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Examining Eli: Free Eli? Giants just need to give him more help

Are the Giants really asking Eli Manning to play too cautiously?

Eli Manning and Ben McAdoo go over plays
Eli Manning and Ben McAdoo go over plays
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

During his 10½ seasons in the NFL, many things -- both kind and unkind -- have been said about Eli Manning. One thing has has never been said is that the New York Giants' quarterback is too cautious with the football. Until now.

Quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf was asked last week if the Giants, under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, had actually been asking Manning to be "too conservative" with the football.

"That is a fine line, for sure. I wouldn’t accuse him of being too conservative, but we certainly want him taking care of the ball. That is a big part of if you say, "oh, he should have thrown it in there in a tight window," if you are going to be careless with the ball, maybe," Langsdorf said. "I think that taking care of it will override anything that looks too careless. I think that is a big part of his decision-making, is knowing whether it is a risky throw, or it is a calculated risk. Whether it is something he can make, and only give the receiver a chance to catch the ball. As opposed to the possibility of a tipped ball, or an interception."

Newsday's Tom Rock wrote that "By forcing him to be more conservative, the Giants are eliminating him from being a deciding factor in games."

That is probably a drastic overstatement. As the old saying goes, though, you can't have your cake and eat it, too.

Manning is enjoying one of the most efficient stretches, and seasons, of his career.

  • Manning has thrown five interceptions, four of those in the season's first two weeks. Over the past five games he has thrown one interception in 153 passes.
  • His overall interception percentage of 2.2 percent is the second-lowest of his career.
  • He has 14 touchdown passes. That puts him on pace for a career-high 32. His touchdown percentage of 6.2 is the best of his career.
  • Manning's passer rating (96.8), QBR (78.45) and completion percentage (64.9) are all career-bests.

There are other numbers, though, that are not so impressive.

  • Manning is averaging 224.7 yards passing per game, his lowest since 2008 -- and the third straight season that number has declined since his career best of 308.3 yards per game in 2011.
  • Manning has completed only 5-of-22 pass attempts of 20 yards or more, which places him near the bottom of the league in deep completions.
  • Manning has only nine completions that have gained 20 yards or more, which places him at the bottom of the league. NOTE: Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Tony Romo of the Cowboys also only had nine entering Sunday's games.
  • Manning's passes have generated 737 yards after the catch. Only two quarterbacks -- Seattle's Russell Wilson (737) and Romo (713) had gotten less entering Sunday.
  • Manning's yards per pass attempt of 6.99 is near the bottom of the league.

OK, enough numbers. What does it all mean? Are the Giants holding Manning back? Do they need to free Eli in order to make a playoff run during their final nine games?

I don't think so.

If you have Manning's career you know he is hardly conservative. He is fearless when it comes to believing in his ability to make a throw. There is a whole lot of Brett Favre in Manning. There isn't much, if any, Alex Smith.

Over the years that gunslinger mentality helped bring the Giants two Super Bowl titles. There have, however, been costs along the way. How many games, and maybe even seasons, have been tossed down the drain along with the franchise record 176 interceptions Manning has thrown? I still believe the Giants lost a 2012 playoff berth when Manning greedily and unnecessarily tried a deep throw to Ramses Barden against the Philadelpha Eagles. That fell incomplete, but caused an offensive pass interference penalty that pushed the Giants out of field goal range and cost them a game.

This is no longer Kevin Gilbride's Eli Manning. No longer is high-risk and spectacular failure acceptable as long as there is an occasional big payoff. This is Ben McAdoo's Eli Manning. Now, the offense is about efficiency, pace, risk management and trying to generate plays without a) getting the quarterback pounded thanks to a bevy of seven-step drops and b) chucking the ball down field into double coverage a half-dozen times a game and hoping for the best.

Are the Giants holding Manning back with an offensive philosophy that is asking him to throw the ball quicker and be smarter with it? I don't believe so. Are they sometimes taking the ball out of his hands in risky situations? Yes. ESPN's Dan Graziano posted numbers recently that show only three NFL teams run the ball more often than the Giants, many of those coming on second and third downs.

There are some who believe the Giants need to free Eli. Really, though, what they need to do is give him more help. As I wrote on Sunday, I am certainly not buying that Manning's supporting cast is among the best in the league. On the contrary, that supporting cast has not done nearly enough to help a quarterback who is playing exceedingly well.

The Giants have dropped 15 passes, and only the Colts (18) and Vikings (16) have dropped more.

In an offense designed for catch-and-run type plays, the Giants have gotten only a couple of big plays of that type so far this season. Victor Cruz had a 61-yarder and a 26-yard catch-and-run touchdown. The Giants' 737 yards after catch is, as mentioned earlier, among the wort in the league. That ius not good enough, considering that the offense is designed to create opportunities for receivers to shine once the ball is in their hands.

Going back to why they run so often, that is simply to minimize risk when possible. The Giants have hand third down and 10 yards or more situations 25 times this season, and have run the ball six times in those spots. Sometimes, it is better to run and punt than throw an interception in a third-down-and-impossible spot.

Perhaps Odell Beckham can help the Giants get more of those explosive plays down the field and yardage after catch on shorter plays. Aside from Beckham, though, which Giants recei ver really threatens defenses vertically? The Giants still have work to do on the offensive line, as well, and still lack a  running back who truly scares defenses in the open field.

Manning is doing everything he can with the tools he has to work with. The view here is that the Giants are not holding him back, they are simply playing the way they have to play with the pieces they have.The Giants' offense is pointed in the right direction, but the pieces are not yet all in place for this offense to be what it can be.