Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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08 Jan 2008

Any Given Sunday: Giants over Buccaneers

by Ned Macey

The game plan was assuredly sound. The Buccaneers took away the Giants' running game and took away their deep passing attack to Plaxico Burress. All that was left for the Giants was a short passing attack with the inconsistent and inaccurate Eli Manning. To complicate matters, Manning no longer had his favorite intermediate threat in Jeremy Shockey.

Manning rose to the challenge with an extremely efficient game. Combine that with an always-dominant Giants' pass rush and a hobbled Joey Galloway, and you have New York pulling off the only upset of Wild Card Weekend.

The easy storyline is that the Giants won because they played hard in Week 17 while the Buccaneers coasted to the finish line. This may or may not be true, but the debate over playing or resting players can hardly be made based on the results of one game. The only thing that appeared out of the ordinary against Tampa Bay was the precision of Manning in the passing game. If his fine performance against New England gave him confidence that carried over to the Bucs game, then perhaps for that reason, the Giants benefited from their strategic choice.

The magnitude of the upset is hard to judge because nobody knows exactly how good Tampa Bay is. The Buccaneers were a hard team to evaluate because of their Charmin-soft schedule. They had the third-easiest schedule in football, according to DVOA. Tampa Bay specialized in an efficient, ball-control offense combined with an opportunistic defense to pull out a series of efficient wins. The Buccaneers were 7-4 in games where Jeff Garcia played all meaningful snaps.

The problem for Tampa Bay is that their physical talent is scanty, which presents challenges against more talented teams. They beat decent teams such as Tennessee and Washington but struggled against the league's elite. Of the five losses suffered with Garcia at the helm, four came against teams still left in the playoffs. They didn't beat a single one of the eight remaining teams. One theory is that the Buccaneers' quality coaching staff could take advantage of equally talented teams, but at the end of the day, talent can trump game plan.

Before Sunday, however, the Giants certainly looked more like a team of Washington's caliber than that of Indianapolis. That same Washington team had beaten them only a few weeks ago. New York had also reached the playoffs by beating mediocre and poor opponents and losing to the league's elite. Playing at Tampa Bay, down several starters, they certainly did not appear to have the horses to pull out a win.

For one quarter, that appeared to be the case. Tampa Bay's defense dominated the Giants, holding them to -2 yards. Fortunately for the Giants, their own defense kept them in the game. The defensive front in particular dominated the Buccaneers' young line and applied constant pressure on Garcia. The diminutive quarterback took shot after shot, and the constant pressure certainly affected his decision-making. After throwing four interceptions all season, Garcia tossed two in the second half.

Manning is the quarterback who is supposed to wilt under pressure, but he responded with aplomb to the Buccaneers' early charge. The Giants abandoned the run in the second quarter and moved to an effective short-passing attack. Manning quite simply took what the defense gave him and played careful football.

The Buccaneers were successful in taking away the big play, which is normally a big part of the Giants offense. For the season, Manning threw one out of five passes at least 15 yards in the air. Manning only twice threw the ball that far on Sunday, and one of those did not count because of a penalty on Burress. Manning completed 20 of 26 passes underneath, a 77 percent completion rate, surprising accuracy from the oft-inaccurate passer. For the season, he has completed only 62 percent of his passes less than 15 yards downfield.

The 15 percent increase in completion percentage was enormous, because the Giants were required to work their way methodically down the field without much of a running game. After the first-quarter debacle, Manning was particularly accurate on third down. On their next seven third downs, Manning completed six passes good for five first downs or touchdowns.

The offense got the chance to find a rhythm when the Giants' defensive front started to take over the game. The Buccaneers came out lively with two long drives, including a touchdown. The Giants stepped up their pressure and held the Buccaneers to -3 yards on their next two drives. The Giants offense responded with back-to-back touchdown drives and the whole complexion of the game changed.

The Buccaneers are not adept at playing from behind. Their offense is built on sustained drives and the occasional big play to Joey Galloway. The sustained drives are difficult to mount as a deficit grows larger. The natural result is to start forcing balls to Galloway, hoping for the big play.

Galloway was clearly not 100 percent physically. The seemingly ageless receiver excels down the field and forces a defense to stay honest against the Buccaneers' short-passing attack. On Sunday, Galloway was practically useless. Garcia completed only one out of eight passes intended for Galloway for a whopping nine yards. On his other passes, Garcia was 22-for-31 (71 percent) for 198 yards with one late, desperate interception. That line is shockingly similar to Manning's.

The dagger was an interception in the end zone after Tampa Bay had fallen behind 17-7. The Bucs were already in field goal range, but Garcia panicked and took a shot to Galloway in one-on-one coverage. Corey Webster played the poor throw perfectly and thwarted the Bucs' last chance to make the game competitive.

That Tampa Bay would struggle without a healthy Galloway was not surprising. No offense can function if every play is designed to go eight yards. Even with a healthy Galloway, the Buccaneers were likely to struggle due to the Giants' imposing pass rush. New York only recorded one sack but constantly hurried Garcia and forced him to make bad throws. Only a few teams caused the Buccaneers offense to malfunction with Garcia at the helm this season, and those teams all share a common theme: a dominant pass rush. According to DVOA, the only two previous times the Buccaneers had a below-average offensive output with Garcia playing came against Seattle and Jacksonville. Those were two of the only three teams Tampa Bay played who ranked in the top 10 in Adjusted Sack Rate. (The third was Tennessee, where Galloway scored the team's only touchdown on a 69-yard reception.)

The disappointing end should not entirely spoil what was an otherwise very successful season for Tampa Bay. They surprised almost everyone by winning their division, developed a handful of young offensive linemen, and saw an infusion of young playmakers return their defense to its rightful place among the game's elite. The one enormous caution flag is the age of their offensive passing game. This team succeeded in large part thanks to Garcia, Galloway, and Ike Hilliard. Until the team develops a young nucleus in the passing game, the long-term future will be in doubt.

The more immediate question is whether or not the Giants are up for pulling a much bigger surprise next week in Dallas. The teams played twice this year, a 45-35 shootout in Week 1 and a 31-20 affair in Week 10. The good news is that the Cowboys have played at a significantly lower level in recent weeks. The bad news is that through eight quarters of football, the Giants have still not figured out how to stop Tony Romo.

Short of a still-hobbled Terrell Owens, the Giants' hopes rest mainly on the notion that Eli Manning has "grown up" over the past two weeks. Manning has undoubtedly played well in both games, but this is hardly the first time in his career that he has put two good games together. Only once, however, has Manning ever completed 60 percent of his passes in three consecutive weeks. These two games were nice, but Manning has spent the rest of his career proving that he is prone to inaccuracy and interceptions, so a repeat performance of Mr. Efficient is unlikely.

Still, Manning is a good quarterback who played well in both games against Dallas this year. If the Giants defense can do anything to slow down Romo, the Giants offense is likely to put some points on the board. If New York wins thanks to a disruptive pass rush and a few big plays from Manning to Burress, the game will be a surprise. If they win by repeating a high-accuracy, short-passing attack from Manning, then that result would be shocking.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the most surprising result of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these surprises as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 08 Jan 2008

38 comments, Last at 10 Jan 2008, 12:59am by Douglas Nix

Comments

1
by andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:21pm

What the heck is Any Given Sunday going to write about next week?

2
by JasonK (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:22pm

Nice summary.

I'll add that special teams was also an important element of the Giants' victory. They forced and recovered a fumble on Tampa's KO return to open the 2nd half (which led to a FG), and, I think, the momentum of the whole game was turned by the difference in the two team's punting/coverage.

Late in the 1st quarter, right after the Bucs' first TD, the Giants offense had the ball at their own 25. In three plays, they lost 7 yards (mostly due to Gaines Adams' sack on 3rd & 9), and lined up to punt. Feagles' punt went 49 yards and was fair-caught. TB's offense answered with their own 3-and-out, losing 2 yards on the possession. The ensuing punt, though, went only 36 yards, and was returned for 14. The whole sequence gained the Giants 22 yards of field position, and they used that short field to launch their first TD drive.

On the whole, old man Feagles had a great day, netting an average of 43.7 yards on his 6 punts.

3
by RoyFlip (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:37pm

It sure is funny to see no matter what, Eli is never going to be good enough for some people. Last week it was all "Let's see him put 2 good games together." Now it's 3. By the way, if those QB stats were reversed; they would not be "shockingly similar." You would have harped on the two interceptions that Garcia seems to get a pass on: one excused and the other simply left out.
Eli may be maddening at times, but everyone seems to fixate on the negatives.
As to the argument over resting or playing, you could sure make the point that the Giants looked beat and the Bucs looked sharp in the first quarter. After that, wouldn't the effect matter less? Seems to me that the bigger issue was that Ruegamer whiffed on a couple of blocks early and then the Giants went away from plays that required him to seal off a gap left by the pullng guard and it was off to the races.

4
by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:40pm

Nice summary Ned. What I particularly liked from the Giants were the adjustments they made on both sides on both sides of the ball. Tampa dominated the first quarter but for the rest of the game it was all New York. Coughlin has been much-maligned so him and his staff deserve much of the credit this time.

This weekend, do the Giants go the same way on offense, or line Burress up on Reeves and light him up?

5
by RoyFlip (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:42pm

#2- More than his punting, watch Feagles regularly catch the kicking snaps behing his ear, over his head and at his feet. They can get a new punter, but they'll need to recruit a hockey goalie to hold on snaps....

6
by B (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:54pm

1: The Giants again.

7
by JasonK (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:55pm

#5:

I expect that the Giants will go and get a designated long-snapper in the offseason. Ryan Kuehl, signed after the SF playoff debacle of '03, has been solid for the past several years, but he went on IR in the preseason (and is likely to retire), leaving them with Jay Alford, the rookie backup DT, as the kick snapper (and Zak DeOssie snapping for punts, who has done quite well). Alford has been scattershot all season, and Feagles has done very well to get most of them down.

8
by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:58pm

#1

If we're really lucky, next weeks AGS will feature the Jags.

9
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 1:05pm

No offense can function if every play is designed to go eight yards.
Somebody should try telling Jeff Fisher this.

10
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 1:14pm

Neither a Seattle or Giants win would surprise me much at rise me greatly, whereas an upset in the other conference would. In fact, if Romo's thumb isn't completely healed, a Giants win wouldn't surprise me at all. The Cowboys depend on Romo's accuracy while under pressure. Take that away, and all other sorts of problems begin to appear.

11
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 1:16pm

Excuse the typo; either my keyboard is malfunctioning, or my coffee was spiked.

12
by citizen jason (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 1:29pm

Next Weeks' any given sunday: how the Seahawks defense seems to disappear on the road.

13
by Kurt (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 1:33pm

This weekend, do the Giants go the same way on offense, or line Burress up on Reeves and light him up?

They'll almost certainly open up the offense and go downfield more because (a) they can, as evidenced by week 1; and (b) they'll have to, as evidenced by week 1. 24 points won't cut it this week.

14
by Rick (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 1:43pm

I didn't get that Ned was saying Eli's performance isn't sufficient because he hasn't strung together 3 good games. I took away that Eli is inconsistent (true), but a good QB (also true), who may finally be learning what it takes to win in the NFL. Will that be enough to beat Dallas?

Who knows. I'm not a Giants fan, and I can't stand Dallas, either. But this should have the makings of a good game IF Eli shows up in the same form he's shown the previous 2 Dallas games, as well as the last 2 weeks.

Eli, someday (with better coaching) may be a consistent big time winner in this league. Up to this point, he has not defeated an elite team, but he has shown he can lead a mediocre team to the top of the middle heap from time to time.

15
by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 1:45pm

Re 1:

There's a number of possible upsets next week. Obviously, the Jags beating the Pats would be a huge offset. But ANY of the first-round bye teams losing next week would probably be an considered an upset. I would put them in the following order if decreasing "upset magnitude":

JAC, NYG, SD, SEA

------------

The article above talks about this, but the TB-NYG game, to me, can be summed up as primarily a case of why matchups, not overally record or DVOA, are critical. This game paired one team's biggest strength against the other team's biggest weakness, and the effects were hence magnified. Exactly one aspect of the Giants is elite--their pass rush. The Bucs' biggest weakness was their young O-line. Match those two together, and it doesn't matter if the Bucs were slightly better in several other areas.

16
by thestar5 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 2:01pm

James,

Reeves is the third corner so they won't really be able to line Plax up on him, will they? I would think Henry would follow Plax wherever he goes, since he's Dallas' tallest corner. Thats what they usually do I believe.

17
by RoyFlip (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 2:02pm

#14 I must agree with your read. I was generalizing and lumped Ned in with all the others. Giant's coaching? Throwing 50 times in Edmund Fitzgerald weather a few weeks ago was beyond stupid, but Sunday Gilbride looked pretty good after initially being stubborn. He probably should've mixed it up after the first two stuffed drives.

17
by RoyFlip (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 2:02pm

#14 I must agree with your read. I was generalizing and lumped Ned in with all the others. Giant's coaching? Throwing 50 times in Edmund Fitzgerald weather a few weeks ago was beyond stupid, but Sunday Gilbride looked pretty good after initially being stubborn. He probably should've mixed it up after the first two stuffed drives.

19
by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 2:20pm

# 16

It's unusual for a team to assign a corner to a receiver rather than a side of the field. I'm, not overly-familiar with Dallas, so thanks for the heads-up. If Reeves is bplaying Nickel, then I assume then that Newman is fit?

20
by Kurt (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 2:23pm

It's almost a cliche, but one significant factor in the Giants' success over the last three weeks which hasn't gotten much comment is the ability of the offense to score touchdowns - 10 in those games, compared to just two field goals. I thought the Toomer touchdown to go up 24-7 was immensely important; the endgame would have been very different at 20-7.

21
by Arson55 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 3:16pm

thestar5 (#16), the Cowboys do not, in fact, line Henry up across from Burress. They generally keep each corner on their side of the field. If the Giants want to, they can easily line up Burress across from Reeves in three wide formations since Newman generally shifts inside onto the slot reciever due to his superior speed.

22
by goathead (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 3:20pm

The thing that surprised me most in this game was how ineffective Jacobs was. I do think he helped tire out the D, but he really never got going the way he'd been expected to. But, hats off to the Giants coaching staff for switching RB's in the 3rd.

23
by Brooklyn Bengal (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 4:01pm

The G-Men were not the underdogs in this game, no matter what DVOA or Vegas had to say about it. It's true that the Giants underperformed in most of their games against the NFL elite this season, but it was clear before the game started that the Buccaneers were not part of that class of teams.

While harping on Eli's inconsistency, you might want to note how his stats have been damaged by two factors outside of his control:

1. Dropped balls. The Giants led the league in dropped balls this season, something that doesn't come as a surprise to anybody who watched any Giants games this season.

2. Getting hit. I don't have the stats on Eli under pressure, but he's had to dump the ball a lot this year because his offensive line has played like they're the Spice Girls. The game against the Vikings was the best example of this.

I've been a HUGE critic of Eli ever since he cried on-camera about the prospect of playing in San Diego. Still, this year has gone a long way to quiet my criticism. If you watched the Giants play at all, you'd know that Eli is not the cause of the Giants' problems. He is most likely not the solution, either. He makes some poor decisions under pressure, but he's under pressure far more than QBs on elite teams.

24
by TerryW (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 4:21pm

Is Eli so bashed that he has become underrated?

...nah.

25
by Temo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 4:28pm

Actually, while the cowboys don't usually move their corners around to line up against receivers, they have done that a couple times this season. I don't however anticipate that this week, as they feel that both Henry and Newman are capable of going up against Burress, as long as you don't end up with Reeves over there.

26
by Disco Stu (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 4:40pm

Brooklyn- The line has been pretty solid this year... and fantastic considering it's a bunch of "no-names". I'd say the problem has been more play calling and drops than protection.

goathead- I think Coughlin still doesn't trust Jacobs to hold onto the ball, that's mainly why Bradshaw was in there the last two drives, moreso than Jacob's quad acting up. Coughlin has demonstrated that he cares about ball security above all else- witness him sticking with McQuarters and his 4.0 punt return avg- and Jacobs has been shaky in that area this year.

27
by TerryW (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 5:57pm

G-Men/Cowboys fans: I'm really looking forward to this matchup. Can you guys and gals expand on how you think the strategy and matchups will play out - like as some have suggested in this thread, Henry on Burress?

For example, from the G-Men defensive side; I think a lot really does depend on Romo's and T.O.'s health; if they were/are both healthy, I don't see how the G-Men defense stops Romo/Barber/Witten/T.O.

28
by Nascar (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 6:07pm

Someone please give credit to the giants offensive line . They are part of the reason for Eli's transition . He was getting time to complete those passes even with Ohara injured. It was a great overall effort by driven team. The rest of the games should be fun to watch.

29
by Jon (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 6:35pm

22, it was reported after the game that he re-aggravated his hamstring injury.

The line has been ok this year, but Diehl has struggled in pass protection at times. That can be upgraded, I'd like to give Whimper a shot next year.

It's important to remember, especially if you're perplexed by the DVOA ratings: NY has completely changed its offense the past few games. Macey notes the problem with the Giants, they're obsessed with the long ball. It's no surprise that Eli struggles then, especially with poor WR play to boot.

Equally important I think is the possible improvement by Webster and emergence of Boss and Wilkinson. Things are undeniable gelling.

30
by Jerry P. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 8:24pm

"The article above talks about this, but the TB-NYG game, to me, can be summed up as primarily a case of why matchups, not overally record or DVOA, are critical."

Team efficiency (VOA) as a stat is overvalued in most discussions on this site. Not enough attention is paid to individual match ups using the entire catalog of stats available here. Unfortunate, because they are useful stats.

I attribute this to people's desire to have a simple gambling aide and, of course, this sites' New England Patriots bias.

"It’s almost a cliche, but one significant factor in the Giants’ success over the last three weeks which hasn’t gotten much comment is the ability of the offense to score touchdowns - 10 in those games, compared to just two field goals."

Agreed. As a long suffering Cardinals fan, I knew they were going to lose the Bears game last year early in the second quarter because they were handed the ball repeatedly in Bears territory and only scored field goals. That's the hallmark of a loser team.

31
by Kitione (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 9:29pm

What is the Giants DVOA counting only road games?

32
by seth (not verified) :: Wed, 01/09/2008 - 12:12am

i think defensive coordinator steve spagnuolo deserves a lot of credit for this giants win. using the much maligned corey webster on joey galloway was a smart move (and yes, i know galloway was less than 100%). although webster has not played well for most of his giants career, he does at least have good speed (probably the best of all the giants corners)and matches up reasonably well with galloway. interestingly, in the cowboy games this year spagnola went a totally diffeent direction and used backup CB RW Mcqaurters fairly successfully against terrell owens, because he liked the matchup of the bigger, veteran, savvy mcquarters against owens. i'm sure it also didn't hurt that mcquarters had tons of experience covering owens when they were in san francisco together for several years (how this fact escaped the tv announcers and producers i have no idea, by the way).

anyway, it will be interesting to see if spagnuolo goes back to using mcquarters in that role again, or if corey webster has earned more playing time (of course, sam madison's availabilty will be a factor,too). clearly the short "media-approved" take on spagnuolo is that he "likes to pressure the quarterback" because he was on jimmie johnson's staff in philly. but there's more to the guy's approach than just pressuring the qb, and the use of his players has shown some creative thinking on his part.

33
by Geoff (not verified) :: Wed, 01/09/2008 - 8:00am

#29, just curious...where did the report come from regarding Jacobs' re-aggravating his hammy? I haven't seen anything to that effect in my surfing around.

Should be a good game in Dallas Sunday. If the Giants can cover a gimped Owens without help, they'll have more options on defense than in their previous meetings.

Romo will have to make plays passing to move the chains, as Dallas doesn't run all that well against NY. I'd look for more blitzing from safeties or corners in this game if TO can be handled 1-on-1. The Giants' pass rush has been handled pretty well by Dallas' huge OL. 1 sack in the last meeting.

34
by ineedawittyname (not verified) :: Wed, 01/09/2008 - 9:52am

re:29
Is Guy Whimper not the awesomest name for a football player ever?

35
by vis (not verified) :: Wed, 01/09/2008 - 4:33pm

speaking of the o-line, one must mention the giants transition from one of the most-penalized units in 06 to one of the least in 07.

hmmmm... luke petigout, anyone?

36
by Scott (not verified) :: Wed, 01/09/2008 - 8:40pm

I think Eli Manning is the new Drew Bledsoe, and will have the same kind of career. The only difference in how they play is the statue-thing Bledsoe had going.

- #1 overall pick as a franchise QB
- Solid yardage and TD numbers every year
- Not very efficient, ratings under 80, a lot of bad INTs
- Durable, seems to start every week
- Likes to throw the deep ball even if his accuracy is questionable
- Can lead the 4th quarter comebacks (remember that Bledsoe has in the mid-30's of them), but not someone you would trust in that situation
- Not very successful in the postseason

Bledsoe showed more his 4th year (1996, went to the SB, 27 TDs/15 INTs) than Eli has at this point, but I still think you're going to be looking at the same kind of careers when it's over. Eli's a Manning, so he has unusually durability. He'll start 150+ games in his career, throw a lot of passes for a lot of yards, go to the Pro Bowl two or three times, but people will remember the negatives more than the positives

37
by Moses (not verified) :: Wed, 01/09/2008 - 10:49pm

26) Re Jacobs - Most of his yards tend to come from the stretch play, where he beats the d line and backers to the corner, then abuses a lighter safety or corner to add 2-3 extra yards on the end of the run. The Bucs are (were?) built for speed, so Jacobs was meeting guys his own size when he tried to turn up-field.

Here is a question regarding the Cowboys game - Owens has destroyed the Giants this year on deep balls. This time, why not bring a blocking back (TE or FB) into the game on long passing downs (like 2nd and short) to chuck Owens at the line and keep him from getting downfield.

Sure, these guys would not be able to cover Owens down the field, but they would be about as valuable as out-of-position linebackers in the event of a run and could be used to play zone vs check downs on their side of the field. Thoughts?

38
by Douglas Nix (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 12:59am

OK! QUIZ TIME: WHAT FOOTBALL TEAM LOST: 1 STARTING QB, 2 STARTING FULLBACKS; 2 STARTING RUNNING BACKS; 6 STARTING RECEIVERS; 2 STARTING O-LINE PLAYERS; 2 STARTING DEFENSIVE PLAYERS, BUT STILL WON THEIR DIVISION ?
ALSO, THE YOUNG NUCLEUS OF OUR PASSING GAME IS ALREADY ON-BOARD, WE NEED BUT WAIT FOR THEM TO GET HEALTHY.