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Football Outsiders Q&A, Part 1: Eli and that 70 percent goal

Can Eli Manning really complete 70 percent of his passes? Should that even be a goal for the Giants quarterback?

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Joe Robbins

With the regular season approaching the fine folks at Football Outsiders have agreed to answer some questions from each of the SB Nation team web sites. FO's Scott Kacsmar answered questions from Big Blue View. We will use each in a separate post between now and the beginning of the season, a sort of 'Football Outsiders Q&A series' if you will.

Let's start our series with a question about Eli Manning and completion percentage.

Ed: The Giants have set the ‘pie in the sky’ goal of 70 percent completions for Eli Manning. His career best is 62.9 percent. What do you see as a reasonable expectation for Manning in a new offense where short, quick throws are more prevalent?

FO's Scott Kacsmar: I understand the "set high goals" thing, but this is one of the more laughable ones I've heard, right up there with 2,500 rushing yards in a season. Only a few quarterbacks have ever maintained 70 percent with Drew Brees doing it twice. Not even Peyton Manning has done it, so I don't see any way Eli Manning does that. Like you said, 62.9 percent is the highest he's ever had, and he's at 58.5 percent for his career.

A positive, realistic goal for Eli would be 65 percent. His accuracy has always been inconsistent, but at his best we know he can get in a good rhythm capable of that number. I think Kevin Gilbride's offensive system played some part in his lower percentages. He throws a lot of vertical passes in an offense that hasn't relied on yards after catch (YAC). Victor Cruz didn't get a single wide receiver screen or smoke pass last year, which is a bit nutty if you consider his skillset and this era of football where teams are loading up with screens to substitute as short, more effective runs. So I think more short passes can get Eli's percentage up, but it's not going to matter if the plays aren't gaining good yardage. David Carr completed 68.3 percent of his passes in 2006, but he averaged 9.2 yards per completion and 6.3 yards per attempt. That's terrible, as was the Houston offense that season.

If the Giants need precedent for something like this, then look at John Elway. In his 11th season (1993), which is where Eli's at now, he completed a career-high 63.2 percent of his passes. That was the only time in his career he hit 63 percent, and that was with a new coach/system. That was a great year for Elway, but on the flip side, there's Steve McNair. He never completed 63 percent until his last two years in Baltimore, but those weren't very effective seasons with an inability to stretch the field.

I guess a stat like completion percentage stands out to people who aren't even very interested in stats, but I would rather hear a team talk about getting their quarterback to average a higher yards per attempt. That stat has always correlated well with winning football games. Setting a goal of at least 7.5 yards per attempt (something Eli's only done twice in his career) this season would likely help the offense score more points.

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