New York Giants 2019: Regression and Schedule Matters

New York Giants 2019: Regression and Schedule Matters
New York Giants 2019: Regression and Schedule Matters

New York Giants 2018 Stats Review:

Record: 5-11
Pythagorean Wins: 6.9
ATS: 9-7; average line 2.6
Over/Under: 9-7; average total 45.9
Close Games Record: 4-8
Turnover Differential: +0.1
Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 53.3 (8th)
Offense: 18th in EPA per play (+0.030);  5.82 yards per play
Defense:  23rd in EPA per play (0.076);  5.92 yards per play
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New York Football Underperformers

I’ve been a critic of the New York Giants and their general manager Dave Gettleman. I still don’t understand the pick of Saquon Barkley when a guy like Sam Darnold was on the board. I completely disagree with some of the big moves they have made, especially trading away Odell Beckham. However, all that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s about what the Giants can do in 2019 and what conclusions we draw from the last year.
The Giants, as poorly advertised as they were, had a Pythagorean win expectation of 6.9, which means they underperformed their win total by 1.9 games. They had a close game differential of -4 and lost half of their games by one possession. In week 16, they led 17-7, 24-14 and 27-21 at Indianapolis, but couldn’t get the job done when Eli Manning had a QBR of 92.4. They lost 27-28. In week 17, they lost 35-36 against the Cowboys, when Dak Prescott threw a late touchdown pass on 4th & 15, additionally converting the two-point conversion. These were two games that could have gone either way to give the Giants a 7-9 record and a neutral differential in close games.
Now take into consideration that the G-Men played the 4th-hardest schedule at .527 which will get substantially easier. Everything is screaming positive regression.

Eli Manning SZN?

I think Eli Manning should have been replaced already. And I believe the Giants should have drafted Sam Darnold last year. However, from 2009 to 2017, Eli averaged 0.0364 expected points added per dropback. Last season, he dropped back for 0.0353 EPA per play, almost precisely his average from the nine years before. A lot of quarterbacks were worse than Eli last year. Having Odell Beckham helped, right? Well, after week twelve, without Odell, Eli Manning averaged +0.0917 EPA per dropback. That’s almost mind-blowing.
I think it’s time for a change, and I cannot imagine Eli Manning anywhere close to a playoff quarterback. But maybe there’s a possibility that you can still play .500 football or at least come close to it with the younger Manning-brother. With the help outside of his position. And with an easy schedule. And with some luck. Let’s check on their supporting cast.

Losing Odell Beckham hurts. Some people say he’s a diva, but I mean he’s one of the best receivers in the league and makes a quarterback like Eli Manning instantly better. With Odell Beckham gone, Corey Coleman on IR, Golden Tate suspended for four games and Sterling Shepard dealing with a broken thumb, it’s not hard to imagine where targets will go to early in the season: Tight end Evan Engram and RB Saquon Barkley. To get a solid floor out of a nursing Shepard, Cody Latimer, and Bennie Fowler – that’s too much to ask. I expect a breakout season by Engram but to get more efficiency out of targets to Barkley, the Giants need to target him behind the line of scrimmage, not in front of it.

The Offensive Line Can Be Good

On a positive note, the New York Giants will feature the best offensive line in years. Nate Solder is an overpaid, but solid left tackle. Left guard Will Hernandez was probably the best rookie offensive lineman not named Quenton Nelson. Hernandez will pair with RG Kevin Zeitler, one of the best guards in the league. Pro Football Focus ranked the guard-tandem fifth overall going into the season.

New York Giants Offensive Depth Chart Projection
New York Giants Offensive Depth Chart Projection

At the center, Spencer Pulley started eleven games, but he has been one of the league’s worst centers since 2017. He gets replaced by Jon Halapio, the original starter, whom PFF projects to have a breakout season, after not giving up a single pressure in 117 snaps last year. At right tackle, Mike Remmers looks like the only weak spot. But, ironically, he should be an instant upgrade over Chad Wheeler, who graded out as the 82nd-ranked tackle out of 85 last season. Remmers’ career grade at tackle would have ranked slightly above average in 2018.
Eli Manning is a below-average starter who has to deal with a lack of targets early in the season. But it’s the second year in Pat Shurmur’s offense, with a much improved offensive line. We have no clue when Daniel Jones is going to overtake Manning and how well he can replace him.

James Bettcher and a Bunch of Wildcards

Dave Gettleman made two fascinating moves in the draft. He took a two-down nose tackle in the first round, which was completely stupid. But then he stacked the secondary that desperately needed an overhaul. As a result. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher has a very young defense to work with this year, and it’s safe to say that his unit will mainly be dependent on turnovers and high-leverage swings. They seem to be too inexperienced to play well on a per-play basis consistently. In the projected starting formation, there are currently two rookies and four second-year players.

New York Giants Offensive Depth Chart Projection
New York Giants Defensive Depth Chart Projection

Janoris Jenkins is the only cornerback who has more than one year of experience in the NFL. Slot cornerback Grant Haley has played 429 snaps in his rookie season. Deandre Baker, Julian Love, Sam Beal, and Corey Ballentine have never seen an NFL field during the regular season. Everything points towards a starting nickel formation with Jenkins, first-round pick Baker and Haley. Jabrill Peppers, who the Giants acquired in the Odell trade, will start in the box, with Bethea starting at free safety. With Bethea, Kareem Martin, Olsen Pierre and Markus Golden, James Bettcher got four former Cardinals players with him.
Tae Davis and Ryan Connelly will battle for snaps alongside captain Alec Ogletree and BJ Goodson, but neither of the group screams “I’m a coverage beast.” The front-four lacks quality pass rush ability, that’s why Bettcher will try his best to create pressure via the scheme.
Overall, this defense is young, inexperienced, and lacks players who can consistently get to the passer. They are dependent on young players stepping up in the secondary and create some turnovers. However, they have a significant advantage: they are going to play one of the most relaxed schedules of all teams.

2019 Schedule

After playing the fourth-hardest schedule last year, the New York Giants will have a much easier road this time. According to the current win totals marketplace at Pinnacle, the G-Men are projected to play the fifth-easiest schedule in the NFL, at .4873. It gets even more impressive when we check their schedule against 2018 efficiency numbers by offensive EPA. They are projected to face the most manageable program in the league at -0.009. The offenses on the Giants’ schedule averaged negative EPA last year. What that number doesn’t account for – and that’s why it’s far from a perfect prediction – are noticeable improvements or declines.
Outside of New England, there is not a single offense that ranked in the top-10 in offensive EPA last season. But we can make the case that teams like the Eagles with a healthy Wentz, the Vikings, the Cardinals or the Jets are going to have improved offenses. However, the Giants schedule is more probable to finish in the bottom-10 than around average. Also, New York will travel the second-fewest miles, play a road game against the Jets in their stadium and have four home games against teams who play back-to-back road games.

New York Giants 2019: Regression and Schedule Matters

I believe the Giants will get carried by positive regression, a relaxed schedule, and their offensive line. That way, Daniel Jones’ debut as a Giant could be delayed. There are some significant question marks around Eli Manning, the quality of Daniel Jones, the receiving corps and the inexperienced defense. That makes it hard to pull the trigger on their win total, but I would lean over. The number got bet down to 5.4 and Pinnacle is currently offering +138 on the over. Six wins would push, and 43% of the time, the Giants need to win seven matchups.
I expect them to improve from 2018, even if they don’t play much more efficiently on either side of the ball. That’s exclusively due to positive regression and their schedule. They should be able to win at least five games, but at the same time, it’s hard to trust that team to win eight or more games. 6-10 or 7-9 sounds like a fair projection to me. Maybe it’s enough for Dave Gettleman to sell us even more on Eli Manning and the Barkley-pick.

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