Back when Big Blue View began during the 2007 off-season the very first thing we did was have a discussion about quarterback Eli Manning. Four years later when you talk about the New York Giants the story is still the same -- Manning is the place where you have to begin.
So, as I begin a series of off-season positional reviews quarterback is the place where I think I have to start.
There is much to like in what Manning did in 2010, as well as there is also plenty to dislike. You may know the numbers by now, but we need to recite them anyway.
- A second straight season of 4,000 passing yards (4,002).
- Career bests in touchdown passes (31), completion percentage (62.9) and total completions (339).
- Manning is now second in Giants history in attempts (3,332), completions (1,932) and yards (22,646) and is third in touchdown passes (156).
We know these, too, but let's put them here for reference.
- A career-worst, and league-leading, 25 interceptions.
- A ridiculous 4.6 percent of his passes intercepted.
- Five lost fumbles (seven overall).
- A quarterback rating of 85.3, his worst in the past three seasons.
Let me say this about Manning. I believe he is an elite quarterback who did not have an elite season. Drew Brees
threw 22 interceptions this season, and I believe both guys were often guilty of the same thing, trying to do too much and taking too many unnecessary chances. Does that mean they both stink? Of course not. It means that at times they did not play up to their capabilities, for whatever reasons.
Before you get crazy on me, I am not saying that Eli belongs in the same conversation with Brees, Tom Brady
and Peyton Manning
-- acknowledged as the game's best three quarterbacks -- when you talk about 'elite' status. I believe Eli is 'elite' in the sense that he is without doubt one of the 10-12 quarterbacks in the NFL you can build a franchise around and win with. ESPN's John Clayton believes the same thing
, not that Clayton's opinion is any sort of gospel. It's just interesting.
We have been over the types on interceptions Eli threw this season and we know probably eight to 10 were on tipped balls that should have been caught or on miscommunications where a receiver ran an incorrect route. We also know, of course, that when you throw the ball 539 times over 16 games some of those are going to fall into the wrong hands. Yet, we also know that too many of the interceptions in 2010 were the result of awful decisions (the left-handed throw, anyone?) or bad throws.
The disturbing trend for Manning is that his interception percentage has risen the last two seasons. From a career best of 2.1 percent in 2008 to 2.8 in 2009 and now an unsightly 4.6 in the just-concluded season. For a guy with his ability, the quality arm that he has, the pedigree and smarts we know he possesses, that is a trend we should not be seeing seven years into his career.
Is it his footwork? Occasionally, maybe, since we know high throws are often the result of improper footwork. The back-foot throws, especially deep down the field, are also still too prevalent. Is it his decision-making? Sometimes, maybe, since we do see some throws that should never be made. I think most quarterbacks not named Tom Brady probably throw a couple of balls every game they wish they hadn't, however. Is it the inexperience of his receiving corps? Sometimes this is the case. Is it a stubborn lack of willingness to give up on a play? I think this is the case at times. The left-handed throw into triple coverage while falling down was a great example. Even against Washington in Week 17 there were a couple of those -- the one that leaps to mind was the risky backward shuffle to Ahmad Bradshaw
while falling down. No turnover resulted, but it was a foolish risk.
Likely, the regression in Eli's ability to protect the football is a combination of all of these factors. Whatever the root cause, it has to get fixed for the Giants to return to elite status in the NFC. Make no mistake, even with 10 wins in 2010 you really can't consider the Giants elite when they have missed the playoffs two seasons in a row.
So, how do the Giants help Manning overcome the turnover bugaboo? First of all I believe Eli is right when he says he "not a 25-interception quarterback." He is better than that. Yet, defensive backs throughout the league all know that Eli will give them chances to make big plays throughout games.
The continued growth of Hakeem Nicks
and Mario Manningham
will help Eli. If Steve Smith can return from his knee injury at some point next season that will help, as well. If nothing else, Eli always knows where to find Smith, his third-down security blanket. Getting the tight end more involved in the passing game would help, which might require (sorry, Kevin Boss
& Travis Beckum
fans) getting a better tight end.
Yet, here is another thing. I really believe Eli missed quarterback coach Chris Palmer this past season. Palmer, of course, left the Giants for a head-coaching opportunity with Hartford in the UFL. Do you have confidence that Mike Sullivan, a first-time quarterbacks coach, can help Eli? I don't.
In fact, I'm not even sure that anyone on the current Giants coaching staff is really willing to cross the franchise quarterback. At the tail end of this season head coach Tom Coughlin was, for the first time I can ever remember, somewhat critical of Manning in his public comments to reporters. Yet, as emotional as we see Coughlin sometimes, have you ever seen him confront Manning on the sidelines after a poor throw? Bill Parcells used to get in Phil Simms' face all the time. I have never seen Coughlin do it to Manning, and perhaps he needs to at times. Eli is not Peyton, and he is not above reproach.
For that matter I have been thinking about the training camps I have witnessed the past two summers at UAlbany. Bluntly, Eli can be a turnover machine at times during the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 passing drills the Giants run during those sessions. Some of that I have always attributed to Eli throwing balls up to his new receivers just to find out whether or not they can make a play on it. With what we saw this year, though, I might be tempted to re-consider that stance. Does he throw them up there, even when his chances of success are slim, because he really thinks it's the right place to put the ball? It just makes me wonder.
Another thing about those UAlbany training camps. I have seen Coughlin scream at other players. I have seen offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride up in the face of Andre Woodson, Rhett Bomar
and others. I have never, in two summers, seen anyone say a word to Eli about a mistake. Is the guy coaching himself? If he is doing that, how is he ever going to correct his mistakes?
I do believe the Giants need a quarterbacks coach with experience, maybe someone who has played the position at the NFL level. I don't know who that person is, but it wouldn't hurt to have someone willing to hold the franchise quarterback's feet to the fire on occasion.
In the end, I have to believe the 2010 season will be an aberration for Eli. He is the Giants quarterback, the guy the franchise will revolve around for the foreseeable future. For better or worse.
It really isn't worth discussing backup quarterbacks. Sage Rosenfels
never played, so how can we judge him? Rhett Bomar, sadly, is gone. Jim Sorgi
spent the year on IR and does it really matter if the Giants bring him back?
Overall Grade: Kwillie