New York's Big-Blueprint for Victory
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 28, 2008
Two weeks ago, on the eve of the AFC championship game, the Cold, Hard Football Facts – courtesy of their infinite largesse – offered the world the "baby-blueprint" the Chargers must employ to beat the Patriots.
It was, if we might be so humble, the single most cogent piece of analysis offered anywhere on Planet Pigskin in the past 25 years.
We outlined three things San Diego must do – based solely upon its statistical strengths in 2007 – to beat the undefeated Patriots.
The Chargers accomplished two of our tasks. They failed to accomplish the third. And, naturally, that failure to follow our baby-blueprint proved the difference between victory and defeat.
All of which brings us around to the Giants, and their Big-Blueprint for Victory.
The Giants are overwhelming underdogs, on the short end of the greatest mismatch in Super Bowl or NFL championship game history. The methods they must employ to topple the Patriots are not nearly as clear as they were for the Chargers, who were a statistical juggernaut in 2007.
But there is a way the Giants can win: they must cast aside the cliches of the pigskin "pundits" and the failed strategies of losers past and follow the Cold, Hard Football Facts Big-Blueprint for Victory.
Big-Blueprint: Establish the pass
The pigskin "pundits" will tell you that the key for the Giants is to "establish the run" and "control the clock" with "bruising" Brandon Jacobs (there, we just wrote the introduction to half the stories you'll read on ESPN this week).
The Cold, Hard Football Facts have beat down this "establish the run" myth so many times over the years it reminds us of one of those gopher games you see at the county fair.
Teams win in the NFL because they pass the ball better than their opponents. It's simple as that. And the Giants will win if they pass the ball better than New England on Sunday.
We advised one other team this year to "establish the pass," the Steelers in their Week 14 meeting against the Patriots in Foxboro.
Naturally, Pittsburgh fell victim to cliche-riddled "Steelers' football." It's the same brand of football that swells the chest of Pittsburgh football fans with pigskin pride, but that has cost the organizatioon one playoff game after another over the years.
The Steelers certainly established the run that day, cranking out 181 yards on 32 carries (5.7 YPA), much to the delight of fans of "Steelers' football." The Patriots rushed for 22 yards on 9 attempts (2.4 YPA).
The Steelers were crushed, 34-13.
Pittsburgh's critical failure that day was a failure to establish the pass. While they averaged 5.7 YPA on the ground, they averaged just 4.8 YPA through the air (to New England's 8.7 YPA).
The Giants find themselves in the same position on Super Bowl Sunday: they can run all over New England on the ground and still get crushed on the scoreboard.
Simply look at their Week 17 game against the Patriots. They battled New England toe to toe not because they ran the ball well. They didn't. They rushed just 19 times for 79 yards (4.2 YPA).
They battled New England toe to toe because Eli Manning averaged 7.8 yards per pass attempt, matching his high of the past two years. For the Giants to have a chance, he'll have to exceed that career effort on Super Bowl Sunday.
Big-Blueprint: Force five negative pass plays
We laugh when we read those inferior "blueprints" for beating New England – as if throwing tired, tawdry clichés onto a computer screen somehow qualify as a "blueprint."
These inferior blueprints always tout the need to "put pressure on Brady," as if Halas, Brown, Lombardi, Noll and Walsh never thought of pressuring the other team's quarterback. But John Clayton did.
We hate to break this to the socially inept pencil-necked pigskin "pundits" of the world, but we're fairly certain that getting pressure on the quarterback – let alone on Brady – is part of the game plan for every team in every game in every league in every year in the history of football.
We're pretty sure, for example, that the Rams planned to put pressure on Otto Graham in the 1950 NFL title game, or that the Giants planned to put pressure on Johnny Unitas in the 1958 and 1959 title games, or that the Bengals planned to put pressure on Joe Montana in Super Bowls XVI and XXIII.
The question is not, "Should Team X pressure the quarterback?"
The question any pigskin "pundit" must ask is, "Can Team X pressure the quarterback?"
In the case of the Giants, the answer is yes. New York not only led the NFL with 53 sacks this year (the Patriots were second, with 47), they boasted the top Defensive Hogs in football, according to our Defensive Hog Index.
New York's greatest strength was forcing opponents into Negative Pass Plays (sacks or INTs). The Giants forced Negative Pass Plays on 11.8 percent of dropbacks. In other words, if a team stepped back to pass 10 times against the Giants this year, more than 1 of those 10 dropbacks have resulted in a sack or INT.
Sadly for the Giants, they failed miserably in this area in their Week 17 meeting against the Patriots. Tom Brady dropped back to pass 43 times, with just one Negative Pass Play, a sack. (The Patriots, for their part, were No. 1 in our Offensive Hog Index, and pose a formidable challenge to New York's defensive line as they attempt to execute our Big-Blueprint.)
For the Giants to follow our Big-Blueprint necessary for victory, they must improve dramatically in this area. And by improve dramatically, we mean the Giants must simply match their regular-season average of Negative Pass Plays on 11.8 percent of drop backs.
For example, if Brady steps back into the pocket 43 times, as he did in Week 17, that would equal five Negative Pass Plays. The Giants will need every single one of those five Negative Pass Plays to beat the Patriots.
Big-Blueprint: Throw 0 INTs
We'll make this very short and sweet: if Eli Manning throws 1 pick – just one – the Giants will not win the game.
If he goes his fourth straight game without a pick, a period of 93 pass attempts, the Giants have a fighting chance.
By now, you're probably familiar with the Cold, Hard Football Facts postseason interception ladder. Your chances of winning in the playoffs decline by about 20 percentage points with every single INT your team throws. Here's a look at the records of teams in every playoff game of the Super Bowl Era, based upon number of INTs.
0 INT – 181-49 (.787)
1 INT – 136-109 (.555)
2 INT – 53-115 (.315)
3 INT – 17-76 (.183)
4 INT – 1-26 (.037)
5+ INT – 0-13 (.000)
1 INT – 136-109 (.555)
2 INT – 53-115 (.315)
3 INT – 17-76 (.183)
4 INT – 1-26 (.037)
5+ INT – 0-13 (.000)
The chart is pretty clear. Throw 1 INT or less, and you have a pretty good chance of winning. Throw two or more INTs and you're probably going to lose.
The Giants do not have the luxury of that one-INT cushion afforded teams in normal circumstances. All things being equal, their chances of winning are already well below 50 percent. A single INT – no matter how many New England throws – will all but assure the Giants of a loss. (Also consider that teams that throw three or more picks in the playoffs are just 18-115 (.135) all time. The Patriots over the past two years account for two of those three-pick games, and won both ... a margin that utterly defies our postseason interception ladder.)
Manning, of course, has gone three straight games without a pick. It's no coincidence that his Giants have won all three of those games. It's also no coincidence that his last pick came in New York's last loss, against the Patriots in Week 17.
And it will be no coincidence if he throws 0 picks and wins on Sunday, or throws 1 pick and loses on Sunday.
Big-Blueprint: Pull off another Special Teams explosion
One of the secrets to New York's ability to lose competitively to New England in Week 17 was their special teams play. Namely, Domenik Hixon returned a kick 74 yards for a TD, a play that changed the entire complexion of the game – at least for the first 40 minutes.
The Giants, however, ranked just 28th this season in our Special Teams Index (he Patriots, for their part, ranked 10th). They hardly have an advantage over the Patriots in this area.
The Giants do have one Special Teams strength, however. They ranked 7th this season in kick return average. If they duplicate the Special Teams fireworks of their Week 17 battle, they have a puncher's chance.
Big-Blueprint: Play four quarters
The Patriots have utterly dominated the fourth quarter this year, especially in the few games in which they were given a battle through three quarters.
Six opponents this year fought the Patriots into the fourth quarter (Dallas, Indy, Philly, Baltimore, NY Giants and San Diego). The list includes four playoff teams and two final-four contenders.
Apparently, these six teams were content with three quarters of football: the Patriots outscored these six teams 70-24 in the fourth quarter.
Barring a dominating three quarters of football that not even the most clueless and devoted Giants fan would predict, the Giants will need 14 fourth-quarter points to have a shot of winning. Otherwise, they're likely to get crushed by New England's fourth-quarter juggernaut.
The final word
So there you have it folks. The Giants will win if they do the following:
- Pass the ball better than the Patriots
- Force the Patriots into five Negative Pass Plays
- Throw 0 INTs
- Get an explosive play out of their Special Teams
- Outscore the Patriots in the fourth quarter
Sounds easy, doesn't it?
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