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Eli Manning and the Offensive Line of 2010: Underappreciated

Let’s turn our attention to something in 2010 that is an enormous accomplishment. We talk a lot about the Giants excellent defense and everything except the offensive line.  It’s taken 13 weeks to feel inspired enough to write about what is becoming comparable to a Christmas miracle.

I was one of the first to say that next to linebacker, the offensive line was a major problem.  We spoke about the lack of depth and the aging of this unit. The only player who had a decent season in 2009 was Shaun O’Hara, and he has hardly played this year.  Chris Snee, who would start and stand out on any team, had an off year last year. Kareem McKenzie, with a very bad back and an assortment of other problems (age), seemed to be done.  David Diehl, with the failure of Beatty to win the left tackle spot in camp, was in for it again.  Little did we know that the “iron man” of the Giants would miss a good chunk of time. Rich Seubert is a testament to courage and desire.  He had to play center after the second center, Adam Koets, went down.  He moved over and has done a fantastic job.

We had the good fortune to get Shawn Andrews, who was attempting a comeback from mental issues (depression), physical issues (many) and had been out of football for two years.  We drafted Rich Petrus late, who I felt was a steal.  I still believe he will be a starter and a good one.  Let’s throw Bear Pascoe in here, as the former practice squad tight end has morphed into a very good fullback. When you talk about the Giant running game you cannot forget the bone crushing blocks he has made all year and the (more than occasional) catch that Hedgecock simply could not make.

We are witnessing something special we may never see again. We are witnessing a bunch of has been’ s or never will be players coming together to play arguably amongst the top units in the game. One cannot ignore the job they did Monday night when they shut down a very good Vikings defense.  A unit which had been yielding less than 60 yards rushing recently was torched for more than 200 yards on the ground.  Other than one of only 14 sacks allowed in 13 games by Jared Allen, the would-be zombies were darn near perfect. It’s time to recognize what they have accomplished.
 Speaking of accomplishments, I want to turn my attention to Eli Manning. Three years ago, he lead us to an improbable Super Bowl Championship. And I have been reading  all these comments about Eli Manning and the verdict was near unanimous.  Most feel that Manning stinks and he is a deficit to this team.
Ernie Accorsi thought that Eli was a once in a generation player.  He had a good (not great) career at Ole Miss but Ernie fell in love.  Eli came into the league with as much pressure on him as anyone ever has.  Accorsi made a trade that will always stand akin to Ditka trading his entire draft for one running back that was probably in the top 5 in worst moves in NFL history.

As it turns out so far, with the way Phillip Rivers has developed and the three top draft picks we gave up to acquire Eli in that draft, that trade was a stinker.  Rivers has turned into an M.V.P caliber player who is a swan compared to Eli’s duck.  And Roethlisberger, for all his off the field issues, has won two titles and was Accorsi’s choice if the SD deal did not go through. 

So, let’s dig a little deeper. 

Eli came into the league with an enormous amount of pressure. He had “the deal” to live up to and both a brother and a father who were legendary quarterbacks.  Peyton laid an egg for a few years before he blossomed and Archie was pretty much a “tackling dummy” in New Orleans.  Eli also had the requisite pressure from the NY media, which has been known to swallow up more than a few players at that position. 

Rivers, Brady, and Rodgers all had the luxury of learning from the likes of Drew Brees, Bledsoe and Brett Favre. Eli was thrown to the lions in his first season. It is very unusual for a college quarterback to come into the league and have to play right away.  When it does happen, the results are usually a disaster.  David Carr, Eli, Alex Smith and a host of others including the oft injured Stafford in Detroit have either busted or got busted.  Undrafted Tony Romo, who has imploded, got to sit and watch and learn.

What hinders Eli?  First off, he throws way too much off his back foot.  Throwing off your back foot makes for a lack in accuracy, a lack in velocity and more often than not is an almost interception or as in the case of Eli a lot of interceptions.  Next, the reason Eli is often high is because he releases the ball too soon. The difference between a few inches can and does result in a high throw or one that is a turf burner. When Eli sets properly he is as good as anyone. We have seen him do this for a quarter or two but never for 60 minutes.

These were/are fixable problems.  The Giants brought in a quarterback guru to tutor Eli but that was a joke.  Despite what some of the stats may say, Eli should operate more snaps out of the shotgun.  It buys him the second or two he needs.  The fact that Eli runs the clock down to 3 seconds or less is a flaw.  It is a serious flaw as it affects the rhythm of the offense.  That is easily fixed but never addressed.

The big unknown is Eli’s head. He seems to get flustered under pressure and he makes mistakes that a smart qb doesn’t. All great quarterbacks have one thing in common.  They have that intangible feel for the game.  Peyton has it, Favre had it, Brady has it, Staubach had it, Brees has it but Eli just doesn’t.  It doesn’t come natural for Eli and that is just the way it is.
Now, to the plus side.  Everyone isn’t Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Roger Staubach or yes, Peyton.  Eli has done a darn good job for us.  He has improved each year except this one.  And this one is not over by any means.  He won a Super Bowl, and though incomprehensible at times, he leads one of the best offenses in the league.  He comes to work earlier than anyone else and works harder in the pre-season than anyone else.  He is mature for a kid making $17 million a year, and he cares. The kid can’t run and he makes too many mistakes but he also throws a lot of touchdowns and knows how to bring a team back. That too is the sign of a very good quarterback.

One must acknowledge that Eli had to suffer the mutiny of Shockey and the insanity of Burress.  For all of the good receivers that the Giants have brought in, none of them have been as consistent and as healthy as Eli.  This means that he has had no more than a few years with any current receiver to get it smooth, except Smith.  Smith getting hurt this year and then being lost to IR is a metaphor for the start-stop relationships he has had to manage.  He quietly goes about his work and you never him complain about that.  Or anything else, for that matter.
Eli is not a legend. He may never be a legend but he is, barring injury, only halfway through his career. He also has suffered through an offensive coordinator who makes Eli’s job far tougher.  Gilbride’s predictable and myopic offense, with its inability to let his players do what they do best, is a big factor in the saga of Eli.

Eli has brought this franchise a title.  The story is only half written.