New York Giants are 6-3 and on their way to another Super Bowl championship season! No, they are not. At least not yet. Having watched and listened to most of their games this season, Big Blue are a C+ team overall (working their way to a B- or better grade). There are some similarities with this team and the team that won the Super Bowl in the 2011 season. There are also notable differences between the Big Blue sacking crew of 2011 and the stingy red zone defensive squad of 2016. The Giants football team from five years ago was not exactly a juggernaut on defense or on offense. They won the division on the last game of the season, finishing with a modest nine wins to seven losses. The Giants allowed more points (400) than they gained (394). Despite starting out in characteristic fast fashion under the regime of head coach Tom Coughlin, with a 6-2 record halfway into the season, G-Men lost four in row to fall 6-6 then traded a divisional win and loss before finishing strong in their last two games. They were also healthy going into the playoffs. The momentum of winning, an improved running game, and a strengthening defensive line catapulted their confidence all the way to a second Super Bowl win versus the New England Patriots in four years.
Statistically speaking, Eli Manning‘s best seasons have not coincided with the most fortuitous outcome for the Giants. In 2011, Manning set a personal and team record with the most passing yards (4933). Additionally, he had the highest average per completion (13.7) and per pass attempt (8.37) in his career. Eli has thrown more touchdowns, had fewer passes intercepted, and finished with a high passer rating and QBR in other seasons. Manning also had a career high of sorts in 2011 by leading his team to six game winning drives in nine of the team’s victories. He added two more fourth quarter game winning scores in the playoffs that season, including the NFC championship game and his MVP performance in the Super Bowl. Manning has already tallied five game winning drives in six of the team’s victories this season.
One of the reasons the New York Giants have been successful in close games this season as opposed to last season has been their much improved defense. Through nine games, Big Blue have the best percent among the 32 NFL teams in limiting opponents to touchdowns in the red zone. G-Men have given up a touchdown in just 13 of 31 opportunities (41.9%) when the other team was within 20 yards of scoring.
The Giants have not exactly been lighting up the score board this season, averaging just over 20 points per game. Big Blue have managed to score a touchdown on 12 of 23 red zone opportunities (52.2%) which is ranked 20th. In 2011, Giants finished 9th in red zone percentage (54.4%); however, they relied a lot of more big pass plays resulting in touchdowns. Five years ago during Giants’ last championship run, Manning set a career best in pass completions of 20+ yards (67) and 40+ yards (18). So far in 2016, Manning is averaging 25 completions per game (his highest average through nine games), and he is having his most accurate season, completing 64. 3% of his throws. However, his average yards per pass attempt (7.09) is considerably lower than it was in 2011.
The way the Giants won Monday night’s home game versus the Cincinnati Bengals was a positive sign of what to expect for the remaining games this regular season (and hopefully in the playoffs): a gutsy 4th and goal touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, a shutdown defense with an interception and two big sacks in the fourth quarter, and a final drive relying on an effective running game to seal the victory.
In 2011, the Giants deviated from the recipe of success having finished last in rushing. Yet they still managed to win their division, albeit with a 9-7 record. In part, it was because their defense finished second in the league with 48 sacks while their offense allowed relatively fewer sacks (28). And the Giants were +7 in turnover differential. Their defense this season is much better against than run than it was five years ago, but they only have 14 sacks through nine games. And the Giants are -8 in takeaways versus giveaways. The turnover differential this season is a bit misleading: Giants have fumbled the ball 13 times (too many); their opponents have lost the ball nine times. Unfortunately for Big Blue, they recovered just one of the other team’s fumbles (11.1%); where as their opponents have recovered eight of the Giants’ fumbles (61.5%). In 2011, Giants recovered 11 of 21 fumbles by their opponents (52.4%); the other teams have recovered 8 of 18 fumbles by Big Blue (44.4%).
Unlike in 2011, the NFC East this season is very competitive: all four teams have a winning record. And Dallas Cowboys have the best record in the NFL with 8 wins to just one loss (which was a season opening one-point defeat at home to the New York Giants). Big Blue will need at least 10 wins to make the playoff this season, and would likely need 11 plus victories for a chance at capturing the division title. The Giants may not be good enough to win the NFC East, especially given how well their divisional foes are playing. Realistically, they have a shot at the wild card. However, their losses to the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings could come back to haunt them if these teams finish with the same number of wins. Giants’ next two games–at home versus the Chicago Bears and on the road against the Cleveland Browns–are very winnable. Their last two games are against division rivals and on the road–at Philadelphia then at Washington.
If the Giants can capitalize more on forced fumbles, get enough from their running game, and continue to play a defense that bends but doesn’t break, they should be in good shape heading into the end of the season. G-Men have 10 of their 14 season sacks in their last four games, which coincides with a 4-game winning streak. In those four games, Giants have allowed just three sacks (+7 sack differential). This could be an indication that the defensive line are gelling. And that bodes well for Big Blue!
Below is a look at a few metrics comparing the New York Giants regular season stats from 2011 with the stats through nine games this season: based on overall record, just the wins, and just the losses.