If you were on UltimateNYG during the Super Bowl 46 run, or at all followed the Giants closely for that matter, you know that the “explosive play” was a staple of the team’s offense. There was arguably (and there are plenty of stats that will support it) no better team at attacking down the field in 2011. This was THE key cog to the Giants success. With the season opener versus the Cowboys just under 60 hours away, we take a look at how the Giants can rediscover this crucial element that went AWOL in 2012.
From PFF’s “32 teams in 32 days” preview…
But he also seemed unable to use the weapon that powered him to so success in 2011: the deep ball. As his Super Bowl strike to Mario Manningham showed, few can attack the deep sidelines like Manning can. His 1,490 Deep Passing yards in 2011 are the most by any quarterback since 2008. But Manning wasn’t as willing to throw deep in 2012. The efficiency was still there, as he increased both his yards per attempt and touchdown rate on deep passes while decreasing his interception rate. What changed was his frequency of deep attempts, down from 18.5% in 2011 to 12.7% in 2012. After setting a PFF record with 109 deep attempts in 2011, he threw just 68 in 2012. If Manning is going to replicate his 2011 success, going deep can get him there.
There are a few things that we can take away from this:
>The stats confirm a common belief about Eli Manning—that even though he will never be considered a precision passer; he is in the discussion for the league’s best and most accurate downfield passer. Never was this better on display than in 2011 and even in 2012, when he “struggled’ in this area. Eli’s 109 deep ball attempts in 2011 (20+ yards in the air) led the 2nd place finisher on that list by 20 (Cam Newton). His 1490 yards were good for 242 more than the league’s next best in that category, Aaron Rodgers. Of those 1490 yards 1,333 of them, or 89.4% of them, came on completions to Nicks, Cruz or Manningham. That leads us to our next conclusions that…
> The losses of Mario Manningham to the 49ers and 2011 version of Hakeem Nicks to a myriad of injuries were just too much for Eli and the offense to handle. The offense as a whole took a major hit without the flexibility that having three excellent (and healthy!) wide receivers can provide and this is probably what one should look at when trying to solve why Eli looked down the field far less in 2012 then he did the previous year. In large part because of the talent of his three wideouts, Manning was able to get into a comfort zone that allowed him to produce the best statistical season of his career.
To put it simply, outside of Eli, Nicks is the most important player on the Giants offense. While this statement will come as news to nearly nobody, the proof is in the PFF data. Eli connected for 542 yards on 15 deep ball completions to Nicks in 2011 a number that severely lacked in 2012. Perhaps even more telling is the success the two had the 0-9 range in 2011. Eli and Nicks combined to do some great stuff in this range—an impressive 47-for-58 (81%) for 465 yards. Having such a strong command of the “small ball” game, especially with your top receiver, will ultimately lead to a much more potent downfield attack, for all targets. Eli and Nicks MUST return to this level of production for the Giants offense to once again be explosive in 2013.
We also know that the Giants never found a replacement for Mannignham’s skill set and production (he was the Giants’ leader in YPC at 13.4) and the impact was certainly felt, perhaps more than us fans and the team anticipated. Rueben Randle, albeit a WR with a much different skill set, showed flashes last season that he can fill that void but much of those came far too late. Manning was 5/7 for 189 yards and two TD’s when he looked for Randle down the field last season, including connecting with the rookie twice in the Giants’ final game in Week 17 vs the Eagles. The opportunity is there for Randle and from all that we have heard and seen in the eight months since January, the second year WR appears poised to seize it.
>The Giants inability to use play action effectively in 2012 severely hindered their downfield production. While PFF did not start tracking “play action data” until last season, the 2012 stats are very telling. Eli Manning finished last in “Comp % Diff,” a stat used by PFF to quantify the effect that using PA has on a QB’s completion percentage, coming in at -9.4%, nearly a full percentage point behind the next QB on the list. That total is nearly 21% less than that of last season’s league leader in the category, Andrew Luck, who accumulated a +11.5% Comp % Diff. That number is also unacceptable for a team looking to get the ball down the field, something the Giants should be looking to do in 2013. And in order for the Giants' play callers to see value in using play action and in turn use it effectively, they will need a much better output from their rushing attack in 2013.
Sunday’s matchup against the Cowboys should prove to be an excellent test in this area as Dallas’ approach last season against the Giants really placed a strong emphasis on not getting beat down the field. Can you blame them after the game Cruz had against them to close out the 2011 regular season? Just going off of the eye test, no defense did a better job of not getting beat over the top against the Giants last season (Sure, Eli found Randle for that big gain early in the road game last season, but that was a) a broken play and b) the extent of the Giants’ down the field offense in that one). It will be interesting if new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin takes note and follows suit by mimicking one of the few good strategies that former Cowboys’ DC Rob Ryan employed in 2012.