Giants by the Numbers: 2013 Stats New York Must Improve in 2014
The story of the 2013 New York Giants is nicely told by key statistics they achieved during the course of the season. Unfortunately, the narrative is not an uplifting read if you are a Big Blue supporter.
New York was a team last season that struggled mightily to score points and turned the ball over at an alarming rate (its 44 turnovers were 10 more than anyone else in the NFL). The Giants also rolled out poor return units that severely downgraded the overall quality of the special teams. The stats we are about to evaluate provide clarity to these deficiencies and also speak to the consequences that resulted from the poor play.
In addition, a glaring weakness on a largely stellar defense is exposed. The resulting consequences contributed greatly to the Giants not having a legitimate chance at a playoff spot in the regular season’s final weeks.
Improvement in each of the forthcoming stats should result in meaningful late December games in 2014 for the Giants, and potentially, even a postseason win or two. Here they are, ordered based on how important it is for New York to improve the respective statistic this upcoming season.
This number refers to the Giants punt return average in 2013, which ranked them 27th in the NFL. Their kickoff returns were equally putrid, with a 21.2 average also placing them 27th in the league.
However, New York has had some success in this area of its return game recently. For example, in 2012, New York ranked seventh in the NFL with a 26.2 kickoff return average, largely due to the work of David Wilson, who averaged 26.9 yards every time he ran a kickoff back.
The punt return game, though, has been bad for a while. In fact, the last time Big Blue averaged more than 7.2 yards per punt return was 2009, when they managed a healthy 10.9 yards average.
Getting more out of the punt return game, as well as on kickoff returns, is vital for a team that is in the midst of retooling its offense. The Giants may not be a top-10 offense in 2014 like they had been for a number of years prior to 2013. Therefore, strong field position is critical for this team to get an offensive series started on a positive note.
A few long returns, along with a touchdown or two from the return game, would also be welcome. Last season, the longest punt return was only 32 yards while a 56-yard kickoff return was tops for that unit. Neither unit produced a single touchdown.
The Giants pass rush was stuck in traffic for a second year in a row, producing this sack total that was only good enough to tie them for 25th in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2012, New York had a measly 33 sacks after racking up 46 and 48 in 2010 and 2011, respectively (playoffs not included).
It’s fair to say that Big Blue’s struggles to take down the opposing signal-caller didn’t affect the pass defense too much last season. They did rank in the top 10 league-wide in passing yards allowed, passing touchdowns surrendered and opponent’s yards per attempt.
However, a good pass rush would have been handy in key spots late in the season against upper-echelon quarterbacks. For instance, in a critical Week 12 contest versus the Cowboys, New York surrendered three first downs through the air on 3rd-and-long situations on Dallas’ game-winning field-goal drive. On each conversion, Tony Romo was barely pressured, even when the Giants blitzed on the final converted third down that put Dallas comfortably in field-goal range.
The loss placed the Giants on playoff life support after a four-game winning streak had thrust them right back into the postseason picture following an 0-6 start.
Their dreams of another Super Bowl run were officially extinguished two weeks later in San Diego against the Chargers. In that matchup, Philip Rivers threw three touchdowns, completed 21 of 28 passes and was only sacked twice. San Diego put up 37 points in the game.
A better pass rush in 2014 begins and ends with a healthy Jason Pierre-Paul once again becoming a force that consistently pressures the quarterback and requires double teams.
The Giants running game was really bad last season, and this per game rushing yards total proves it. It was the worst output since 1945, when Harry Truman was president of the United States and neither Hawaii nor Alaska was a state yet. That’s a very long time ago.
Amazingly, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens all fared worse in the rushing yards per game statistic than Big Blue last season. All those teams, though, managed to produce a 500-yard rusher, something only the Giants and Cleveland Browns failed to do.
A bad offensive line that was far from dominant at the point of attack is largely to blame for the Giants anemic run game. It also didn’t help that their two best running backs, Andre Brown and Wilson, each missed significant time due to injury. The former’s downfall was a broken leg in the preseason, while the latter suffered a season-ending neck injury in Week 5.
The running game, though, isn’t totally to blame. During New York’s woeful six-game start, it was outscored 209-103. It’s hard to establish a ground game when you’re always trailing. This is a significant factor as to why the Giants only averaged 67.8 rushing yards during this stretch.
Fortunately, there is some hope for this beleaguered unit. Hours after the start of free agency, New York reportedly inked guard Geoff Schwartz and running back Rashad Jennings to contracts. Both players are an excellent start toward the Giants at least having an average rushing attack in 2014.
Playing from in front more consistently will also help to obtain this modest goal.
It’s no secret that Eli Manning had a terrible 2013 season. This number, though, truly shows the damage his poor play caused.
It refers to the number of interceptions the 33-year-old threw in Giants territory. He managed two touchdowns on passes attempted from the long side of the 50-yard line. By contrast, Manning had 16 touchdowns and a more tolerable 10 interceptions in opponent’s territory.
The problem with picks in your own territory is that it usually sets up the other team with strong field position, or even worse, a touchdown. In fact, Manning had three pick-sixes on throws in Giants territory last season. One ended a potential game-winning drive in Week 1 against the Cowboys. Another occurred in a matchup against the Bears that Big Blue lost by six points.
All of these back-breaking interceptions were not solely Manning’s fault. An offensive line that failed to adequately protect him is partly to blame. As proof, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Manning was pressured on 240 dropbacks, fifth most in the NFL. The four quarterbacks ahead of Manning all had more total dropbacks, so it is fair to say the 10-year veteran was the most harassed signal-caller in the league last season.
Miscommunication with receivers was also a problem, especially early in the season.
Less interceptions overall is a necessity from Manning and the offense in 2014. It would nice, though, if the ones that do occur don’t happen near the Giants' goal line.
Here is the first of two percentages that must improve in 2014 if the Giants offense is to rise from the dregs of the league. This one refers to the rate Big Blue scored touchdowns when they entered the red zone last season, courtesy of TeamRankings.com. Only two teams scored touchdowns in this area at a lower rate.
In 2012, the Giants hit pay dirt 54.84 percent of the time they crossed the opponent’s 20-yard line, good for 13th in the league.
Interestingly, from a passing perspective, protection and interceptions weren’t a root cause of the Giants ineptitude in the red zone. Manning only threw two interceptions in this area of the field against seven touchdowns. He was also sacked just once in 54 attempts.
More telling is his 46.3 completion percentage and 2.6 yards per pass attempt in the red zone. These numbers tend to suffer in the tight confines of an opponent’s goal line, but these are bad even for the red zone. In my opinion, Manning’s inability to connect frequently in this area suggests the Giants need a more reliable red zone target at wide receiver and tight end.
The failures of the running game near the goal line are more clear cut. New York’s two leading rushers, Brown and Peyton Hillis, rushed 28 times in the red zone for only 46 yards. It doesn’t get much better when you add in Brandon Jacobs’ 10 carries for 20 yards. To the credit of the recently retired Jacobs, he did score four touchdowns in these 10 rushes. Conversely, Brown and Hillis managed the same number of scores with 18 more opportunities.
Less Josh Brown and more red-zone celebrations would be a welcome sight for the Giants faithful next season. It also should translate into a few more wins.
The Giants third-down conversion percentage, courtesy of TeamRankings.com, also only bested two other teams. In addition, like their red-zone percentage, it was a steep drop off from 2012, when they converted third downs 40.62 percent of the time. Only 10 teams bested this percentage that season.
Converting third downs at a higher rate, though, is more important than red-zone touchdown percentage because it goes to the very core of a strong offensive unit. If a team is turning third downs into first downs consistently it not only means it is moving the ball into scoring range, but it also leads to strong time of possession. Ball control by an offense directly correlates to a defense tiring, both from a physical and mental standpoint, late in the game.
The affect reverses if an offense struggles to convert third downs. It isn't scoring and its defense is on the field too much. Also, it is probably losing the field position battle due to a steady diet of punts from deep in its own territory.
One way for the Giants to fix their third-down conversion woes is to be more effective on first and second down. In 2013, Manning attempted nine more passes on 3rd-and-9-plus than on third downs where the Giants only needed between three and eight yards for a first down. By contrast, in 2012 Manning threw 25 more passes in this manageable range.
He actually fared better statistically in the more difficult situation in 2012, but not in 2013. Last season, Manning completed only 56 percent of his passes on 3rd-and-9-plus, compared to 60.6 percent on third downs between three and eight yards. He also had five interceptions in the former situation and only two in the latter.
In addition, stats aside, logic dictates that the more yards you need on third down, the harder it is to get a third down.