Friday, September 26, 2008

Big Blue, the Bye and the Beast, Pt I: The Numbers

A look at the standings will tell you that the Giants could not have asked for a better start to their 2008 season: going 3-0 overall , 2-0 at home, and 1-0 in the NFC East before heading in to their early bye week in Week 4.

With a schedule that gets visibly more challenging as the season progresses, racking up as many wins as possible in the early part of the year is critical for the G-men moving forward. This becomes all the more imperative when you look at the division they play in. The NFC "Beast" through 3 weeks is 10-2, and 8-0 against opponents outside of the division. All four teams could take one of what will surely be three playoff spots for the Beast, so every win, even at this early stage in the season, carries a lot of weight. At 3-0, so far, so good.

The Giants celebrate after John Carney kicks the game-winning field goal in overtime in Week 3.

The Stat Sheet: Offense

Through 3 games, the offense ranks third in the league overall, averaging just over 400 yards per game. They have scored an average of 27.7 points per game, sixth best in the NFL. They average 6 yrds per play (7th in the NFL) and have a 3rd down conversion percentage of 46% (T-5th in the NFL).

Eli Manning has looked sharp, reflective of the great strides (giant steps, eh? eh?) he made last year during Big Blue's playoff run. He's thrown for 765 yards, with 4 TDs and one pick so far, and a he also ran one in for a score in Week 1. He continues to show poise in the pocket and make smart decisions with the football. Most importantly, he has continued to display his signature ability to score points when it counts: answering the Rams scores in Week 2 and leading the Giants down the field in OT in Week 3.

Eli's supporting cast on offense has shown flashes of its potential brilliance in the first 3 weeks. The Giants' O-line is physical, athletic, and one of the best in the league. Success starts with them. The receiving corps is loaded with talent, and most importantly, healthy. It is perhaps the deepest and most dangerous it's ever been.

Behind veteran play-makers Burress and Toomer, Steve Smith is emerging as a dangerous weapon in the slot and one of Eli's go-to guys on 3rd down. Domenik Hixon provides Eli with another big target and the Giants with a credible fourth receiver for the first time in years. Sinorice Moss remains buried at the bottom of the pile, but he is healthy for the first time in his career and had an excellent pre-season. Rookie Mario Manningham shows a lot of promise, but has yet to be activated for a game. Second-year TE Kevin Boss adds another weapon on offense with size, sure hands, and open-field speed.

Boss has also developed in his role as a blocker in the Giants' potent rushing attack. The three-headed beast known as "Earth, Wind and Fire" - Brandon Jacobs, Derek Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw - gives the Giants one of the deepest backfields in the league. Jacobs through 3 games has looked like a monster, and is ranked 12th in the league in rushing. He has rushed for 244 yards on 50 carries: 81.3 yards per game, with 4.9 per carry and a TD. His numbers could be bigger, if not for Derek Ward. Ward ranks 22nd in rushing with 177 yards on 26 carries: 59 yards per game, and 6.8 yard per carry. Bradshaw has not gotten as many carries as his teammates, but showcased his explosive, play-making ability in Week 2 when he posted 2 scores and over 80 total yards, nearly all of which came in the fourth quarter.

The Real Big D

On the defensive side of the ball, the Giants have looked strong, though they struggled against a talented Bengal offense in Week 3. Big Blue's D is currently ranked 6th in the league in total defense, allowing 252.3 yards per game and 14.3 points per game (4th best in the NFL). They have allowed 167.7 passing yards per game (8th best in the NFL) and 84.7 rushing yards per game (7th best in the NFL). The Giants are also fourth in the NFL in yards allowed per play at 4.3.

Prior to Week 3, the Giants were in the top 5 in total defense, run defense and pass defense. After the Bengals managed to convert on 10 of 17 3rd down attempts however (59%), these figures dropped. So far this season, the defense has allowed 37% 3rd down conversion rate, a number will have to decline in order for the Giants to be successful down the road.

One area that is definitely not in question is the Giants' formidable pass rush. In the absence of Strahan and Umenyiora, New York's talented D-line has kept pace with last year's league-leading sack total, amassing 13 through 3 games, tying them for first in that category with the Eagles. The Giants have had 6 sacks in each of the last two games. DE Justin Tuck has emerged as a tremendous force, but to the surprise of some, it is DT Fred Robbins who currently leads the team with 4 sacks. DT Barry Cofield has also played exceptionally well in the middle, while DE Mathias Kiwanuka came on strong in Week 3 after nursing an ankle injury for the first few weeks.


The linebacker corps had the biggest overhaul this off-season, losing two players to free agency and one (Kiwanuka) to the D-line, and is still adjusting to its new personnel. Antonio Pierce remains in the middle and continues his solid play and leadership on the defensive unit. Newcomer Danny Clark is adjusting to the strong side position, and has shown some big play ability in the first few games, knocking down balls and making plays behind the line of scrimmage. On the other side, rookie Bryan Kehl and 3rd year player Gerris Wilkinson have been sharing duties at weak-side. They have shown signs of their athleticism but neither has yet to claim to the position with their play on the field.

The Giants' secondary has been solid. Both starting corner backs, Aaron Ross and Corey Webster have been playing outstanding football in this early part of the season. Ross has shown speed and strong fundamentals. He has amassed 17 tackles on the season to go with one pass defensed. On the side, Webster has been all over the field. Against the Bengals in Week 3, he had 8 tackles, one sack, a forced fumble, and one pass defensed. He has five passes defensed on the season, to go with 11 tackles.

Kevin Dockery has also played well at corner, racking up 15 tackles himself, however in the past few weeks he has missed a number of opportunities for turnovers and made a few mental errors in coverage. Turnovers are one area where the defense has struggled, producing only 1 through three games. Generating turnovers changes games and the Giants must improve in this category as the level of competition increases as the season goes on. The secondary will play a pivotal role in this area.

Elsewhere in the secondary, veteran Sam Madison returned to action in Week 3 after off-season hernia surgery and showed up to make the big play to the ball down on 3rd down in overtime. Madison played very well when healthy last year and I would look for him to see more action in the coming weeks. His eye for the ball and sense for the game should see him out there on 3rd downs and medium yardage situations.

At the other end of the age spectrum, rookie S Kenny Phillips is coming on strong, showing off his speed and his ability to deliver the big hit. If his development continues as many claim it can, the Giants will have a tremendous weapon at the position. Fellow rookie, Terrell Thomas has yet to see action with a hamstring injury. We will see if he can make an impact once he is healthy. He was practicing on a limited basis in Week 3. Perhaps the bye week will provide enough time for him to get healthy and on the field full time.

Can I Kick It?

Finally, special teams is not without its story lines too. 44 year old K John Carney was brought in as a temporary replacement for injured K Lawrence Tynes, NFC Championship hero and recipient of a multi-year deal from the Giants over the offseason. Carney has been superb, going 9 for 9 with two field goals of over 45 yards. He also kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime in Week 3. With Tynes now healthy and seemingly ready to go for Week 5's game against Seattle, Big Blue faces a dilemna as to whether or not to keep two kickers on the roster, and if they don't, who will be let go.

... ...

There are many positive things to like about the Giants' performance so far this season. In this section we've taken a look at how the team stands up with the rest of the league, and how players have performed thus far. But football is not just about statistics and numbers; there are many intangibles and additional factors that come into play, as the Giants are well aware. In the next section we will put all of this into context, including a look at the impact of the early bye week and the NFC East, and assess what the Giants will need to do to continue their winning ways.

Continue to Part II...

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