Super Bowl XLVI report: Showdown eerily similar

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 02, 2012



By Erik Frenz (Twitter: @ErikFrenz)
Cold, Hard Football Facts Head Butcher of Hog Meat

Super Bowl XLVI between the New England Patriots and New York Giants will likely come down to the battle of the trenches, so what better way to break it down than to use the Hog Index?

The Offensive Hog Index (OHI) and Defensive Hog Index (DHI) track the trench play on either side of the ball by taking three commonly-used stats—yards per rush attempt, negative pass play percentage, and third down conversion percentage—and mixing them into one delightful spicy rub for any grilling feast.

Smell that smokey flavor? These are some potent Quality Stats. The OHI and DHI have been found to have a direct correlation to winning games. In fact, teams that were better in the Defensive Hog Index have gone a whopping 37-17 in postseason play since 2007. Over the course of the regular season, two of the indicators in the index did very well in terms of correlation to victory. The team with a higher conversion percentage on third down currently stand at 182-76 (70.5 percent) in the regular season and playoffs so far, while the team that won the battle of NPP% currently stand at 185-76 (71.9 percent).

To get a better idea for how these all-important battles will play out, let's break down each team's Hogs.

New England O-Hogs vs. New York Giants D-Hogs


Unit Rank YPA # NPP % # 3rd % # Hog Index
New England O-Hogs 7 4.03 23 6.83 4 45.88 5 10.67
New York D-Hogs 13 4.46 23 10.68 3 38.18 17 14.33

If you ask the mediots, Brady is going to be a little girl in the pocket, and the Giants defensive linemen are going to deskirt him on Sunday.

The numbers over the course of the season show that the Patriots have a great chance at slowing down the Giants front and keeping the ball moving. The Patriots have converted a lot of third downs this season, whereas the Giants have given up their share of conversions on third downs.

In fact, the Giants weren't incredibly effective at getting to Brady in their last meeting; but a big swing in the game occurred when Brady was strip-sacked from behind on the 10-yard line and the Giants quickly converted it into a touchdown (on a Brandon Jacobs touchdown run where Albert Haynesworth famously looked like a tackling sled—but we'll get to more of that in the next segment).

The biggest chance the Giants have of winning, though, has to be in their ability to create NPP. Fortunately for them, there's a long-standing trend of NPP having a critical impact on the outcome of games.
  • Super Bowl XLII: Giants defense sacks Tom Brady five times en route to 17-14 win and the biggest upset in Super Bowl history.
  • Super Bowl XLIII: Steelers linebacker James Harrison has the longest INT return in Super Bowl history, Steelers win 27-23.
  • Super Bowl XLIV: With Peyton Manning and the Colts driving to tie the game, Saints cornerback Tracy Porter returns an interception 70 yards for a touchdown. Saints win in an upset, 31-17.
  • Super Bowl XLV: Packers safety Nick Collins returns a Ben Roethlisberger INT for a touchdown in the first half, Packers win 31-25.
With four straight years of success in the Super Bowl, the DHI, and namely NPP, continue to have a big impact on the outcome of the biggest game. Interestingly enough, the Patriots gave up just 4.14 percent NPP in 2007, while the Giants created 11.81 percent NPP. Both of those numbers were at the top of the league on their side of the ball. Yet somehow, the Giants were able to break the impenetrable fortress of the Patriots front and brought down the king of the castle in Tom Brady.

Thus, it would seem the Giants' best bet is to fluster Brady with a lot of sacks and hopefully get some errant throws as a result.


Easier said than done, though, as the Patriots ranked fourth in the NFL in offensive NPP% allowed. Brady was sacked or intercepted on just 6.9 percent of his dropbacks in the regular season. The Patriots gave up 32 sacks this year, but based on the fact that they dropped back to throw more than every team outside of Green Bay and New Orleans, we won't read too much into that number. Likewise, the Giants ranked tied for third in sacks with 48, but also ranked in the top 10 in attempts thrown against them.

Over the past five games, both teams have been right around their season averages. The Patriots have rushed for 4.1 YPA, converted 46.4 percent of third downs and have given up 14 NPP on 196 drop backs (7.1 percent), while the Giants have allowed opponents to rush for 4.6 YPA, but allowed just 27.1 percent of conversions on third down and have forced 24 NPP on 229 drop backs (10.5 percent). 

The health of Rob Gronkowski could go a long way in determining whether or not the Giants are able to get to the quarterback. Carissa Thompson of Numbers Never* Lie points out that the Giants have had far less success rushing the passer against two tight end sets than they have against other formations, and have just four sacks this season against that formation. Whether Gronkowski is 100 percent or not, expect two tight end sets to be a big part of the game plan.

It will be a clash of two of the best Hogs in the business, but someone has to emerge victorious. The Patriots were able to handle the Giants pass rush in the last meeting, and Brady's two interceptions were just off-target throws. Brady was battling tennis elbow then, though, and should be on target with those throws on Sunday.

Advantage: Patriots


New England D-Hogs vs. New York Giants O-Hogs


Unit Rank YPA # NPP # 3rd % # Hog Index
New England Patriots 25 4.62 24 9.55 15 43.07 28 22.33
New York Giants 19 3.47 32 7.13 6 37.38 14 17.33

Just like on defense, the strength of the New York Giants has been NPP. The Giants have given up some pressure on Eli Manning, but he hasn't folded in the face of that pressure and has been sacked just 28 times because of his ability to hang in the pocket and make throws. From the looks of it, the Patriots should get dominated in that sense. In the past five games, though, the Giants have given up 14 NPP on 195 drop backs (7.2 percent), right around their average. The Patriots, though, have improved greatly over the past five games and have forced 25 NPP on 181 drop backs (13.8 percent).

One of New York's biggest goals will be to allow Eli time to read a Patriots secondary that has looked better recently, but got torched earlier this season. That could be a bit tougher if Vince Wilfork is bull-rushing right at Eli's face on Sunday night, and if that's the case, they will certainly have a hard time turning to a rushing attack that finished ranked dead last in YPA. Although the Giants ranked dead last in YPA this year, they have rushed for a much-improved but still pedestrian 4.1 YPA average in their past five games. 

The Patriots had been gashed in the running game in the four games leading up to the postseason, giving up 639 rushing yards and 5.7 YPA in the final four games of the regular season. To New England's credit, though, they've played much better against the run in the playoffs, letting up an average of just 3.7 yards per carry in their two postseason games. They bottled up Ravens running back Ray Rice, the league's third-leading rusher. He had one of his worst games of the season with just 67 yards on 21 carries (3.19 YPA) and had a long carry of 12 yards.

The Giants may be able to execute the classic game plan of keeping Brady on the sideline, but not for that reason. They have shown the ability to convert third downs (41.5 percent conversions in the past five games)...and New England has shown the inability to prevent third down conversions (40.2 percent in the past  five games). 

If New England is going to win this game, it will come down to their ability to create NPP. The Patriots defense is coming up with big plays in gotta-have-it situations this season, and has recorded at least one turnover in each of the past 13 games according to our Jonathan Comey. If it comes down to the final possession with the Patriots defense on the field, don't count them out. From the looks of it, though, it's not going to come easy.

Advantage: Giants

Conclusion


While the first battle is extremely close, the second battle looks like more of a landslide win for the Giants (at least on paper). And while it looks like a scoring fest (at least on paper), remember that these two teams have played 

Ultimately, it will come down to the NPP and the turnovers, as it always does in the Super Bowl. The team that commits the fewest errors, especially at the quarterback position, will likely emerge victorious on Sunday.

Through the prism of these two Quality Stats, though, the stars are aligned for a shootout. That being said, it rarely is with these teams. Recent Super Bowls have proven tough to predict in that sense, and this one is no different.

If you're a fan of NPP determining the outcome of games, you have to like the Giants chances of making that happen. That being said, the Patriots have forced a high number of them over the past few games, and can't be counted out to produce key big plays.

All this pigskin punditry over Hogs has me ready for a grill. I heard the finest feast of the year is on February 5 at 6:20. Should be delicious.

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