Commentary

Can New York go deep?

No team creates more big passing plays than the Giants; succeeding late is the question

Originally Published: December 27, 2011
By Vince Verhei | Football Outsiders
TBDNick Laham/Getty ImagesEli Manning and the Giants have lived -- and died -- by the deep ball this season.

The New York Giants had quite the boom-and-bust passing day in their 29-14 win over the New York Jets on Saturday, with plenty of big plays and plenty of incompletions. That's not unusual for the Giants, who throw deep balls like nobody else in the league, and it's also not unusual to pile up incompletions against the Jets. But the Giants don't just throw the deep ball, and pile up the big plays -- they rely on both. It's in part a sympton of their personnel, but it's also something of an oddity.

Will that bombs-away attack be enough to get the Giants past the Dallas Cowboys and into the postseason? And if so, how does New York match up with the heavyweights of the NFC?

Let's go back to the Jets game again. Eli Manning dropped back to pass 29 times against the Jets. Six of those plays resulted in completions of at least 10 yards, and they averaged 34.7 yards on those plays. That was the boom. The bust? The other 23 plays resulted in three completions, two sacks, one interception, 2 net yards and no first downs. The Giants have rarely seen that kind of bust, but they've produced plenty of boom. On the season, they're seventh in total completions (throughout this article, we're counting defensive pass interference calls as completed passes), but fourth in 20-yard gains and first in 40-yard gains.

That's not the best measure of deep passing, though, because 20-yard gains include things like screen passes with bundles of yards after the catch. The 99-yard touchdown pass against the Jets was a short pass. The NFL sorts all passes into two categories, "short" (those that come down within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage) and "deep" (those thrown 16 or more yards downfield). Of the Giants' 67 20-yard gains this season, 18 have come on short passes. That's a rate of 27 percent, the fourth-lowest in the league.

So that 99-yard touchdown run doesn't tell us a lot, because New York gets its big plays by throwing downfield, not running after the catch.