The Eli Manning Enigma

Washington Redskins v New York Giants

There are few players less understood in the NFL than Eli Manning. To borrow a phrase from Churchill, he is a riddle wrapped in a puzzle inside an enigma. How can it be that this seemingly average QB can find himself at 8th all time in passing yardage? The numbers do not matter to the outsiders who routinely trash him. At face value the critics are correct. Eli really is a slightly above average QB who does not lift his team up enough to warrant elite status (save 2011, when it really was all about him and his Q4 comebacks). Yet Eli’s combined work is so exemplary that this writer believes he will be enshrined in Canton. So why is there this constant battle on Eli Manning? Why is the discussion so loud and divided?

A Tale of Two Cities

His accuracy is ordinary. Many of his postseasons have been extraordinary.
His seasons are ordinary. His career is extraordinary. The 2007 regular season was ordinary. The 2007 postseason was extraordinary. His interception rate is ordinary. His passing accomplishments are extraordinary.

So it really depends on which Eli you want to see. Professional sports judges the player on ability. The NFL, because of injuries and attrition, judges the player on ability AND availability. Eli Manning is one part average ability and one part extraordinary availability. For the QB position, any GM will tell you that if they can have an average QB for 14 years of consecutive starts, they would not walk but instead would run to the podium for that deliverable.

The metaphor of Eli Manning’s enigmatic career is the backfoot throw. Giants fans cringe and detractors howl when the NY Giants QB does not step into his throw and lofts a duck. Yet this is how the human gumby has a 199 game consecutive starting streak. His fans will curse the throw but they will sleep well knowing that he is always there on gameday.

Statistics are a nasty discipline. You can twist the numbers six ways from Sunday. Lies, damn lies and statistics, said Twain. This is a NY Giants blog, and we won’t apologize for Eli’s 2 Super Bowl MVPs. We admit to our bias to support Eli, but that is far as it goes. We remain objective to a fault, facing up to the objective numbers, good AND bad. More than a few Giants fans have sworn off this site, sometimes having called us haters. That’s because we don’t kiss every player’s, coach’s and front office guy’s ***. After blogging for 10 years, we don’t hear much of that anymore. A lot of that comes from the fact that when we point out problems, the problems are legitimate. In 2014, we were the first one to conclude that the team’s injuries were a structural issue. The rest of the mainstream media and other sycophantic bloggers looked the other way and said it was “just bad luck,” only to watch (1) another 2 seasons of record injuries (2) a change in the Strength & Conditioning Coordinator in 2016 (3) a change in the team’s approach to strength training in 2016 and (4) a complete reversal of fortune in injuries resulting in the first playoff appearance in 5 years. Add two bearish calls for the 2014 and 2015 season (correct, both years finished “Under” the Las Vegas win total at 6-10) plus a Bullish Call on 2016 (correct, finishing above the “Over” Las Vegas win total at 11-5) and our views are no longer ‘hate’ and are instead ‘realistic and objective.’

Back to the stats, Eli had a bad year in 2016. There were a couple of stinker games in there that reminded of us of some of the turkeys from 2007’s regular season. His QB rating last season lumped him in there with greats of the game including Trevor Siemian, Colin Kaepernick and Cody Kessler. After all, the critics argue, those QBs had poor OLs too, so how can you possibly defend this guy?! In part, they are correct. Yes… Eli had a bad year. But we have to look a little deeper into those statistics to better understand the story. Eli’s Left Tackle protecting his blind side was the single worst offender in the NFL last year in QB hurries. Eli adapted by throwing the ball more quickly. This led to a different stat which we created: time divided by sack percentage. By normalizing the sacks for the number of throws and amount of time that the QB holds the ball you get a better understanding of how well the QB is managing the game. Rodgers, as an example, holds the ball longer when he takes his sacks. So Rodgers, who would normally look bad for the sacks (15/28), now rises to 11th overall. Where was Eli? Eli Manning finished 5th overall this past season. This is how an unspectacular QB manages the hand he is dealt and puts his team in a position to win (11) games. He gets rid of the ball. He survives having 2 awful pass protectors in Flowers and Hart. His statistics and performance suffer. But he doesn’t blow up the team with killer sacks and more turnovers than the situation would otherwise deliver. 

It should be noted who finished ahead of Manning in this stat. Carr was 1, followed by Roethlisberger, Brady and Cousins. Derek Carr had one of the best OL’s in the league. Brady had Belichick bring Dante Scarnechia out of retirement to coach his OL. Big Ben had the second lowest sack rate and got rid of the ball. And Cousins just edged out Eli. There was a big drop after Eli to #6, Drew Brees, another Hall of Famer. Damn that Eli, finding his way into those elite circles again. Siemian, Kessler and Kap? They were the 15th, 27th and 28th ranking out of 28 QBs. Oh- I guess they had bad OLs.

Eli Manning is the game manager with a little extra. He’ll get you titles and he’ll give the other 21 guys an opportunity to win. This site argued consistently and correctly that Jerry Reese was negligent in restocking OL at the beginning of this decade. We saw the results in 2013 when the last of the old “Guard,” Chris Snee, faded via injury. And then when Beatty had the pectoral injury in the workout room (thanks S&C) it was no surprise that the Giants OL would continue to be behind the curve on this unit’s readiness. That is what we saw in 2016. Add no true TE plus Cruz’s lack of separation, and Eli’s numbers took a hit. 

Eli Manning is getting older but he has enough to get it done. He was there in the postseason (again) vs GB, elevating his play. This season, hope will come in the offseason efforts by Flowers and Hart to give Eli more time. Reports indicate they are leaner and quicker, without a loss in strength. Perhaps the boxing lessons will also help with hand speed and technique. Brandon Marshall, a true X WR, can get separation on the outside that Cruz could not. And rookie TE Evan Engram can also add another weapon over the middle of the field. It’s been a while since Eli has had those tall receiving threats. Together, if healthy, those other 21 starters can put Eli in a position to deliver another title. His critics will always see what he is not. Objectively, there is so much more to who this QB is and what he can do, when given the chance.



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