Super Bowl: Number Crunching
An improved passing attack has fueled the Giants' postseason success. That's why the Patriots would be wise to blitz more than New York's previous postseason foes. Football Outsiders crunches some numbers.
A month ago, the New York Giants looked as though they were limping to the finish line. Now they've made it all the way to Super Bowl XLII.
What changed for the Giants? The answer is mighty obvious: The Giants' playoff run is almost entirely a result of the team's improvement in the passing game, with a little help from better run defense.
|New York Giants Since Playing Patriots In Week 17|
|Unit||Weeks 1-16, Yds/Play||Weeks 17-20, Yds/Play||Weeks 1-16, DVOA||Weeks 17-20, DVOA|
|NYG Pass Offense||5.5||6.4||-14.7 percent||56.4 percent|
|NYG Run Offense||4.8||3.7||5.6 percent||3.5 percent|
|NYG Pass Defense||5.6||6.2||-1.1 percent||-3.5 percent|
|NYG Run Defense||4.1||3.4||-6.9 percent||-13.9 percent|
Based on yards per play, it looks as if the Giants have actually been worse on the ground, and worse defending the pass. However, as DVOA shows, those raw numbers have changed because of the quality of the Giants' last four opponents, not because the Giants are actually playing worse.
To do a better job controlling the Giants' offense, the Patriots need to big-blitz more often, sending six or seven pass-rushers at Eli Manning. Big-blitzing Manning was an important part of Minnesota's game plan when the Vikings whipped the Giants 41-17 in Week 12, and Washington also used it to beat the Giants in Week 15.
During his recent four-week stretch of strong play, Manning improved against the conventional pass rush, but he still had problems with the big blitz. Here is a look at Manning's performance by number of pass-rushers, using both net yards per play and defensive stop rate (explained here).
|Giants' Passing Performance, By No. Of Pass-rushers|
|Pass-rushers||Stop rate||Yds/Play||Stop rate||Yds/Play|
|Weeks 1-16||Weeks 17-20|
|3||69 percent||5.4||43 percent||4.7|
|4||58 percent||5.7||48 percent||7.3|
|5||57 percent||5.2||49 percent||6.2|
|6+||67 percent||5.3||60 percent||4.3|
In the first Patriots-Giants game, the Patriots sent six pass-rushers only once in the first half, but six times in the second half. On those seven plays, Manning completed three passes out of six, with a sack, for a net average of 0.7 yards per play. (The last Patriots big blitz did result in a 3-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress, which made the game 38-35.)
According to our adjusted line yards stats, this game features the NFL's top two run-blocking offensive lines, and both teams are particularly strong running up the middle. The Giants are also one of the league's top three defenses at stopping runs up the middle, while the Patriots' defense was a mere 20th. However, the Patriots run up the middle (or behind the guards) a lot more often than the Giants do -- 58 percent of the time for the Patriots, compared to just 39 percent of the time for the Giants.
The Giants' defense should be worried about two trends -- one that didn't change in the playoffs, and one that did. Both trends play right into the strengths of the New England offense.
The Patriots were the NFL's best offense in the red zone, while the Giants had a poor red zone defense (23rd in DVOA against the pass, 30th against the run). This is one thing that has not changed in recent weeks. New England, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay got past the Giants' 18-yard line a total of 10 times. Eight of those drives ended in touchdowns, two in field goals.
The Patriots were also the NFL's best offense on third down. During the regular season, the Giants were very good at stopping the other offense on third down. In the past four weeks, while everything else was going right for the Giants, their third-down defense deteriorated significantly.
Conversion Rate On Third Down
|Weeks 1-16||Weeks 17-20|
|Giants Defense||67-198 (34 percent)||26-53 (49 percent)|
|Patriots Offense||86-178 (48 percent)||19-36 (53 percent)|
The pass rush was a major reason why the Giants' defense was so strong on third down during the regular season. The Giants led the league in sacks, and were one of just three teams with more sacks on third down (27) than first and second downs combined (26).
(Speaking of the Giants' pass rush: If the Giants win, Michael Strahan will join Reggie White, Richard Dent and Lawrence Taylor as the only Super Bowl champions on the list of the NFL's top dozen sack artists of all time.)
The Patriots were second in sacks, right behind the Giants, and the New York offensive line hasn't protected Manning that well in recent weeks. In the first eight games of the season, the Giants had an adjusted sack rate of 3.8 percent, sixth in the NFL. In the final eight games of the regular season, the Giants had an adjusted sack rate of 6.2 percent, 18th in the NFL. In the playoffs, the Giants have an adjusted sack rate of 6.1 percent.
New England has a major advantage when it comes to field position from kickoffs. That may sound strange, given that Domenik Hixon's kickoff return for a touchdown was one of the most important plays during the first Giants-Patriots game. However, this was the only kickoff return touchdown scored by the Giants all season, and the only one allowed by the Patriots all season. If we combine Hixon's stats from New York and Denver, the Patriots' kickoff return men averaged more yards per return (25.2) than Hixon did (24.9).
The Patriots also have the superior kicker. Stephen Gostkowski averaged 64.5 yards per kickoff, while the Giants' Lawrence Tynes averaged just 61.8 yards. Just for good measure, the Giants also allowed more yardage per kick return (23.1) than the Patriots did (22.1).
Don't expect to see a lot of flags thrown in this game. The Giants and Patriots finished 27th and 28th in penalties, respectively, and penalty rates around the league drop during the postseason -- especially for offensive holding. Gregg Easterbrook noted in his latest TMQ that New England has not been called for offensive holding this postseason, but the same goes for Dallas, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington.
Aaron Schatz is president of Football Outsiders Inc. and the lead author of Pro Football Prospectus 2007 and 2008.
SUPER BOWL XLII
Game coverage• Belichick ready to move on from Super Bowl loss
• Nevada sports books lose record $2.6M
• View to a thrill: Record 97.5 million watch XLII
• Giants' win shatters viewership records
• Clayton: Can the Giants repeat?
• Simmons: Free fallin'
• Giants spoil Pats' perfect season
• Wojciechowski: Blame Pats for this debacle
• Wickersham: Brady dazed and confused
• Clayton: Eli lets instincts take over
• Clayton: N.Y. 'misfits' harass Brady
• Sando: Was Brady rattled?
• Mosley: Belichick left a second early
• Chadiha: Ten things we learned
• Garber: Tyree's catch one for the ages
• Zoom galleries 1 | 2 | Great SB upsets
• SportsNation: Best Super Bowl?
• SportsNation: Biggest SB upset?
• SportsNation: Your favorite commercials?
Commentary/Features• Clayton: Top five contenders for the next SB
• '72 Fins breathe sigh of relief after Giants win
• Chadiha: Giants enjoy underdog role
• Sando: Coughlin, Giants made it work
• Super Bowl picks: Our experts weigh in
• Merrill: Nine previously perfect Patriots
• Merrill: Harrison deals with his rep just fine
• Clayton: Giants' O-line worthy of accolades
• Pasquarelli: Tip Sheet
• Pasquarelli: Tip Sheet notes
• Wojciechowski: 15 reasons Patriots will win
• E-ticket: Patriots' man of mystery
• Sunday Countdown
• Clayton's First and Goal
• Chadiha: Giants miss Shockey
• Garber: Injured war vet inspires Giants
• Pasquarelli: The Pats' crucial cameos
• Garber: In Brady's world, insecurity remains
• Merrill: Hixon's traumatizing season
• Football Outsiders: SB numbers crunching
• Pasquarelli: Patriots' silent sentinel
• Wojciechowski: Unflappable Eli
• Sando: Brady rising among all-time QBs
• Chadiha: Giants' rookies playing prominent role
• Fleming: Cardinals/Pottsville Curse
• Clayton: Youth serving Giants well
• Chadiha: Ranking the best QBs by decade
• Klancnik: Top QBs by jersey number
• Hashmarks: Media day coverage | Gallery
• Pasquarelli: Pats' old-school LBs
• Helyar: Marketing windfall for Eli Manning
• Garber: Seau's ring quest
• Pasquarelli: Bruschi's full-circle journey
• Animated plays
• From the research room
• Chadiha: Pierce just wants to win
• Wojciechowski: Explaining Bill Belichick
• Helyar: Recession? Not at Super Bowl!
• Giants' Snee doesn't stray from roots
• Sando: Seymour in eye of storm
• Merrill: Welker scales new heights for Pats
• Pasquarelli: Brady is ready to play
• Garber: The preservation of Plaxico
• Pasquarelli: Hill's spirit lives on
• Clayton: Giants' juggling act at CB works
• Wickersham: Giant ideas
• Klosterman: All too perfect
• Crown Jewels: A look at Super Bowl rings
• FB Outsiders: Giants one of worst SB teams
• Helyar: Patriots will drive TV ratings
• Clayton: First and goal
• Chadiha: Giants' glory road
• Mosley: Brady's ankle saves the week
• Woj: Preseason predictions revisited
• Merrill: David Woodley's dark spotlight
• Former SB QBs: Plunkett | Rypien | Ferragamo
• More: Morton | Humphries | Hostetler | Eason
• Starting matchups of Super Bowl QBs
• Ranking the QB performances: 1-40 | 41-82
• Jaworski: Six Super Bowl surprises
• Joyner: Brady's bad decisions
• Clayton: Eli's managing fine
• Chadiha: Focused Giants
• AccuScore simulation: Pats to prevail
• Chadiha: First Look at the Super Bowl
• Playoff schedule
• Vermeil doubts spying made difference for Pats
• Fish: Ex-Ram Warner suspicious of Pats in SB XXXVI
• Report: Pats taped Rams' SB walk-through
• Specter to Goodell: Let's talk
• Fish: Possible 'Spygate' witness surfaces
• Easterbrook: NFL can blame itself for scandal's timing
• Munson: Congressional interest serious
• Pasquarelli: Specter should stick with politics
• Clayton: Spy saga won't distract Patriots
• Hashmarks at Goodell's news conference
• Specter to Goodell (.pdf)
• Goodell to Specter (.pdf)
Page 2• Gallo: Five stages of heartbreak for Pats' fans
• Hill: Best Super Bowl parties
• Hill: Teflon Tom Brady
• Popculture roundtable on the Super Bowl
• Hill: Raiders quit on Moss
• Flem File at the Super Bowl
• Fleming: Defining greatness
• Best teams never to win a title
• TMQ: Title-game analysis
• Why Boston teams are so good
• Gallo: Countdown to kickoff
• More from Page 2
News• Brady ankle not on injury report
• Brady on Plax prediction: Only 17 points for Pats?
• Carey named first black Super Bowl referee
• Brady practices in Pats' first Super Bowl session
• Ross gets sick as unified Giants face flu
• NFL not worried about spying
• Security high for Super Bowl
• Williams to be honored during Super Bowl
• Bootless Brady departs for Arizona
• Tickets reselling for average of $4,300
• Burress: Giants' receivers are better
Scouts Inc.• Roundtable: Seven scouts weigh in
• Super Bowl XLII X Factors
• Coaching comparison: Styles vary, results same
• Defensive line breakdowns
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 5)
• Matchups to watch in Super Bowl XLII
• Running-game breakdown
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 4)
• QB tale of the the tape
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 3)
• Ranking NFL QBs 1-64
• Take II on Super Bowl XLII
• Giants' DBs overmatched or underrated?
• Horton: Notes from film room (Day 2)
• Horton: 10 things to watch in SB XLII
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 1)
• A tale of two underrated O-lines
• Take I on Super Bowl XLII
• Players ranked Nos. 1-106
SportsNation• Vote: Which team will win?
• Vote: Who wins the head-to-head matchups?
• Vote: Which team are you rooting for?
• Conversation: Talk Super Bowl XLII
• Map: Which states are picking the Giants?
• Quiz: 42 Super Bowl history questions
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Hello from Arizona!
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live from Media Day
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live with oddsmaker
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live with Matt Hasselbeck
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live with Gregg Easterbrook
• Rank: Super Bowl's best individual performances
• Rank: Super Bowl coaches
• Rank: Super Bowl careers
• Rank: Super Bowl teams
• Rank: Super Bowl games
• Rank: Greatest all-time quarterbacks
• Vote: Potential for QB greatness?
• Quiz: Greatest quarterbacks
• ABCNews: Super Bowl or Super Tuesday?
• Chat Rewind: When did undefeated talk start?
• Vote: Can we proposition you?
• Pulse: What is SportsNation saying about XLII?