrived in other categories that have really made a difference.
This article will stick to the facts, highlighting the four major statistical categories that the Giants have dominated on defense in 2012.
After scoring plays, turnovers are the next biggest moment-shifting plays in the game of football. Whether it’s a well-timed interception or a much-needed fumble recovery, the game changes any time the ball swaps hands unexpectedly.
The Giants have capitalized on a lot of their opponents’ mistakes this season, collecting 18 turnovers (12 interceptions, six fumble recoveries) through the first three games. Linebacker Michael Boley and safety Stevie Brown have made the largest contributions to the cause with three interceptions each.
The Giants average 2.6 takeaways per game, which ranks third in the NFL, but causing turnovers is only half the battle. In order for a turnover-driven defense to survive, it needs to be complemented by an offense that protects the ball well.
Luckily for the Giants defense, the offense has only allowed nine giveaways, and the team has maintained a plus-1.3 turnover margin per game through the first half of the season. Overall, New York’s plus-nine turnover margin is the fourth best in the league.
The Giants could find themselves in trouble when facing teams that are able to avoid putting the ball in harm’s way. New York has forced 17 takeaways in its five wins and only one in its two losses.
The Giants defense certainly has a tendency to bend, but it rarely ever breaks in the shadow of its own goalpost. Once their opponents reach the 20-yard line, the Giants defense starts to clamp down.
New York has the league’s seventh-ranked red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns on only 40 percent of its opponents’ trips. The red-zone defense has gotten even stingier as the season’s gone on. In the past three games, their opponents’ red-zone scoring percentage has plummeted to 20 percent.
The Giants’ stinginess in the red zone has played a huge part in the defense’s success as a whole. Only the Detroit Lions have allowed fewer red-zone scores per game than the Giants’ 0.9. The team may give up a couple big plays per game, but the defense always rectifies its mistakes with stellar play close to the goal line.
It’s not clear as to why the Giants defense always finds a way to come up big in the red zone. The Giants allow the opposition to march down the field at will in between the 20-yard lines, but for some reason, in crunch time, they always find a way to get the job done.
Any defense always has one goal in mind: to get off the field. While the Giants defense has allowed opponents to put up huge yardage on first and second down, it has actually done a surprisingly good job getting off the field in third-down situations.
New York’s opponents have only converted 33.75 percent of their third-down attempts per game, which ranks sixth in the NFL. The third-down defense has definitely been solid, but the Giants would really benefit from forcing more of those situations. As of right now, the Giants have forced the second fewest third downs per game in the league (11.4).
If the Giants improve their play on first and second down, they will create more third-down opportunities to get off the field. Against San Francisco, New York was able to force multiple 3rd-and-long scenarios, which really benefited their pass rush. If the Giants replicate that performance in the future, we’ll see more of the sack-laden performances that we’ve seen in past seasons.
In the meantime, New York needs to continue its stifling play on the third-down situations they are forcing. The team has trouble slowing down long, sustained drives, so they need to take advantage of every opportunity they get.
At the end of the day, the only defensive stat that matters is the amount of points allowed. Somewhat miraculously, the Giants have found a way to keep their opponents’ points per game relatively low in 2012.
New York’s scoring defense is ranked ninth in the league, giving up an average of 19.6 points per game so far this season. That average is a full three points fewer than the team’s average during the Super Bowl campaign a season ago. Over the past three games, the Giants’ points against average has been slightly lower than their season average (17.7).
By examining the Giants’ scoring defense, an incredible disparity is brought to light. On the road, the Giants allow a league-low 9.7 points per game. However, when playing at home, they allow 23.0 points per game, which ranks 26th in the league. The Giants need to close that gap moving forward, as they cannot allow the location of the game to have that much of an effect on the team’s performance.
In the NFL, if a defense holds its opponent under 20 points, then it has put the offense in a very good position to win the game. New York’s defense will want to do whatever it can to maintain the average it has put together so far. The Giants give up too much yardage to begin with, and allowing any more scoring would leave the offense at a significant disadvantage.