Only in rare circumstances do NFL coaches "know" what the opposition will do. Rather, coaches watch film and track opponent tendencies to put their teams in the optimal positions to thrive; they can't guarantee success, but they can do their best to maximize the percentages. For example, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan likely knows that the Giants have a tendency to pass the ball on second-and-10 (much more than the average NFL team), and his defensive calls will reflect that. Expecting a pass in such a situation won't work on every occasion, but long-term success will be maximized when playing the percentages.
Here are a few more Giants' offensive tendencies that we can expect to see on Sunday afternoon:
- The Giants have run 213 plays on first down thus far in 2012, of which 109 (51.2 percent) were designed passes. Like most NFL offenses, the Giants could benefit from increasing their first down pass rate, especially since they own the league's most efficient pass offense. The Giants have averaged 8.12 YPA on first down passes, compared to 4.00 YPC on first down rushes.
Cowboys Comparison: The 'Boys have run 174 plays on first down, passing on 48.9 percent of them. They've totaled 7.36 YPA on first down passes and 3.09 YPA on first down runs.
- New York has allowed a sack on just two first down passes, 1.7 percent, likely because defensive players are taught to maintain gap responsibility prior to rushing the passer on most first down plays.
Cowboys Comparison: With all of the questions surrounding the Cowboys' offensive line, it might surprise you to know that Tony Romo has yet to be sacked on first down all season.
- Just under one-quarter of the Giants' first down plays have been converted for first downs.
Cowboys Comparison: The Cowboys' first down offense must improve, with the team converting only 17.8 percent of them for a new set of downs. Part of the issue has been penalties; the average distance-to-go for the Cowboys on first down is actually nearly 10.5 yards, around three-quarters of a yard longer than for the Giants.
- New York has faced 152 second downs this season, passing on 94 (61.8 percent) of them. The average distance-to-go for the Giants on second down has been 7.45 yards. They've totaled 7.63 YPA on second down passes, compared to 5.22 YPA on second down runs.
Cowboys Comparison: The Cowboys have thrown the ball on 64.4 percent of their 135 second down plays. The average distance-to-go has been 8.32 yards. Like the Giants, the Cowboys have dominated on second down runs, carrying the ball for 5.60 YPA.
- Eli Manning has completed 69.6 percent of his second down passes, and he's been sacked on just 2.1 percent of his second down dropbacks.
Cowboys Comparison: Romo has completed 67.9 percent of his throws on second down, getting sacked on 6.9 percent of his dropbacks.
- Many offensive coordinators "mix up" their play-calls in an effort to appear random, often passing on second down following a first down run, and vice versa. Specifically, a lot of NFL teams run on second-and-10 following an incomplete pass on first down, alternating their play-calling and setting up a more manageable third down play. The Giants, on the other hand, have passed the ball on 73.0 percent of their second-and-10 plays.
Cowboys Comparison: Like the Giants, the Cowboys have aired it out often, at a 67.9 percent clip, on second-and-10 this season. The league-wide pass rate on second-and-10 is only 56.3 percent.
- The average distance-to-go for the Giants on third down has been 5.77 yards. They've passed the ball on 78.2 percent of their third down plays, but only 48.0 percent of their plays on third-and-1 or third-and-2.
Cowboys Comparison: The Cowboys have put themselves in third-and-long far too often this year. Exactly half of their third down plays have been third-and-7 or longer. They've passed on 82.1 percent of their third downs, mostly out of necessity, but just 42.0 percent of the plays on third-and-1 or third-and-2.
- Manning has been sacked on 2.9 percent of his third down dropbacks, the highest rate of any down. The quarterback's completion rate drops to 54.5 percent on third down, and his passer rating is just 75.6.
Cowboys Comparison: Romo has been sacked on 4.8 percent of his third down dropbacks. His completion rate on third down is 61.7, but he's turned in a passer rating of only 54.4.
- The Giants have converted 42.5 percent of their third down plays.
Cowboys Comparison: The 'Boys, who own one of the most underrated third down offenses in the NFL, are right in line at 42.3 percent (despite the average play being almost third-and-8).
- The Giants have been successful running right up the middle, averaging an incredible 6.38 YPA with center David Baas at the point-of-attack. When the G-Men run the ball outside, which they've done on 69.2 percent of their rushes, they like to run it to the left. Of their 114 rushes with an offensive tackle at the point, 61.4 percent have been to the left side of the offense.
Cowboys Comparison: Dallas has run the ball outside a bit less frequently than New York in 2012, doing so on 60.7 percent of its rushes. They've averaged 3.64 YPA with centers Ryan Cook and Phil Costa at the point.
- Even though the Giants have two big-play receivers in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, they don't send them on deep routes too often. Of the duo's 112 combined targets, only 16 (14.3 percent) have been thrown 20 or more yards in the air.
Cowboys Comparison: Dez Bryant and Miles Austin have racked up an even lower deep ball percentage than Cruz and Nicks, with only 12 of their 93 targets (12.9 percent) coming deep downfield. As a point of comparison, here are a few other marks from some of the league's top receiving pairs:
- Roddy White and Julio Jones – 20.0 percent
- Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin – 28.1 percent
- Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery – 20.9 percent
- A.J. Green and Andrew Hawkins – 21.3 percent
- Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker – 17.2 percent
- Jordy Nelson and James Jones – 19.8 percent
- Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd – 19.3 percent
- DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin – 27.8 percent
- Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown – 20.8 percent
- Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams – 26.4 percent
- The Giants obviously prefer to place Cruz in the slot, with 67.1 percent of his pass snaps and 70.5 percent of his targets coming there. With Cruz in the slot, 29.6 percent of the Giants' passes have gone to the shifty play-maker.
Cowboys Comparison: While everyone knows of Cruz as a slot receiver, few think of Austin as the same. The truth is that Austin has played 70.1 percent of his pass snaps in the slot this year, a higher rate than Cruz, although only 52.4 percent of his targets have come from the slot. With Austin in the slot, only 14.3 percent of Romo's passes have gone to the receiver.