Super Bowl Focus: Clinging to the Edge
Super Bowl Focus: Clinging to the Edge
Few areas of the New York Giants’ team have come under more pressure this season than the offensive line, which has seen a precipitous decline in its form, having been one of their strengths the last few years.
Quarterback Eli Manning has faced pressure on 38.9% of his dropbacks over the course of the regular and postseason, second most of any quarterback in the entire league. The entire offensive line has been poor in pass protection; no Giant offensive lineman grades higher than -3.9 (William Beatty) for their play in that area this year. The two players most culpable for this pressure are the two covering the tackle spots this Sunday in Indianapolis, David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie.
Manning is still making plays in the face of this pressure as he finds a way to get the pass off and prevent the defense from finishing, but at some point the law of averages suggests that all of this pressure either has to stop or it will catch up with the Giants’ offense. It is widely accepted that there are few better defensive minds in the league than Bill Belichick and he, along with his defensive staff, have surely been spending time trying to find ways to exploit the weaknesses of the Giants’ pass protection off of the edge this coming Sunday. In the first of our articles examining three crucial areas in this Sunday’s encounter, we open up by shining a light on just how bad the Giants tackles have been in pass protection this season and the candidates to take advantage for the Patriots in a key battle ground this Sunday.
Problem No. 1 – David Diehl, Left Tackle
Whether at tackle or early this season at guard, David Diehl has been a problem for the Giants in pass protection for a number of seasons. He has now graded negatively in in this facet for four straight seasons, getting progressively worse each year. He’s moved from -2.0 in 2008, to -6.6 in 2009, dropping again to -19.8 (in just 11.5 games) in 2010 before bottoming out at a pitiful -42.1 grade (guard and tackle combined) this season.
In the NFC East, Diehl faces some stern tests in the shape of pass rushers of the caliber of DeMarcus Ware (+35.5 pass rush), Trent Cole (+35.2 pass rush), and Brian Orakpo (+24.8 pass rush) twice each per season, however, that doesn’t explain him being quite as bad as he is in comparison to every other left tackle in the league.
Since moving out to left tackle back in Week 12 against the New Orleans Saints, Diehl has yielded 46 total pressures on 391 snaps in pass protection, that is “good” for once every 8.5 times Manning drops back to pass. By way of comparison, three of the most maligned left tackles in the entire NFL, Levi Brown of the Arizona Cardinals (11.7 pass snaps per pressure), J’Marcus Webb of the Chicago Bears (12.2) and Marshall Newhouse of the Green Bay Packers (11.1) are all a step clear of Diehl’s level of play. If you want a comparison to the best, then Jason Peters (28.3), Andrew Whitworth (30.4) and Joe Thomas (32.8) are all a country mile ahead.
Diehl is capable of stretches of good play and morsels of quality play and this will be what the Giants fans cling to as a hope for his Super Bowl performance. Back in the conference championship game, while getting his share of help, Diehl showed his good side, yielding only two pressures until mid-way through the third quarter. Unfortunately, he then showed his bad side, yielding an eye-watering eight total pressures in a quarter-and-a-half.
A note of caution for Giants fans may come in the manner in which Diehl gives up his pressure. Close to half his total pressure comes from being either driven straight back by a pass rusher (six pressures coming from a defender’s bullrush) or by being beaten to his inside (14 times). That’s 43.4% of Diehl’s pressure coming to his inside. If the Patriots can hit that target, they have an excellent chance of finishing plays and not letting Manning continue to work his Houdini act, succeeding in the face of the oncoming rush.
Problem No. 2 – Kareem McKenzie, Right Tackle
If his counterpart at left tackle has seen a steady decline from poor to abysmal in recent seasons, then Kareem McKenzie has fall has been steep and fast. His pass protection grade dropped from +7.9 in 2010, to a league worst–for an offensive tackle– -28.9 in 2011. McKenzie surpassed his 2010 pressure total of 28 during the Giants’ Week 11 encounter with the Eagles.
McKenzie faces the same issues as Diehl in the NFC East and that was only exacerbated by the addition of Jason Babin (+31.0 pass rush) and Ryan Kerrigan (+10.8 pass rush) to the roster of left-side rushers in the division this season. All season long, McKenzie struggled with elite talent off of the edge with his worst games of the season in pass protection coming against the likes of Babin, Clay Matthews III, Chris Long and Cameron Wake. The Patriots don’t have a pass rusher in league with these players, so that will offer some hope to the Giants, but if the Patriots can engineer a hard outside rush springing faster players off of the edge, Manning will be seeing a lot of pressure coming from his open side.
Much like Diehl on the left side, McKenzie’s pressure stats do not read favorably in terms of league-wide comparisons. On 794 snaps in pass protection this season (including playoffs), McKenzie has yielded 74 pressures; once every 10.7 passing plays. That is a number matched by Miami Dolphins RT Marc Colombo and only just worse than fellow New York RT Wayne Hunter, who yielded pressure once every 12.0 snaps for the Jets. As would be expected, the league’s best aren’t quite as good on the right as the left, but are still well beyond McKenzie with David Stewart of the Titans heading the pack giving up pressure once every 29.9 snaps and impressive rookie Tyron Smith of the Cowboys giving up pressure once every 21.4 snaps.
Rather than continue burying you with numbers (I think you’re getting the picture), suffice to say the Giants tackles are as bad as it gets in pass protection and Manning and his receivers will have to be on the same wavelength this Sunday as they are sure to be in for a long day of adjusting routes for blitzes, pressure, and hot reads.
The Carter Effect
The sole question for the New England Patriots when facing this rag tag bunch of offensive tackles, is who can take advantage of the glaring weaknesses on either end of the Giants’ offensive line? Both sides have lost their best lineman in passing situations, so they’re playing with one hand tied behind their back, to an extent.
With the loss of Andre Carter to injury, none of the Patriots’ top-line edge defenders have rushed the passer more from the right than the left this season with Brandon Deaderick’s split of 78 rushes from the left to 74 from the right coming the closest to parity. Two defenders will be crucial to the Patriots taking advantage of this weakness for the Giants with Rob Ninkovich and most importantly Mark Anderson needing to bring their A-game to take full advantage.
Ninkovich is a utility pass rusher who has blitzed from 13 different spots on the New England defense this season, 36 of those blitzes coming out of a position as a slot defender. The tactic of blitzing Ninkovich from the slot could prove a fruitful one for the Patriots. Stretching the Giants’ tackles to cover more area to the outside will open up the middle or forcing New York to keep more blockers in to help.
Anderson, though, is the key man and he needs to maintain his rate of success from the regular season take full advantage whether he rushes from the left or the right side. Over the course of the season, Anderson has rushed 206 times from the left side, 172 times from the right side and only 10 times from the middle of the defense. On those 388 pass rushes, Anderson has registered 55 total pressures with only five coming unblocked; recording pressure every 7.1 snaps in pass rush. This compares favorably with the likes of Carlos Dunlap of the Bengals who recorded pressure once every 6.4 snaps on 302 pass rushes, and comes close to Trent Cole of the Eagles, who recorded pressure once every 5.6 of his 375 pass rushes this season.
If Anderson can continue his form from the conference championship game, where he recorded a sack and six pressures, then he has in this game the sort of mismatch that could make him a Super Bowl MVP candidate.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.