Prior to the start of the 2011 season, one New York quarterback caught a lot of flak for placing himself amongst the sacred two: Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Now, I would argue this class should now (or soon) include Aaron Rodgers, but I digress. It takes a lot to put one's name in the conversation of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, in the conversation of six MVP awards, four Super Bowl wins (with five appearances), and numerous other accolades I won't bother mentioning. Mark Sanchez and David Carr have not made this leap of faith, understandably so.
I present, the younger, less marketable, less everything, Eli Manning. Has he arrived? His claims, outlandish as they may be, deserve a look.
2011: Tom Brady is 34, in his 12th season. Eli Manning is 30, in his 8th season.
Brady: 133/196 (67.9%) for 1,874 yards (14 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 0 fumbles)
Manning: 104/164 (63.4%) for 1,486 yards (11 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 4 fumbles)
Brady is coming off of his second MVP. Eli has been to one Pro Bowl, and is coming off a 25 interception season. However, one thing to note is that Eli has taken fourteen sacks this season, to Brady's eight. While the argument can be made that Brady takes less sacks because he gets rid of the ball faster, it is also clear to see (in watching the games) that Brady plays with much better pass protection. Still, in a year that Manning is off to his fastest start (as indicated by a quarterback rating of 102), Tom Brady is still breaking records, starting the year throwing for more yards in five games than any other quarterback has in history. Granted, Brady is not short on weapons, but neither is Eli.
However, the Patriots enjoy, through five games, the league's 9th best rushing attack (122.8 ypg) while the Giants are ranked a mere 24th (87.5). This is further indicative of the Giants blocking woes, and also, points to Eli's numbers being all the more impressive. No respect for a team's running game makes passing more difficult. Not to take away from Brady's accomplishments, but the balanced attack of the Patriots has certainly helped him put up mind-boggling numbers.
Eli Manning is in his 8th season. Tom Brady's 8th season was quite the stat line, that season being the one of the mythical 18-0 run the Patriots had, perhaps the only thing that could possibly overshadow Brady's accomplishments, breaking Peyton Manning's single season touchdown record, amongst other feats.
Tom Brady: 398/578 (68.9%) 4,806 yards (50 touchdowns, 8 interceptions) 8.3 YPA
Eli Manning (on pace): 333/525 (63.4%) 4,755 yards (35 touchdowns, 16 interceptions) 9.1 YPA
While Eli's not looking to shatter any records, he's still on a great pace. Compare to Peyton Manning's 7th season:
Peyton Manning: 336/497 (67.6%) 4,557 yards (49 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) 9.2 YPA
Note that, while Eli's TD/INT ratio doesn't stack up entirely (though still, is not bad), his projected yardage and YPA stats are very good. I'd say the one glaring difference here is the offensive line. In 2007, Brady took 21 sacks. In 2004, Peyton was sacked just 13 times. Eli's been sacked 14 times in just five games.
Brady and big brother Peyton also had Hall of Fame weapons at their disposal:
Marvin Harrison 86/1,113/15 (rec/yds/TDs)
Reggie Wayne: 77/1,210/12
Randy Moss: 98/1,493/23
Wes Welker 112/1,175/8
Giants (2011 projections):
Hakeem Nicks: 90/1,318/10
Victor Cruz: 61/1,235/10
I don't know if we'll see these numbers hold. I expect Nicks' numbers to be around those totals, but Cruz is very difficult to project. Still, Giants receivers are looking good so far. The only notable difference is that the numbers indicate the Giants' second receiver is not as reliable, with just 61 projected catches. This is fair, as Cruz is a second year receiver that, yes, has had his ups. However, he's had some down moments.
Back to the question. Is Eli Manning there yet? Not yet. Still, if he keeps up the pace he's on, maybe he's not really as far off as everybody thinks. If the offensive line has a chance to get healthy and solidify somewhat, we may see Eli finally emerge as elite. Considering the amount of baggage, if he hits his projections, I'd certainly say he justified his preseason comments, even if he's not matching two future Hall of Famers stat-for-stat across the board.
Prior to the season, I argued on the boards that Eli would throw 35 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. This was not well wishing on my part, but just my feeling that Eli, given his history, has the mental toughness to come back from a 25 interception season. I'm not far off thus far, but again, it's just five games. Still eleven games to go for Eli, for better or worse.