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Super Bowl Nuggetpalooza, Part 1: When the Giants have the ball

02.02.12 at 9:19 am ET
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Super Bowl week. A week when everything is (at least) twice as big, including Nuggetpalooza! I’ve got so much statistical nuggetry that I’m bringing it to you in two parts. Let’s call today’s entry:

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL:

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* – The Giants had turnover margins of +3 in their win over the Packers and +2 last week against the 49ers. It’s the first time in their 42-game postseason history that they’ve been +2 or better in consecutive postseason games. In their history, New York is 1-16 in the playoffs when they have more turnovers than takeaways. Their only win came in 1986, a 17-0 win over Washington.

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* – Over the last two regular seasons, the Giants (and kicker Lawrence Tynes) have made a total of just six field goals of 40 yards or more, the fewest in the league in that span:

6 – Giants
7 – Bills
8 – Vikings
8 – Jets

Note this: Tynes is 0-for-1 from 40+ this postseason and the Giants are 1-for-7 from that distance in the postseason since 2000.

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* – I saw an interesting “prop” wagering line (you know, for entertainment purposes only) that put the over/under at 10.5 yards on the length of Eli Manning’s first touchdown pass next Sunday. Did you know that only nine of the Giants’ 29 touchdown passes this season came from inside the 10-yard-line (31%)? That was the seventh lowest such percentage in the NFL. Three of Manning’s eight postseason TD passes this season have gone for fewer than 10 yards (38%).

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* – So here are the Giants in the Super Bowl, despite ranking 28th in average starting field position, as they began their drives (on average) at their own 26.4-yard-line. Only the Bills, Cardinals, Chiefs, and Colts were worse during the season. In their three playoff games, their average drive start was the 24-yard-line against Atlanta, 42-yard-line against Green Bay, and 29-yard-line against San Francisco despite two drive starts inside the 49ers’ 30-yard-line. In that game, the Giants began nine different drives at or inside their own 20-yard-line.

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* – While the Giants ranked 22nd in average kickoff return (22.3), they had the SECOND MOST returns of 30 or more yards (13), trailing only the Jets (16). Against the Packers, the Giants ran TWO kickoffs back to the 50-yard-line or beyond (one to the 50 and one to the Packers’ 41).

Note this: Only 10% of kickoff returns allowed by the Patriots went for 30 or more yards (6-of-60), the third lowest/best percentage in the league. Only Tampa Bay (8%) and Buffalo (9%) were better. In the playoffs, Gostkowski has really muscled up, booming 79% touchbacks on his kickoffs (11-of-14) and no opponent possession has started beyond the 24-yard-line following a Patriots kickoff. During the regular season, only 40% of Gostkowski’s kickoffs could not be returned (41-of-102).

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* – During the playoffs, the Giants have averaged 5.68 yards per first down play, pretty much the same as their regular season average of 5.80. But what’s happened to the Patriots defense? During the regular season, they allowed an NFL worst average of 6.90 yards on first down, the third highest average by any team since 2000. But in their two playoff wins, they’ve allowed just 4.05 yards on first down. In their 16 regular season games, they held just one opponent to less than that (Kansas City, 3.74).

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* – While the Giants had the NFL’s lowest rushing average during the regular season (3.47), they were pretty effective on the ground where it mattered, inside their opponents’ 10-yard-line. When sniffing pay dirt, Giants’ runners averaged 2.09 yards per rush, fourth best in the league:

2.38 – Packers
2.27 – Vikings
2.17 – Texans
2.09 – Giants

They were efficient down there as well, scoring touchdowns on 39.4% of their rushing plays inside the 10, also fourth highest in the league.

Note this: The Patriots were a middle-of-the-pack run defense inside their own 10-yard-line, allowing 1.68 yards per carry (17th), but they did a nice job of keeping opposing rushers out of the end zone on those carries, as their 21.3% touchdowns ranked seventh best.

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* – The Giants were the league’s worst second down rushing team this season, averaging just 3.41 yards per carry. In the playoffs, they’ve attempted 33 rushes on second down, gaining 91 yards, an even worse average of 2.76 yards per carry. I find it interesting that despite all that, they’ve still run the ball on second down 45% of the time this season in the playoffs (33 runs, 40 pass plays).

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* – In their three postseason wins, the Giants have completed 19 passes that were caught behind the line of scrimmage. The last time that they had more such completions in three consecutive games (regular season) was back in 2004.

Note this: None of those 19 behind the line completions went for a gain of 25 yards or more and the Giants were the only team in the league that did not have a gain of 25+ on such a catch during the regular season. Including the playoffs, they’ve not had a big play on any of their last 124 such completions.

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* – The Giants led the league with 213 pass attempts and 16 touchdown passes against blitzes this regular season, leading to a +2.60 passing rating (my rating, which compares net yards per pass play to the league average with adjustments for touchdowns and interceptions), good for third best in the NFL, behind only Green Bay (+6.93) and New England (+3.64). In their three postseason games, they’re a remarkable 30-for-44 (68%) for an average of 7.9 yards per attempt against blitzes. Compare that to their performance when there is no blitz: 46-for-79 (58%) for an average of 7.3 yards per attempt.

Note this: In the postseason, opponents have blitzed on 36% of Giants’ pass attempts, exactly the same percentage as during the regular season.

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* – New York managed only 21 long drives (10 or more plays) this regular season, but they scored on 17 of those drives (81%) and averaged 4.52 points on those drives, third highest in the league. On defense, the Patriots allowed 14 touchdowns on drives of 10+ plays (only Buffalo allowed more, with 17) and their 4.06 average points allowed ranked 24th.

Note this: During the postseason, the Giants have had eight such drives, an average of almost three per game, and cashed them in for 33 points (4.13 points per drive). The Patriots have allowed two drives of 10+ plays in each of their playoff wins, allowing a touchdown and a (huge) missed field goal against Baltimore and just a single field goal on two 14-play drives by the Broncos after the game was out of hand.

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* – New York was surprisingly ineffective at cashing in following takeaways by their defense, scoring just 10 times (six TD’s, four FG’s) after 30 takeaways, the third lowest scoring percentage in the league on those possessions:

18% – Chiefs
32% – Bears
33% – Giants

The Giants have scored following 4-of-6 opponent turnovers this postseason. Really, though, it’s 4-of-5 considering that one of the takeaways led to a kneeldown scenario.

Note this: The Patriots’ defense allowed just 40 points following turnovers (third fewest in the league), but that’s unfair because the offense didn’t turn it over much at all. Opponents put up points following 53% of Pats’ miscues, putting New England in the middle of the pack defensively. In the two playoff games, opponents have scored following four of the Patriots’ five giveaways.

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* – On 3rd-and-short (two yards or less), the Giants are just 4-for-13 in the playoffs (31%), after they were successful more than two-thirds of the time during the regular season. Broken down further, they’ve tried to pass on eight of those opportunities (2-for-8) and are 2-for-5 when they’ve tried to run for the conversion. Here are more third down breakdowns for the Giants in the playoffs:

3rd-and-medium (three to seven yards): 9-for-20 (45%); All 20 attempts through the air;
3rd-and-long (8+ yards): 10-for-19 (52%); 10-for-16 through the air (63%) and 0-for-3 on the ground;

Note this: The Patriots have allowed their two playoff opponents to go 16-for-35 on third downs (46%), broken down like so:

3rd-and-short (two yards or less): 4-for-6; 2-for-3 passing and rushing;
3rd-and-medium (three to seven yards): 9-for-18 (50%); 7-for-14 through the air and 2-for-4 on the ground;
3rd-and-long (8+ yards): 3-for-11 (27%); 3-for-8 through the air (38%) and 0-for-3 on the ground;

It will be interesting to see if the Giants continue to pass on 85% of their third down opportunities, although their 48% conversion rate on their third down passing plays is much better than their 37% regular season mark. In fact, during the regular season, only the Saints did better than 48% conversions on their third down passing plays.

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* – Over the last two regular seasons, the Giants offense managed only 27 points on their 32 opening drives (three touchdowns and two field goals), the fewest such points in the NFL in that span. In their three playoff games, they have kicked a field goal and punted twice on their opening drives.

Note this: After never allowing more than 26 opening drive points in any regular season from 2005-2010, the Patriots allowed 40 this season, fifth most in the NFL. But they’ve forced a fumble and a punt in their opponents’ two opening drives this postseason. They hadn’t forced a turnover via fumble on an opening possession since the 2008 season.

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* – The Giants punted 10 times after halftime against the 49ers, the most in any game since they began tracking the stat in 1991 (regular or postseason):

10 – Giants vs. 49ers, 1/22/12
9 – Raiders vs. Chargers, 10/11/98
8 – Done three times all in the 1990′s.

Their 12 punts were the most ever in a postseason win, snapping the old record of 10, which had been done eight times between 1950 and 2001. Actually, that’s fitting, since those two fumbled punts basically won the game for the Giants.

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* – While the Giants ranked fifth with 67 pass plays of 20 yards or more during the season, they led the NFL with 35 completions on passes THROWN 20 yards or more downfield. In the playoffs, the Giants are 4-for-11 on passes thrown 20+ yards downfield. The Patriots allowed an NFL-high 79 pass plays of 20+ yards, but “only” 26 of those were thrown 20+ yards downfield, so they allowed 53 shorter completions to be turned into big gainers. In the two playoff games, Denver and Baltimore combined to complete just one pass thrown 20+ yards downfield (on four attempts).

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Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next installment:  WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL.

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