It has always been easy to pick on Eli Manning for his legendary Manning Face when things don’t go well for the New York Giants, and to make fun of him on those occasions when he hasn’t played up to his pedigree. What has never really been easy is to fully evaluate what kind of quarterback Manning has been throughout his career.
There is such a wide swing in what you can look at, good and bad. What you choose to put the most weight on likely depends on your pre-conceived notion — or ingrained belief, if you will — about what the 36-year-old veteran is.
Do you put the most weight on those two glorious Super Bowl runs? How heavily do you weigh his iron man streak that has now reached 201 consecutive regular-season starts? The regular-season mediocrity that has marked his career? All of the losing seasons?
Even in his 14th season, Manning remains an incredibly difficult quarterback to evaluate. Is he in decline? Is he still a player capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl? How much of the Giants struggles on offense can be pinned on Manning? How much of his less-than-stellar play at the end of last season and beginning of this one should simply be attributed to the mess around him?
In Week 1, Manning was criticized for getting rid of the ball too quickly and not taking enough shots down the field. In Week 2, he was criticized for at times holding the ball too long instead of getting rid of it. So, which is it? He was also ripped for some off-target throws, including one on Monday night that led to a costly interception.
Let’s get the 2017 stats out of the way.
Completion rate: Manning is 51-of-70 (72.9 percent), way above his 59.8 career completion rate — a really misleading stat if that is the only number you look at.
TDs/INTs: One TD, two picks
Passer rating: 83.0. That is right on his career mark, but would be his lowest since 2013.
Yards gained per pass attempt: 6.6. Lowest of the Ben McAdoo era and below his 7.1-yard career mark.
Adjusted yards gained per pass attempt: 5.6. Worst of the McAdoo era and a full yard below his career mark.
Yards per completion: 9.0. That would mark the first time in his career he would be below 10 yards per completion.
Adjusted net yards per pass attempt: 4.31. Worst of his career and well off his average of 5.95 yards per attempt.
Now for the truly unbelievable stat, and the one that is really at the center of any attempt to evaluate Manning’s current play. He has been sacked eight times in 78 drop backs, a startling 10.3 percent of the time. Manning was sacked on only 3.4 percent of drop backs in 2016, and has been sacked 4.6 percent of the time throughout his career.
Manning had one of his worst statistical seasons in 2013, when he was sacked a career-worst 39 times, that equated to 6.6 percent of his drop backs. Just do the multiplication — at the current pace, Manning would be sacked 64 times (64 times!!!!) over a 16-game season. It is impossible to play quarterback, or at least play it well, under those conditions.
The lack of protection is a major issue
Manning is 36. He has started 201 straight regular-season games. He has bounced up from lots of hits over the years that probably would have broken other quarterbacks. He can’t, though, do that forever. Nor can he run an efficient offense when he is being hit and harassed as often as he is.
During our conversation on Big Blue View Radio recently, I asked former NFL offensive lineman and current SB Nation contributor Geoff Schwartz, who played with Manning, if the quarterback still had what it takes to win big games. His answer was simple:
“They have not given him the line up front to make a fair evaluation of whether Eli is getting older or not with his play,” Schwartz said. “It’s a lot to do about confidence. It’s hard for me to evaluate Eli. I may be a little biased. I enjoyed playing with him, he was the best quarterback I played with. It’s hard for me to put all the blame on Eli. How can you judge a quarterback who doesn’t have a run game? Look at the teams that don’t run the ball -- they all don’t have good quarterback play. That’s a lot to put on a quarterback.
“It’s hard to make a fair evaluation of Eli with all these pieces just not there.”
ON WFAN this week, Giants radio analyst Carl Banks had a similar take on Manning.
“He’s good enough. He’s the best they have, and he’s their best chance for success,” Banks said. “Let’s dismiss the fact that he’s not good because he is good. None of ‘em are good when they’re getting hit with the frequency that he’s getting hit with.”
“You cannot expect Eli Manning to last much longer if he takes the type of hits he took (against Detroit),” Banks said. “You’re not doing this team a service ... if you don’t believe that the most valuable player on your team should be entitled to a little bit better protection.” ...
“This quarterback took hits that I haven’t seen him take in a long time. I mean, he’s bouncing off the turf.”
An NFC scout told me that “the OL is a mess and there needs to be more done schematically to help him have time. Historically, Eli has been good when a play breaks down but there just isn’t much time to even progress through reads.”
Much of the criticism of the line play has, of course, been directed at Ereck Flowers. Former Giant Tiki Barber said on the “Tiki & Tierney Show” that Manning would end up in a “body bag” if Flowers continued to play left tackle.
That you can go read for yourself. We have done enough beating up on Flowers ... at least until the next time we beat up on Flowers.
There is another part of what Barber said that bears attention.
Can Eli make other players better?
Barber said that there was a time when Manning did that, but no longer.
“ ... Eli cannot do it anymore. I don’t mean that as a knock to Eli. I mean this as a knock to all of these inferior players around him. He can’t make them great. ... he can’t do that anymore. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad quarterback. It just means he’s at the point where he can’t do that any longer.”
Barber’s comment about Manning being unable to make players better is a good place for me to start. I have honestly never been certain of Manning’s ability to do that, but I do know that Barber played with Manning and knows more football than I do, so if he saw that ability then I will take his word for it.
Whether it’s still there or not is debatable. Manning has always been a quarterback who needed certain things in order to be successful.
He has always needed good offensive line play because he has never moved incredibly well. He has a wonderful knack for sliding in the pocket to create throwing lanes, but he’s never been a guy who could dance his way out of a jailbreak. Right now, he obviously doesn’t have that.
He has always needed a good running game. Play-action passing, especially from under center, has always been a strength of his game. No defense cares about run fakes when you can’t run, or when it’s always third-and-9, which narrows the throwing windows and adds to the pressure from the pass rush. He doesn’t have that.
He has always needed receivers who could win contested catches and had the ability to adjust to passes that were catchable, but perhaps not thrown with pinpoint accuracy. He does have that at his disposal.
Manning may not have the throw-to-throw arm strength he had 10 years ago. Who does? He showed Monday night, though, that given an opportunity he can still make the big-time throw down the field. The 38-yard completion to Jerell Adams showed that. The dropped deep ball by Brandon Marshall showed that. The deep ball to Evan Engram that would have been a touchdown if not for a brilliant play by Darius Slay that knocked the ball loose showed that.
What is Manning?
He may or may not make other players better. You decide that for yourself. He isn’t always perfectly accurate — he never has been and never will be. He has never been a “pretty” quarterback, and that isn’t going to change. He might have declined slightly in terms of arm strength and pocket mobility. We don’t know that for sure, but at 36 I think it’s logical to believe that.
I still believe, though, that Manning can take the Giants where they want to go. As Banks indicated, he is their best chance. The Giants just have to give him a chance, and right now they aren’t doing that. Really, that’s a shame.