Written by: Glenn Warciski and Paul Burke
The analytics community put the spotlight on the New York Football Giants in April 2018. After selecting Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick, Giants GM Dave Gettleman defended his decision about selecting Barkley, “We all had such a conviction on this kid that at the end of the day … the only reason that pick wasn’t in at 9:58 was because we had to wait until the five-minute mark,” Gettleman said. “Otherwise it would have been in.” Gettleman goes further by stating; that he did not have any interest in trading out of the No. 2 pick, something he tried to make clear before the draft. “People call you and they want the second pick of the draft for a bag of donuts, a hot pretzel and a hot dog,” Gettleman explained during his press conference. “Leave me alone. I don’t have time to screw around.” Acid breath was not finished.
“You know what I say about that. It is a crock. At the end of the day, a great player is a great player. He is a touchdown maker. He is a threat to take it to the house every time he gets his hands on the ball,” Gettleman said. “I think a lot of that stuff is nonsense. I think it is someone who had decided to get into the analytics of it and went through whatever. Jonathan Stewart is in his 10th year and he has not lost anything. I don’t believe in that. I don’t care who you take, they can all get hurt.”
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) April 27, 2018
Instead of using his acerbic tongue, Gettleman used his fingers to mock an analytics nerd. Meaning: These guys who crunch numbers do not know what they are talking about. Nevertheless, this infamous moment set off a firestorm within the analytics community. From this day forward, Gettleman is now known as Loki. Indeed, he has become a super villain amongst the analytics crowd. Undoubtedly, articles from analytics writers surfaced to prove Gettleman wrong. And why selecting a running back in the first round or in the Giants case second overall pick was a grave mistake.
Flash forward to 2019, Gettleman was lampooned by almost everyone when he made the decision to select Daniel Jones at sixth overall. For one, our friend Andy Furman at UltimateNYG.com, did a brilliant job explaining Jones was overdrafted. In addition, the Giants, even with Gettleman calling the shots, refuse to see the error of their ways by not trading down. In May, Paul and I discussed value and the NFL is the last major sport to begin the process of using analytics to shape rosters on the Bleeding Blue podcast.
The discussion of analytics sparked our interest. At this point, with Gettleman poking fun at analytics, do the Giants have an analytics department? And to what extent are they using analytics?
We begin our investigation with an article written by Sports Illustrated”s Albert Breer.
NEW YORK GIANTS
The Giants are quiet about it, but they’ve pushed forward aggressively and, it was explained to me, are “very optimistic” with the early results they’ve gotten. Jon Berger is the team’s senior director of football information, and analyst Tyseer Siam is considered a rising star in the field. GM Jerry Reese is considered a proponent.
Who is Jon Berger?
Berger has been a full time employee for the Giants since 1986. With a degree in computer science, Berger works with coaches in breaking down game film. To his credit, Berger reached out to Pro Football Focus way back in 2009. Then, in 2009, Hornsby got an email from the Giants’ director of football information, Jon Berger, requesting customized data for upcoming opponents. Hornsby was still supplying New York with advanced analyses two years later, when the Giants made a miracle run to the Super Bowl and upset the New England Patriots. News of the Giants’ secret leaked the weekend of the game. By the next fall, four more teams had contracted with PFF for specialized data.
What we have gleaned. The Giants have been using analytics to gain a competitive advantage for 10 years and counting. From a trusted source, Berger is exceptional at compiling spreadsheets. He does a tremendous job at collecting data for coaches and upper management.
In 2018, the Giants and analytics was put front and center. This happened during and after the Giants lost to the Falcons on Monday Night Football 23-20 in 2018. A failed two point conversion was at the epicenter during head coach Pat Shurmur’s post game press conference. Number crunching done by Giants analysts’ Tyseer Siam and Jon Berger convinced Shurmur to go for two points rather than kick the extra point. Although we are proponents of analytics, in this case, the decision by Shurmur was misguided. Please read our take titled Slipshod Shurmur.
Meanwhile, the good news is the Giants use analytics for preparation and in game decision making. On the other hand, the bad news it is our belief, the Giants do not use analytics when it comes to roster building.
Case in point. From Cris Collinsworth; PFF has already changed the way I think about building a team and play-calling. I can remember a time when everybody thought Andy Reid was crazy for passing 60% of the time. He doesn’t look so crazy now. I remember when running backs were thought to be the most valuable position; now they are considered the easiest to replace based on our WAR (wins above replacement) metric. I think it is fair to say that now very few NFL contracts are negotiated without PFF data being at the heart of the debate. The agent pitches all the positive data about the player, and the team is loaded with all the not so positive data. Some of those negotiating stories are pretty entertaining.
Additionally, Justin Penik Giants blogger and podcast host at BleedingBlue, compiled a comprehensive examination of roster building through the use of value pyramids. When teams build their rosters using analytics, the positions of value are quarterback, offensive tackle, edge rusher, defensive back, and wide receiver. When it comes to the Giants, what they are doing does not coincide with the conventional analytics thinking.
Again. Yes it is hackneyed. We love Barkley. It is the pick and not the player. What Gettleman did was confounding. He inherited a roster riddled with holes. An aging and unproductive quarterback in Eli Manning. Did Gettleman and the Giants brain trust even look at analytics when they made these decisions? Pile on from last year when the Giants finished 5-11, we were flummoxed with the decision to draft Daniel Jones at sixth overall. From the Ringer’s Kevin Clark, oh by the way, is a huge critic of Dave Gettleman. Essentially, the smartest teams are getting significantly smarter, the average teams are trying to get better, and the dumbest teams are going to be very dumb if they don’t act soon.
Clearly, it is safe to say, the Giants are one of the dumbest teams. Since 2012, they have compiled a record of 44-67, been shut out 6 times, and have had double digit losing records in 4 out of the 5 last years. As analytics expert Warren Sharp points out on how to win in the NFL: The first is that an offensive emphasis on passing correlated to wins. The second is more complicated than it sounds. Sharp found that third-down efficiency, long the obsession of announcers and old-school coaches, was not the key to an effective offense. He found that it was better for teams to scrap third downs entirely and move the chains by gaining the necessary yardage on first and second down.
For years, Giants beat reporters, some of them are lickspittle sycophants. Former Giant and now NFL Network analyst Shaun O’Hara has defended Eli Manning. O’ Hara and others have claimed the Giants offense has been sluggish or ineffective because the Giants have had bad offensive lines. We believe there is a kernal of truth to this. But this is not the main reason for the Giants underachieving on offense. Over the last three years, Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been ranked at the bottom of ESPN’s Total Quarterback ranking. 2016. Ranked 27th. 2017. Ranked 22nd. 2018. Ranked 25th. Furthermore, there is a statistic called CPOE (Completion Percentage Over Expected). What is this? According to Daniel Houston, another analytics expert, Houston’s reasoning draws on Riske’s results presented above. “The passing game is also the most consistent component of the team over time, both in-season and from year to year,” Houston explains. “You need both of those elements — impact and repeatable performance — to be a good asset. Quarterback is one of the few positions in football you can say with confidence has both,”
Where does Eli Manning rank?
Finally here is a list of all QBs with 1500 passes since 2009. pic.twitter.com/JvR6ILncak
— Moo (@PFF_Moo) February 28, 2019
If the Giants decision makers looked at Total QBR and CPOE, Eli Manning is not getting the job done. But we have a team which is in the dark ages. An owner John Mara who bristles at facts and is more sentimental. Without question, it makes zero sense to keep Eli Manning on the current roster but the Giants continue to make these bone-headed decisions.
Is there is light at the end of the tunnel? As we mentioned in our post about the Giants 2019 draft, Gettleman collected defensive backs. This piqued our interest because the Giants DNA has been their pass rush. As PFF’s founder Neil Hornsby exclaims, this year the metric ranks Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner ahead of Rams star Aaron Donald because pass coverage carries more weight than pass rush, as offenses can compensate for the latter. As an example, Hornsby points to when Donald was single-teamed against the Bears in Week 14: Chicago took an average of 1.5 seconds to get rid of the ball, thus making it next to impossible for Donald to wreck a play in his usual way.
We picked up on this. The Giants are seeing value in adding quality defensive backs. Yes! Analytics bores out better pass coverage is more important than a pass rush. It is our belief, in order for the Giants to post a winning record this upcoming season, it will be up to the defense.
Are we giving the Giants and Gettleman too much credit? Perhaps it has nothing to do with analytics. In other words, they had some many glaring needs in the defensive backfield. Therefore, they drafted for need. If one examines the Giants drafts over the years, they have coveted defensive backs. 2005 Corey Webster. 2007. Aaron Ross. 2008 Kenny Phillips and Terrell Thomas. 2011 Prince Amukamara. 2012 Jayron Hosley. 2015 Landon Collins. 2016 Eli Apple. Indeed, they over time have valued defensive backs. Again, this could be their philosophy and nothing to do with analytics.
As for the rest of the value positions, the Giants did draft Daniel Jones. But the problem is why keep an aging and unproductive Eli Manning? With respect to the left tackle position, aging and injured Nate Solder has one of maybe two years left. They are bereft of a stud edge rusher. Gettleman passed on Josh Allen. On the other hand, as mentioned, they stockpiled defensive backs. And lastly, they traded away one of the game’s best receivers-Odell Beckham Jr.
— Glenn Warciski (@NYGunderground) June 8, 2019
@NYGunderground is correct. No. 10 is and has been the problem. He makes everyone around him worse.
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) June 8, 2019
Evan Silva, NFL expert, agrees with us about Eli Manning. Silva who is not beholden to anyone has been brutally honest about Eli Manning’s lack of production.
Although we root for the Giants and want them to WIN, we are frustrated with the direction of the team. The fear we have is teams in our own division like the Eagles, Redskins, and Cowboys who have embraced analytics particularly to roster building are and will be light years ahead of us. And by the time the Giants have a course correction, it is going to be too late. Meaning more years of losing before prosperity begins.