When I made my list of the most glaring statistics posted by the 2013 New York Giants offense, it really became apparent how the most glaring stat of all—the team’s 7-9 record—came about.
So before we turn the page and embark on the start of a brand new training camp next week, let's take one last look at three critical stats that helped doom the Giants offense, where it stacked up against the rest of the NFL and how it can potentially fix the shortcomings in 2014.
Giants 32.7 percent; NFL Avg. 38.13 percent
The Giants third-down percentage last season was a major decline from the 40.6 percent mark in 2012. It was also their lowest conversion percentage since 2004, the beginning of the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning era, when the team posted a dismal 29.5 percent third-down conversion rate en route to a 6-10 record. The Giants’ 2013 mark is a big reason why the team averaged 18.4 points per game, 28th in the NFL.
There were two primary factors behind the Giants' 2013 struggles in converting on third down.
The first is penalties. Per NFL Game Statistics and Information System, the Giants had 21 scoring drives stall due to an ill-timed penalty. That isn't a high number in comparison to the 988 plays they ran, but had they not killed their own drives, they might very well have scored, at minimum, another 63 points if all the drives had resulted in field goals.
The two most common penalties that derailed Giants scoring drives were offensive holding (six out of 17 infractions called) and intentional grounding (five out of five called).
The second and perhaps most glaring reason was the pass protection. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the average time it took for opponents to sack Manning was 3.63 seconds, the 25th-worst mark out of all quarterbacks who took at least 50 percent of their teams' snaps last season.
Not surprisingly, when Manning had 2.5 seconds or less with which to work, his NFL passer rating of 60.7 was the worst versus his 78.0 passer rating when he had more time to make his reads and let plays develop.
The first thing the Giants made sure to address in the offseason was their offensive line. Two-thirds of the interior of last year’s unit—right guard Chris Snee, center David Baas and left guard Kevin Boothe—are no longer with the team.
Snee, the only holdover, is in no way a sure thing to return to the starting lineup, as his status depends on whether he's fully recovered from his multiple surgeries from late last year.
The Giants are counting on a revamped interior, which presently projects to be left guard Geoff Schwartz (who was a top-10 offensive guard in PFF’s rankings for 2013), center J.D. Walton and either Snee or Brandon Mosley.
At the tackles, the Giants should have Will Beatty and Justin Pugh back at left and right tackle, respectively. However, they need a better showing by Beatty, who last season had one of his worst years as a pro.
The other fix that should help Manning and company is the team's new West Coast offense, a system that emphasizes shorter, quicker passes and takes some of the pressure off the offensive line because it doesn't have to pass block as long.
As the Giants have added more speed at receiver—Odell Beckham, Jr. will round out a receiver corps that include Pro Bowl receiver Victor Cruz and the still emerging Rueben Randle—defenses might be forced to pick their poison when they face New York's new offenser.
If the Giants can also get running back David Wilson back, his elusiveness and breakaway speed should further enhance the short passing attack.
The news might be positive on that front, as Giants co-owner John Mara told Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News that “all signs point” to Wilson being ready to go for training camp.
Red-Zone Conversion Rate
Giants 47.22 percent, NFL Avg. 55.53 percent
Ready for a pop quiz?
Good. Name the player on the Giants who was their go-to guy in the red zone last season.
Give up? That’s because the Giants didn’t really have a consistent red-zone threat in 2013, a big reason why they were 8.31 percent behind the rest of the NFL in that category.
First, let’s clarify something. While field goals scored in the red zone count as points, touchdowns are what win football games. Thus the numbers above are reflecting touchdowns scored in the red zone, rather than all points scored.
In 2013, the Giants averaged 2.2 red zone scoring attempts per game, according to TeamRankings.com, who also reports that the Giants’ red-zone touchdown rate of 1.1 per game tied them for last in the NFL with Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.
Now let’s get back to the point I initially raised, which is the lack of a consistent red-zone threat.
The following table shows the production of the Giants' supposed top red-zone receiving targets last year:
|Position/Player||In20||In10||In5||Total RZ Targets||Total TDs (combined)|
|WR Victor Cruz||12||3||0||15||4|
|TE Brandon Myers||11||5||0||16||4|
|WR Hakeem Nicks||10||1||0||11||0|
|WR Rueben Randle||5||2||0||7||6|
Source: Rotowire (subscription required)
What does this data tell us? Simply put, the 14 receiving touchdowns scored was, to be blunt, pathetic.
It remains to be seen whether offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo will, when his offense is in the red zone, rely more heavily on the Giants’ top two receivers (probably Victor Cruz and Randle) or their No. 1 tight end (Adrien Robinson is the present front-runner).
If that’s the direction the offense is taking, it’s going to be a very interesting ride what with a tight end who’s yet to catch a pass at the NFL level and a receiver (Randle) who has, thus far, been inconsistent.
Take heart, however, as there is another solution: the running game.
That’s right. Running back Rashad Jennings could very well be the cure for what ails the Giants red-zone woes. Although Jennings has only been thrown to seven times in the red zone (per Rotowire, subscription required), he’s had 53 career red-zone carries, 26 of which came last season with the Oakland Raiders.
Giants 5.11 percent; NFL Avg. 2.77 percent
This is a statistic that is a result of Manning’s career-high 27 interceptions and the two interceptions thrown by Curtis Painter. In sum, the Giants' 29 interceptions were the most in the NFL.
The exact reason behind the unusually high number of interceptions varied. In some cases, it was a communication breakdown between the receiver and the quarterback. In some cases, it was a poor decision by the quarterback. And in other cases, it was a matter of dumb luck, such as a deflection right into the hands of a defender.
Let's look at how Manning’s interceptions broke down in terms of distance:
Source: Pro Football Focus (subscription required)
This data tells us that Manning encountered most of his interceptions in the short- to mid-range areas, not exactly a comforting stat given that the West Coast offense relies on short- to mid-range passes.
However, a deeper look at Manning’s interceptions reveals that 17 of his picks were thrown when he wasn’t under pressure (which could suggest either a poorly run route by the receiver or a deflection) versus the 10 that were thrown while under pressure (ill-advised throws).
The Daily News' Samuel did a pick-by-pick breakdown of 25 of Manning’s’ 27 interceptions. According to Samuel’s findings, nine of the 25 picks reviewed could fall under the “bad throw” category while six appear to be a result of a communication breakdown between the quarterback and the intended receiver.
The good news is that there is reason to be optimistic that Manning will have a better showing in 2014.
As noted earlier, the West Coast offense relies on throwing shorter passes, which PFF’s data indicated is not a Manning strength. But what is significantly going to help both the quarterback and the receivers is the simplification of the offense.
Randle told me for Inside Football that a big difference between last year’s offense and this year’s is the reduction in the number of reads a receiver needs to make.
“It was definitely a minimum of three reads on certain plays (in the old offense),” Randle said. “Now it’s like two max...It’s either A or B, depending on the play, and it cuts down on a lot of miscommunication with the quarterback.”
Manning, for his part, was initially reluctant to move too far away from the system he was in for 10 seasons, according to Samuel. These days, however, the two-time Super Bowl MVP is singing a new tune, according to Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News.
"It's re-energized me," Manning said. "I'm trying to speed up the process of getting comfortable in the new system."
In the spring, it was noticeable that Manning was still feeling his way around the offense.
However, the extra time this summer should enable him to continue finding a comfort level with the new system in what is going to be a critical year for him and the team.
Unless otherwise noted, all Giants team statistics and NFL averages are via NFL Game Statistics and Information System (login required). All individual player stats are from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and all quotes obtained firsthand.