When Joe Judge agreed to become the Giants' 19th head coach, he knew he had to keep things real regarding expectations for the club.
So when Judge says he's not worried about winning the NFC East or making the playoffs, he's not lying. Judge is smart enough to know that in time all those things will come, but only if his team, which after a tumultuous off-season turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, continues to make improvement inch by inch, step by step.
"The importance needs to be improving as a team. All that other stuff will take care of itself," Judge said earlier this week.
"We have a tough stretch of games coming up. We can’t go ahead and start looking at rankings and division races and all that type of stuff. We just have to focus on getting better each week. That’s what will ultimately help us in the long run."
Indeed, that commitment to the adage, "slow and steady wins the race" has the Giants starting to turn the corner in several different statistical categories.
That brings us to this two-part series in which we look at the key statistical areas in which the Giants have taken the most significant leap on both offense and defense.
As the Giants have played ten games, this "before and after" study looks at the first five games of the year and the most recent five games, where the Giants players and coaches, now having a comfort level with one another, have turned the corner for the better.
Average Yards per Play
First 5 games: 4.7 yards/play || Last 5 games: 5.3 per play
There are numerous reasons behind the Giants' improvement in average yards per play, some of which we'll get into in a moment.
But the key takeaway with this statistic is that by improving by almost one full yard, the Giants have put themselves in a position where they avoid long-yardage situations, which lends itself to more play options.
Based on data queries run via NFL Savant, the Giants, in their first five games, had 292 plays (all downs, not just third down) in which they had six or more yards to go for a first down. In their last five games, the number of plays with six or more yards to go dropped to 275.
Pass Completion Percentage
First 5 games: 61% || Last 5 games: 66.2%
Chalk this improvement to numerous factors, including an adjustment by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to get the ball out of quarterback Daniel Jones' hand a lot faster to not having Jones throw the ball as much as he did in the first five games.
Per PFF, in the first five games of the year, Jones's average time to throw was 2.77 seconds. In the last five games, that average has dropped to 2.38 seconds, a stark difference that underscores the emphasis on getting the ball out quicker.
But there's also been another benefit to come with this shift in strategy: Jones' average yards per attempt has jumped from 6/1 YPA in the first five games to 6.7 YPA in the last five, underscoring that the passing game is starting to become more efficient.
First 5 games: 79 yards/game || Last 5 games: 142 yards/game
Reports of the Giants' running game's demise following the Saquon Barkley season-ending ACL injury were vastly exaggerated.
Seriously, if you're looking to give an award to the most improved unit, the running game-- the backs and the blockers--deserve it.
Not only has the average yardage per game improved, but currently, the Giants have five straight games with 100+ yards as a group versus the one 100-yard performance they had in the first five games.
A big reason for that swing has been Jones's mobility. He currently leads the team in rushing yardage (384).
For argument's sake, let's take Jones's rushing yardage out of the equation. The Giants' per-game rushing yardage has still improved and by a lot, going from 50.2 yards per game to 91.2 yards per game.
Third Down Conversion Percentage
First 5 games: 40.6% || Last 5 games: 41%
Although the margin of improvement is the smallest of the categories chosen, considering that the Giants have roughly the same number of third-down attempts in the first five games as they do in the last five, I'm sure they'll take this as a step in the right direction.
And if not, then here's another interesting stat that ties into this improvement. In the first five games, the Giants only scored two touchdowns off a third-down play. In their last five games, they have scored five touchdowns off of third down.
Points Per Game
First 5 games: 16.2 || Last 5 games: 24.6
Overall, the Giants are still ranked toward the bottom of the league in points per game scored (19.5, 30th) in the most important stat of all.
But in sticking with our five-game model, it's clear the Giants managed to overcome their early-season struggles to score points in their last five games.
Keeping with this topic, let's look at the point differential between the Giants and their opponents. In the first five games, the average point differential was -10.4, an average inflated thanks to their Week 3 blowout loss to the 49ers.
But in the last five games in which the Giants are 3-2, by the way, New York has kept it close, the average point differential being just 2.2 points.
(In case you're curious, the average point differential in which the Giants have lost those two games in the second half of their 10-game slate so far is 1.5 points, a huge difference from the -10.4 points they averaged in their first five losses.)
The Bottom Line?
Stats don't always tell the entire story, but in this case, it's probably fair to say that those plays that Judge claims are jumping out on tape are starting to add up to the improvement that's showing up in the statistics and, more importantly, in the wins column.
Check back with Giants Country for the lowdown on the defense's improvement.