Any Given Sunday

The weekend's biggest upset goes under the Football Outsiders lens.

Any Given Sunday: Redskins Over Giants

by Andrew Healy

An awful performance in late November that deals a big hit to the loser's playoff chances? For any team but the New York Giants, that would lead to gnashing of teeth and gnawing of fingernails. Eli Manning throws three interceptions (and makes an impressive effort to add a couple more) against the No. 26 pass defense by DVOA? Right tackle Marshall Newhouse gets turnstiled repeatedly by the No. 23 line by adjusted sack rate? Safety Brandon Meriweather lets DeSean Jackson get 5 yards behind him for a 63-yard touchdown? Sounds concerning, but then you remember that this is the boom year in the four-year Super Bowl cycle, so the Giants are supposed to look like they don’t belong before somehow squeezing into the playoffs and then beating the Patriots to win it all.

Well, this week the Giants certainly did look like they don't belong. Sunday night, the Patriots suffered a fumble luck-driven six-point loss in overtime that didn’t tell us much about their championship chances. (That game is now covered in depth in Clutch Encounters.) But earlier in the day, the Giants’ 20-14 loss showed as many warning signs as a six-point loss could. The 20-0 lead that Washington held into the fourth quarter came from a hail of Eli Manning mistakes that suggest his closest counterpart in the NFL today might well be the frequently turnover-prone quarterback he went up against on Sunday.

While no single game should change the perception of Eli Manning at this point, Sunday’s game was a reminder that a turnover machine still lurks in that No. 10 jersey, even if it generally remains caged. Manning’s three interceptions didn’t even include some of his worst throws. Take this doozy:

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and this moonball:

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Sunday’s careless Manning (in fairness, these throws did come in a game situation where risk-taking made sense) has appeared much less frequently in the last couple of years than in 2013, when he led the league with 27 interceptions. Sunday was just Manning’s second three-interception game in the last two seasons, after five such games in 2013. But while Manning now throws fewer interceptions, he has not gotten much more efficient in general. Manning throws shorter passes -- after averaging 9.78 air yards on his passes in 2013, that number dropped almost two full yards to 7.88 yards this season -- and takes fewer chances, but he has been almost exactly a league-average quarterback over the last two years.

Eli Manning DYAR and DVOA, 2004-2015
Seasons Age Int % DYAR DVOA
2004-05 23-24 3.5% 441 -2.3%
2006-07 25-26 3.6% 338 -6.2%
2008-09 27-28 2.4% 1815 15.7%
2010-11 29-30 3.6% 1655 10.5%
2012-13 31-32 3.9% 418 -6.0%
2014-15 33-34 2.2% 793 0.0%

The two-year increments for Manning show that he has a pretty standard career trajectory for non-elite quarterbacks. He peaked in his very late 20s and now appears to be on a downward slide that has not been halted by the shift to throwing shorter passes. Manning’s completion percentage has gone up, but his effectiveness has gone up at most only a little. That Manning has felt the pull of gravity towards zero DVOA despite gaining a receiver who defies the laws of physics adds more reason to doubt that Playoff Eli -- that guy who came out of nowhere to be dominant in January of 2008 and 2012 -- will reappear this year. It could happen again, but the odds against it are even stronger than in those years before Manning turned 30.

Mirroring Manning, the other quarterback on Sunday is in the midst of a transition to throwing fewer interceptions without getting noticeably more efficient. Kirk Cousins has dropped his interception rate from 4.4 percent in 2014 to 2.6 percent this year while his DVOA has barely budged, inching up less than a point to 5.8% this season. Cousins’ transition looks a little different, however, and it actually holds more hope for the rest of the season than does Manning’s. Check out Manning’s path from 2012-2013 to 2014-15 compared to Cousins’ from 2014 to this season.

Comparing the Recent Changes in Eli Manning and Kirk Cousins
Player Seasons Cmp Pct Int Pct Avg Air Yds Avg YAC DVOA
Eli Manning 2012-13 58.7% 3.9% 9.8 4.5 -6.0%
2014-15 63.0% 2.2% 8.0 5.0 0.0%
Kirk Cousins 2014 61.8% 4.4% 8.7 7.4 5.0%
2015 68.4% 2.6% 8.0 5.1 5.8%

Both Manning and Cousins experienced dropping interception rates, with the main differences being: 1) Manning’s drop has gone on longer, so is more convincingly sustainable, and 2) Cousins has experienced a smaller drop in air yards along with a drop in yards after catch from his receivers. And the yards after catch may increase with the return of DeSean Jackson to action. Since Jackson’s return three weeks ago, Cousins has had his first two games of the season averaging more than 10 yards per attempt. While the first one two weeks ago was Rob Ryan-aided and thus gets an asterisk, Sunday’s game came against a near-average Giants pass defense (16.7% DVOA entering Sunday, ranked 21st) and featured only one big mistake by Cousins: a bad pass on a first-quarter quick out to Jackson that should have been a gift-wrapped pick-six but was dropped by cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. So while Cousins may just be in a brief interception lull, the numbers point to a bigger upside than for Manning. Cousins needed to play better just to sustain last year’s DVOA without Jackson for half the season so far. Now that Jackson has returned, Cousins’ big increase in completion percentage could finally translate to a more efficient passing game. Against the Giants, Cousins both threw the ball further downfield and got more yards after catch (he averaged 10.1 air yards per pass and 8.5 yards after catch) with the space that Jackson cleared out underneath.

As we enter December, it’s hard not to keep thinking about the Giants as the team with upside behind an up-and-down quarterback. But if one of these two teams makes any noise, the better bet might be Washington, a team that several of us pegged as a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick before the season.

The Missing Power of the Schwartz

After losing right guard Geoff Schwartz to a fractured leg in the first quarter Sunday, the Giants were playing with an offensive line missing four projected starters from early this offseason: Schwartz, left tackle Will Beatty, left guard (formerly right tackle) Justin Pugh, and center Weston Richburg. While the Giants have missed Beatty the whole season, the line held together when only he was out. Through Week 9, the Giants had allowed just 12 sacks in nine games.

The wave of other injuries started in that Week 9 game with a concussion to Pugh, then Richburg’s high ankle sprain in Week 10, and finally Schwartz this week. In Week 10, the Giants allowed three sacks and four quarterback hits to the Patriots’ fifth-ranked pass rush by adjusted sack rate. But it was the injury to Schwartz, the line’s best player, that might have caused the house of cards to finally collapse. Facing the No. 23 pass rush entering Sunday, the Giants allowed three sacks -- all on blown blocks by right tackle Marshall Newhouse -- and eight quarterback hits.

Giants' Pass Protection and Injuries
Weeks Sacks Per Game Adj Sack Rate Rank
1-9 1.3 4.2% 5
10, 12 3.0 6.1% 17

The line actually held together on Sunday better than might have been expected, with the exception of Newhouse. But with Schwartz apparently gone for the season, the ceiling for this group may be the effort against the Patriots, and the floor could be much lower. This fourth-quarter play showed the kind of chaos that we could see, with multiple mistakes across the line.

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This week, Tom Coughlin has hinted that only Richburg may return. If the betting line was 65 yards rushing for the Giants against the Jets and their No. 2 defensive line in adjusted line yards you might want to grab the under.

By the VOA

Sunday’s game felt like much more of an ass-kicking than the 20-14 final score, and DVOA calls it that way, too. Washington outgained the Giants by 75 yards and won the turnover battle 3-0. Despite losing by only six, the opponent adjustments push the Giants’ rating down to the second-lowest total of the week, ahead only of the Eagles.

DVOA (Opponent adjustments included)
NYG -39.0% 27.0% -0.3% -66.3%
WAS 13.4% -25.6% 6.4% 45.5%
VOA (No opponent adjustments)
NYG -32.7% 20.1% -0.3% -53.1%
WAS 21.9% -32.9% 6.4% 61.3%

The opponent adjustments also push the Giants’ offensive rating down to the second-lowest total of the week, just ahead of the Cowboys’ disaster on Thanksgiving.

The Keep Lookin’ At Wins Stat of the Week

On Sunday, Washington’s offensive line allowed no sacks and just three quarterback hits to the Giants, continuing a remarkable turnaround in their pass protection numbers. From 2009 to 2014, Washington’s offense had ranked no better than 16th in adjusted sack rate allowed and had averaged a ranking of 23rd. In 2014, the line ranked 31st. This year, with 2014 third-rounder Morgan Moses starting at right tackle and 2015 first-rounder Brandon Scherff starting at right guard, the young offensive line is already on pace to set the team mark for adjusted sack rate (since 1996).

Washington's New and Improved Offensive Line
Year Adj Sack Rate Rank
2009 8.5% 27
2010 7.3% 22
2011 6.5% 16
2012 7.8% 23
2013 7.6% 19
2014 9.8% 31
2015 4.3% 5

While much of the credit for the low sack rate goes to Cousins -- Washington had an adjusted sack rate of 5.5 percent in the six games he played last year -- that actually provides even more hope that the current rate of success is sustainable. Washington’s young line and quarterback should continue to rank near the top of the league in the underappreciated category of sack avoidance for years to come.


10 comments, Last at 02 Dec 2015, 2:57pm

1 Re: Any Given Sunday: Redskins Over Giants

by Never Surrender // Dec 01, 2015 - 2:08pm

The score line definitely didn't reflect how non-competitive the game felt. The Giants were only able to even try a hook-and-ladder-style Hail Mary thanks to both (1) one of the few blown coverages happening on a crucial 4th and 16 and (2) Odell Beckham's ridiculous, amazing catch. Had they enjoyed the level of luck that, say, the Seahawks have enjoyed in the playoffs, maybe they could have pulled it off. But for most teams, even two amazing (and amazingly timed) plays are a rarity.

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2 Re: Any Given Sunday: Redskins Over Giants

by Perfundle // Dec 01, 2015 - 2:55pm

The VOA chart lists DVOA twice.

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4 Re: Any Given Sunday: Redskins Over Giants

by Aaron Schatz // Dec 01, 2015 - 4:38pm


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7 Re: Any Given Sunday: Redskins Over Giants

by leviramsey // Dec 01, 2015 - 6:53pm

Not from where I'm sitting. One of the sets of numbers is VOA now, but the headings are still for DVOA (so it's not clear without reading the article which is which)

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3 Re: Any Given Sunday: Redskins Over Giants

by MarkV // Dec 01, 2015 - 3:13pm

I was pretty disappointed with the choice of games to cover. Coming into the week there was less than 8% DVOA difference between these squads, and it was a relatively close game. It was a week with 3 big upsets. I get not doing denver vs NE, cause denvers been featured twice and from watching it I assume the answer would be fumble luck + injuries + winning despite lower DVOA. I get not doing chicago vs GB cause two GB losses have already been featured. But why not do Det over philly? It was double the DVOA difference, and it wasn't just a win, Detroit crushed em.

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5 Re: Any Given Sunday: Redskins Over Giants

by Bjorn Nittmo // Dec 01, 2015 - 5:45pm

Everyone is misreading the Giants' supposed "four-year" Super Bowl cycle. The next number in the pattern of (1986, 1990, 2007, 2011) is 2028, not 2015.

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6 Re: Any Given Sunday: Redskins Over Giants

by Perfundle // Dec 01, 2015 - 6:33pm

51-year old Brady better brace himself, then.

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9 Re: Any Given Sunday: Redskins Over Giants

by RickD // Dec 02, 2015 - 1:38am

He'll be ready.

Though I suspect Giselle will have lost patience if he keeps playing that long.

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8 Re: Any Given Sunday: Redskins Over Giants

by Eleutheria // Dec 01, 2015 - 9:01pm

The table of the VOA of the game shows DVOA twice, not DVOA and VOA like it's suppose to.

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10 Re: Any Given Sunday: Redskins Over Giants

by Vincent Verhei // Dec 02, 2015 - 2:57pm

OK, NOW it's fixed.

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