A statistical look at the Seahawks-Giants game

Eli Manning - a man of many faces - mostly strange ones. - Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

The latest prediction for the Seahawks’ next game.

A Retrospect

The Seahawks lost! Typically, after a Seahawk's loss I feel like I'm wearing an extra coat through the week - something just feels heavy. This week, however, I feel more like I've lost a sock. It's annoying to think about, but Seattle still has more opportunities to win, and I can buy new socks. Laundry analogies notwithstanding, I feel like Seattle was due for a loss and this was a good game to have one in.

Part of the reason I feel so ambivalent about the loss is perhaps because I feel like the better team lost on Sunday. The 49ers are still a very good team. Furthermore, they're one of the teams that I fear in the playoffs. Still, I just have the feeling that the Seahawks "lost the game" more than the 49ers won. I don't really know what that means, but that's just what's rumbling around.

As for the retrospect, there's not much to say. Both offenses looked decent in the first half with the 49ers holding onto a slight lead. After the half, the defenses clamped down and the Frank Gore run ended up being the difference. The game was certainly more complicated than that, but I don't feel like that Seahawks' performance is likely to repeat itself - especially if Percy Harvin comes back.

The only criticism I would lay on Seattle is Pete's coaching. If you think I'm about to say he should have let the 49ers score then you're in for a surprise. I do think that it was a decision that would have increased the probability of victory, but considering how few times the strategy has been attempted, I don't feel he was in err to play the game the way he did. In fact, the probability of victory gained by allowing a score may have been balanced by any emotional damage caused by allowing an opponent to score. I don't generally use emotional narratives as evidence because it's difficult for me to analyze that type of evidence. Pete Carroll however, is free to use any type of data he wishes, and if he thinks maintaining the integrity of his defensive philosophy outweighs some 5% or less advantage of victory, I say great. The Seahawks weren't playing for the owl yesterday, afterall.

Where I do find issue with Pete's performance on Sunday was in the first half. Specifically, that he didn't use a single timeout at the end of the first half. I'm of the opinion that teams should try to score as many points in the first half as possible. It's too early in the game to be accused of running up the score, and there's no pressure to alter a game plan to sustain a lead. So to waste three timeouts is to waste about 2 minutes of game time. Given how close the game was, even in the first half, it seems awfully negligent to sit on those timeouts.

I'm not worried about Pete's game-day coaching because he's been so solid in the past, but he can't let little slip-ups like that happen again.

This next section allows readers to assess how well my predictions have played out. As always, this post will rely heavily on stats (all stats through week 14), mostly from football outsiders. You can read more here.

On to the recap!

Where my predictions were right!

  • Crabtree wouldn't have much of an impact with around 40 yards.

  • Vernon Davis would have around 30 yards.

  • The Seahawks wouldn't receive many turnovers, suffer worse field position, and score fewer field goals.

  • Russell would throw for around 220 and be more efficient than the last meeting.

Where my predictions were wrong.

  • Boldin would have a similar impact to Crabtree with the same amount of yards.

  • Frank Gore would be ineffective, and only run for 50 yards.

  • Lynch (and the Seahawks) would run for around 100 (130 for Seattle) yards and be more efficient than the last meeting.

  • Baldwin and Kearse would be the leading receivers.

  • The Score would be 23-13

Somewhere in between.

  • Kaepernick would run for around 50 yards.

At a Glance

The Seahawks' season is almost at an end. The shoddy quarterback play and injured impact players have led to a longing for season's end. Fortunately for Seattle fans, Teddy Bridgewater is an exciting young prospect and one...

That's what I would say if the Seahawks were a terrible team. Only they're not. Quite the opposite, actually. They're still guaranteed a playoff spot and if they can win on Sunday, they'll have a chance to lock up the division.

Standing in the way is a giant opponent (sorry, I had to). The Giants! The Giants' season has been an enigma. They started off losing their first six games, though not playing entirely terrible. They went on a four game winning streak, but that was buttressed by playing back-up quarterbacks like Matt Barkley and Scott Tolzien (among others). Since that 4 game streak, they've played OK, but against substandard NFC East competition. The only thing that's been consistent this season for the Giants has been Eli Manning's propensity to throw passes to the wrong team.

If it sounds like a slam dunk for the Seahawks, well, it should. This isn't a very good team, and the Seahawks should win.

The New York Football Giants

The New York Football Giants' Offense

Let's start off with some basics. The Giants score 19.3 points per game - 28th in the league. They're 25th in yards with 4,182 total yards (321 yards per game). Finally, they're a passing team, attempting 458 passes to just 311 rushing attempts.

Eli Manning is clearly the focus of the offense and Eli is ranked 16th in attempts. For perspective, Russell is ranked 21st with 330 attempts. Eli is in the middle of the pack at around 3,254 yards, and 7.17 yards per attempt. He's also average (18th) with 16 touchdowns. Eli "leads the league" is in interceptions where he has 20, tied with his New York brother Geno Smith.

If those numbers don't make it obvious: Eli isn't a particularly efficient quarterback this season. He's ranked 33rd in passer rating. Recall, of course, that there are 32 teams. Additionally, his DVOA ranks 36th (again, 32 teams). He also ranks 38th in DYAR which is a measure of value as opposed to efficiency. For those interested, his QBR (40.4) is ranked 30th. In short, future HOF players like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Christian Ponder, and Chad Henne have arguably played more effectively this season. I've always thought Eli was a tad overrated, but this is grade-A schadenfreude.

On the receiving end of his wounded duck wobblers are a couple of really good receivers. Victor Cruz has for some reason, decided not to Salsa his routes. Still, despite his petulance, he leads the team with 71 catches for 973 yards and four touchdowns. Opposite him is a guy I've often mulled the Seahawks landing (I'm still torn but leaning no) - Hakeem Nicks. He is having a bit of a bounce back season, with 49 catches for 789 yards, but no touchdowns. Rueben Randle rounds out the receivers with 37 catches and 571 yards. Brandon Myers is the pass catching tight end, and a number of other receivers have caught passes to round out the rest of the team. As it relates to efficiency, the Giants rank just 26th in passing DVOA.

It's interesting to see how complete the Giants' transformation has been. Where now they pass, they used to run. Remember Tiki Barber? Those times seem so long ago. The Giants' run game now is much, much worse than it was back then. New York's leading rusher this year is Andre Brown with 424 yards (4.3 yards per carry). After him, there are a number of other guys all hovering around 3.5 yards per carry. Oh, and Brandon Jacobs is back, and surprisingly not terrible. Their rushing game DVOA is ranked just 29th.

I obviously don't watch the Giants like I do the Seahawks so I can't say for certain why the running game has evolved into a walking game, but if I had to speculate it would be due to Eli. The Giants have invested more talent in making him more efficient, and as a result the run game has declined. I'm actually a fan of the strategy, and hope the Seahawks will switch to a pass oriented offense or team in the future, but that's a discussion for another time. As it stands now, injuries and poor drafting have caught up with the offense, leading to its decline this season.

The New York Football Giants' Defense

This is just nuts, so let me just get this out of the way. The Giants' defense is ranked 10th in total defensive DVOA. Their pass defense DVOA is ranked 13th, and their rush defense is ranked 6th. The only way I can figure their ranking on DVOA is by injuries.

To start, the Giants played the Eagles (ranked 3rd in offensive DVOA) when Matt Barkley was the quarterback. The games in which Barkley started were the only games in which the Eagles offense has looked substandard. DVOA doesn't adjust for backup quarterbacks, so it would make sense that the Giants would receive a large boost due to the absence of Nick Foles and at the time, Michael Vick. The same logic applies for the Giants stopping the Packers without Aaron Rodgers. Not only that, but they also played against Josh Freeman who was 20/53 for 190 yards and an interception (wow).

I don't have the week-by-week DVOA numbers so what I'll do is compare the Giants' defensive numbers against first string QBs against the backups. Against the first stringers, the Giants' defense gives up about 31 points per game. During the games against the backups, the Giants' defense gave up 9 points a game. When the backup quarterback games are included in the total schedule, the Giants' defense gives up about 26 points per game. That's a big difference between healthy and injured offenses. (Note: this analysis wouldn't include pick sixes, or easy field goals created by turnovers, so take these stats with a grain of salt.) However, despite the difference in quality, the Giants defense just doesn't seem to hold up well in any scenario.

Getting back to DVOA however, I have another explanation for why the Giants' run defense might be ranked so well at 6th. Mostly, I'm guessing that the Giants' defense has had decision making taken away. Given how often the Giants have played without the lead, it seems likely that their defense has seen many opponents simply trying to run the clock out. Stopping the run when a team knows it's coming is certainly an easier task than when the pass is still a desirable option. Their run defense didn't rise to 6th in DVOA on circumstance alone, but I think 6th is like a shade too high.

Staying in line with DVOA, I'm also having a hard time explaining why the pass defense is ranked 13th. Once again, if you take out the horrifying back-up games, the Giants defense allows opposing passers to be wildly efficient - their average passer rating is 97.31. That passer rating would rank 27th in the league, but as it stands, the Giants rank 15th, allowing an average passer rating of 84.5. That's insane. That's the difference between an average QB and Tony Romo (who's really good, I swear).

I still think Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara, and Antrel Rolle are all solid. Plus Ryan Mundy is fine. Those players could make up a decent secondary, but without a strong pass rush, I doubt that they'll be able to hold up particularly well.

Fortunately for the Seahawks, the Giants' pass rush has declined significantly this season. Justin Tuck is having a nice season, but aside from him, the pass rush is pretty ataxic. Once again if we consider those back-up quarterbacks as non-representative, then the Giant's defensive stats align with what I believe the perceptions to be. Namely, the Giants' defense is not particularly intimidating.

The Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks lost last week. Because of that loss they are no longer among the top ten teams of all time (in terms of DVOA). Still, the loss was to a good team in San Francisco and it was close. Because of those factors, the Seahawks still retain the top spot in DVOA. The difference between Seattle and Denver has closed a bit, but Denver just lost last night so we can probably expect that margin to increase. Overall, it seems pretty likely that Seattle will win the annual DVOA championship. It's not the Superb Owl obviously, but Seahawks fan should be proud if that happens. I've said it before, but DVOA is the best all-inclusive stat to rate football teams.

One of the reasons the Seahawks are ranked so high is their strength in all areas. (Weekly reminder to check out Kenneth's piece on Seattle's advanced stats. The Seahawks' lowest overall ranking is on offense - where they rank 6th. Breaking down the offense shows us that Seattle ranks 4th in passing DVOA and 9th in rushing. The rushing game has been surprisingly weak this season, both on offense and defense. That weakness leads me to wonder if there are going to be significant changes this offseason. Personally, I hope they draft a guard in the first or second round.

Transitioning to defense, the Seahawks remain number one behind their ludicrous passing defense. At this point, the Seahawks' passing defense DVOA is nearly twice that of Arizona's (-27.3 to -16.7). DVOA ranks passing defense as more important than rushing defense (with good reason, in my opinion). Without that emphasis, the Seahwaks would likely rank lower because of their rushing defense which ranks 11th. As for next year's fixes to the rush defense, I don't really have any I can think of. Jessie Williams coming back may help, but aside from him, I'm left wondering.

The Matchups

The Giants' Offense vs the Seahawks' Defense

I've always wondered what kind of game a defensive back values more. Do they value one where they receive an interception more or one in which they get burned a few times but hold up well against good competition. Were it me, I would love the interception games more, but that's because I value cash and interceptions can bring a lot of cash.

I bring this thought up because a week after playing tough competition, the Seattle defense is now going to face off against the league leader in interceptions. Frankly, I don't really know what to say either. I feel like the whole field is in play. I think four interceptions for Eli isn't unrealistic. I don't think it's likely, which is why I'll predict two, but he could really make this a blowout for Seattle.

Really, the fate of this game rests on Eli's shoulders. If Eli manages to be efficient and limit his mistakes the game could be relatively close. I don't think that will happen, but if we assume it does, then the Seahawks should still contain the passing game.

I would rank the passing game threats as follows: Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Myers (the TE). Against those threats, the Seahawks counter with a passing defense that allows "number one" wide receivers to average 53 yards a game, "number two" receivers 46.3 yards a game, tight ends 49 yards a game, and whatever's left 34 yards a game. Given those numbers, and the fact that no receiver on the Giants ranks above 21st in WR DVOA, I'm compelled to predict poor games for all of them. I'll just blanket and say that they'll all finish with around 40-50 yards. If that sounds high, remember Eli throws quite frequently. He just won't be efficient this game.

If the passing game is shut down, then the Giants will have to rely on their running game. Unfortunately for the Giants, their running game is ranked 29th in DVOA. Furthermore, their best running back, Andre Brown, has a DVOA at 1.1%. For those that don't know, 0 is average. Brown isn't included with the more prominent running backs in the league because he's carried the ball so few times, but if he was, he would be ranked about 20th. (Recall that there are more than 32 running backs in the league) Given that Eli might put New York in a hole early limiting rushing opportunities, I don't see how Brown will have a successful day against Seattle. I'll go ahead and predict around 50 yards and 3.3 yards per carry.

The Seahawks' Offense vs the Giants' Defense

This area represents the more interesting matchup to me. As I mentioned earlier, the Giants' defense tracks surprisingly well in DVOA. However, as I mentioned before, there are some serious discrepancies when the back-up quarterbacks are accounted for. Keeping those outliers in mind should help us discern match up differences.

To begin, I think the best place to start is the matchup between the O-line and D-line. The Giants rank 5th in adjusted line yards (defense), where as the Seahawks' offensive line ranks 12th in the matching metric. That may seem like an advantage for the Giants but I'm not so sure.

The Giants most certainly benefited from facing those back-up quarterbacks in run defense because facing ineptitude in the passing game allows a defense to focus on the running back. Factoring that advantage leads me to think the run defense of the Giants is mostly a wash against the Seahawk rushing offense. Consequently, I'll predict an average day for Lynch - 80 yards on about 4.1 yards per carry.

Staying on the line, the Seahawks rank just 28th in adjusted sack rate. I've mentioned it before in other posts, but the 'true' ranking may not be enormously better, but the Seahawks are probably just below average in that category. Next to rushing defense, this may be the Seahawks' biggest weakness - something the Giants can attack.

Unfortunately for Giants fans, their team ranks just 30th in adjusted sack rate. It also looks like Jason Pierre-Paul may be asked to end his season to help his rehab over the off-season. At the very least, we can expect him to not be his dominant self. Justin Tuck is having a nice season, but 4 of his sacks this season came against the Washington professional football team. I think Tuck will end up with a sack, but aside from him, I don't predict an enormous amount of pressure. Similarly, if they do pressure Wilson, I'm confident he'll end up doing his ridiculous O'clock stuff, and make them pay regardless.

That leaves the wide receivers and the secondary match up. Again, the Giants' stats are a bit inflated by their games against subpar competition this year, so the fact that they rank 13th in passing DVOA is probably a bit ambitious. Considering that Seattle's passing offense ranks 4th in passing DVOA, I feel comfortable predicting a good game for Russell. Around 250 yards passing, 30-40 yards rushing and a few TD's seems likely.

Catching Russell's passes will be predominantly Baldwin and Tate. The Giants rate well against the "second" receiver which I would assume to be Kearse. Given that strength, it seems likely that Kearse will be the one left out of the pass catching party. In other words, I think it's pretty likely that the Seahawks' offense will hum along pretty well this week.

X Factors

Eli Manning. I don't really think the Seahawks' defense will allow many points this game, but Eli could make the game close by not throwing to his own team - go figure.

The Giants defensive line. This is mostly about Tuck, but the Giants' defensive line could overwhelm the Seahawks' offensive line. It's just not particularly likely.

Andre Brown. When he has a good game, his team plays much better. There doesn't really seem to be a great predictor of when he'll have a strong game either. He's a classic x factor.

The Narrative

I think this game is going to play similarly to the Vikings game in which the Seahawks held strong on defense and were dominant on offense. The difference is just the different aspects are going to flip. The defense should be dominant and the offense should just be very good. Given some great field position because of the Giants' horrendous punting game, the Seahawks should score comfortably.

Prediction: Seahawks win 34-13

Recap Stats

This section is dedicated to me owning up to my predictions. The predictions are graded on a 10 point scale where 1 is completely wrong and 10 is completely right. As always, if anyone submits their own grades of my predictions I'll include them in the average. Further, if YOU, the reader, include predictions in this format, I'll include them as "The Field."

Where my predictions were right!

  • Crabtree wouldn't have much of an impact with around 40 yards. - 10 - Hit the nail on the head with that one.

  • Vernon Davis would have around 30 yards. - 8 - He had 21 yards, but he had almost no impact.

  • The Seahawks wouldn't receive many turnovers, suffer worse field position, and score fewer field goals. - 9 - I was right on all counts here.

  • Russell would throw for around 220 and be more efficient than the last meeting. - 7 - Take out the final Hail Mary and I'm mostly right.

Where my predictions were wrong.

  • Boldin would have a similar impact to Crabtree with the same amount of yards. - 1 - I'm quite surprised he had so much success. I hope Thurmond fares better.

  • Frank Gore would be ineffective, and only run for 50 yards. - 3 - The run obviously made this inaccurate. I wonder if Wright's presence would have affected things at all.

  • Lynch (and the Seahawks) would run for around 100 (130 for Seattle) yards and be more efficient than the last meeting. - 3.5 - He had a decent amount of yards, but he wasn't more effective.

  • Baldwin and Kearse would be the leading receivers. - 2 - I meant to type Willson. You guys believe me right?

  • The Score would be 23-13 - 3 - That was off.

Somewhere in between.

  • Kaepernick would run for around 50 yards. - 4.5 - 31 yards on the ground. Close, but no cigar.

This Week's Average: 5.1

Total Average: 5.366...

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