As the end of the year approaches, and the new calendar year lingers on the horizon, many people begin to take stock of their lives with an eye towards self-improvement in the new year. Perhaps a resolution to eat healthier, exercise more, work smarter, or even spend more time with family. This process is also underway for NFL teams, as they begin to evaluate their current roster with an eye toward the offseason. Even though the New York Giants are technically alive in the playoff hunt — a feat which should not be overlooked — the organization needs to prepare for the future.
Will that future include Eli Manning?
Of course the quarterback position is the shiny object, the easiest one to debate and the position that will consume the bulk of airtime this offseason. But with an uncertain quarterback class entering the draft, a shaky free agency market to choose from and an unproven backup in Kyle Lauletta, the Giants might begin the 2019 season with a shotgun wedding of their own, hitching their fate to Manning for one final ride, like Arthur Morgan on his trusty steed headed to the final showdown.
Would that be the worst thing? Well, I won’t spoil the ending of Red Dead Redemption 2 ... but I digress.
One of the first pieces I wrote here at Big Blue View took the concept of “Five Throws,” making the case that Manning was still a viable option for the 2018 season by looking at just five throws from the 2017 season that highlighted how he could still be effective. In that spirit, here are five more throws, from Manning’s recent good form, to make the case that if the Giants have to — or choose to — ride with Manning for one last season they can still be a productive offense.
Over the past three weeks the Giants are 2-1, including a victory in overtime over the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears. During this stretch Manning has completed 62.8% of his passes for 664 yards and five touchdowns, against just two interceptions. His Adjusted Yards per Attempt during this stretch stands at 7.17, which is lower than his current year to date mark of 7.6, but that is due in large part to the AY/A of just 4.14 that he posted in the victory over the Bears. Now, the numbers are one thing, but what can we gleam from the film and the “Five Throws.”
Throw one — Week 12 at Philadelphia
The Giants narrowly lost to their division rivals back in Week 12, 25-22. But Manning played well in the contest, completing 26-of-37 passes for 297 yards and one touchdown to go with one interception, which was a big mistake he made before halftime as the Giants were in the red zone. But in the fourth quarter Manning engineered a field goal drive to tie the contest at 22, and this throw stands out.
With 7:37 remaining in the game the Giants face a first-and- 10 at the Eagles’ 46-yard line. They line up for the next play with Manning (10) under center and using 22 offensive personnel, in an offset i-formation with the strength to the right. In addition, the Giants put both tight ends in a dual wing to the right. Odell Beckham Jr. (13), the single wide receiver in the game, is split to the left:
The Giants, working off play-action, try and scheme a deep shot to Beckham on a double-move:
The Eagles’ cornerbacks, including Ronald Darby (41) -- who Beckham is working against - have been susceptible to double-move routes over the past two seasons. On this play, however, the Eagles are in a Cover 3 coverage, and Darby maintains his pre-snap cushion over the Giants’ talented wideout. Manning recognizes this early in the play and immediately comes to the right, hitting tight end Rhett Ellison (85) up the seam, exploiting a weak spot in the coverage:
Not only does Manning decipher this with the requisite speed to make the throw, but he fits this in between a number of Philadelphia defenders, and at a pivotal moment in the contest. While New York would fail to get into the end zone, this was a huge play at a big moment, and Manning showed the processing speed and aggression that might have been lacking earlier in the season.
Throw two - Week 13 vs/ Chicago
The Giants managed to upset the Bears in overtime on a raw and wet day at MetLife Stadium. Manning, going up against one of the league’s toughest defenses, struggled from a production standpoint. He completed just 19-of-35 passes for 170 yards and one touchdown, along with one interception, and the Giants’ biggest offensive play of the day was likely Beckham’s touchdown pass to Russell Shepard. But that did not mean this game was lacking in impressive throws from the veteran quarterback, and here is one of them.
As a New England Patriots fan and the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast, allow me to say a quick word or two about recognizing declines in quarterbacks. This has been a major focus of discussion in New England this season, as many members of the media writ large look to proclaim the decline of Brady. One thing that people point to is a decrease in velocity, and in the wake of New England’s loss to the Tennessee Titans this was a point of contention for many. As long as quarterbacks maintain their velocity, you can make the case that they are staving off the inevitable loss to Father Time.
That is why I watched this throw from Manning with keen interest:
The Giants have three receivers to the left on this play, and run a Tosser (double-slant) concept to that side of the formation with the tight end releasing to the flat from a wing alignment. Beckham is the slot receiver running the inside slant route. Manning is going to read this from inside to out, and when he sees that Beckham is playing against a defender using off technique, he knows he has the slant route pre-snap. But he still needs to fit this between two underneath defenders, and he does exactly that, aided by manipulating middle linebacker Danny Trevathan (59) with his eyes as the play begins. As Gary Nord, who was most recently the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Purdue University, said during a clinic presentation on quarterback play: “Don’t throw over linebackers; throw between linebackers. To throw over a linebacker softens a pass so that a deep back can intercept it.” That sometimes requires velocity, and Manning displays it on this completion.
Throw three — Week 13 at Washington
Manning and the New York offense exploded last week against Washington, dropping 40 points on their divisional foes. Manning had one of his best games of the season, completing 14-of-22 passes for 197 yards and a trio of touchdowns, for an AY/A of 11.68. He was confident and decisive throughout the game, whether on designed rollouts or on throws down the field.
On this first example, the Giants face a second-and-9 early in the second quarter following a false start penalty and a run of six yards by Saquon Barkley on second down. The offense aligns with Manning in the shotgun and Barkley (26) standing to the right of the quarterback. Washington, expecting a running play, puts eight defenders in the box. But the Giants are looking to throw on this snap:
(There is an argument to be advanced here about the impact of a running back like Barkley in terms of getting defenses to stack the box like this, but that is for another time).
Manning knows pre-snap that he has the right look he wants to throw this vertical route to the recently-acquired Corey Coleman (19). Which is exactly what he does, dropping in this well-placed deep shot along the boundary:
What stands out to me, in addition to the touch and placement on the throw, are the confidence and decisiveness that Manning shows on this play. Look at when the QB pulls the trigger:
When a quarterback knows exactly what he is getting from the defense -- in this case due to the stacked box from Washington and the single-high safety look -- he can be deadly effective. Here, Manning knows exactly what the defense is doing and given that, he drops in a perfect throw on the deep ball for a huge play.
Throw four — Week 13 at Washington
Late in the second quarter the Giants got onto the scoreboard again on a touchdown pass from Manning to Bennie Fowler (18) on this play-action boot concept:
One of the more interesting aspect to Manning’s season is how well the veteran passer has fared on throws from outside the pocket. As highlighted by Ed Valentine in this recent piece, Manning’s passer rating on throws coming from outside the pocket is among the best in the league. The veteran passer is not known for his athleticism and scrambling ability, but this season Pat Shurmur has used boot concepts like this play to get Manning out of the pocket and to give him some defined reads in the passing game. Early in the game the Giants used a concept like this, where Manning hit Sterling Shepard for a decent gain. Here, however, Manning threads a needle to Fowler who is facing pretty good coverage for the score:
Looking at this throw from the end zone angle we again see both the placement, and the velocity. Manning needs to put this right on the upfield shoulder of Fowler, or the defender in trail coverage will make a play on the football. By dialing up the velocity, Manning is able to complete this pass for the touchdown. Again, if we are going to watch the velocity for signs of a decline, Manning seems to be easing those types of concerns.
Throw five — Week 13 at Washington
The final play we will look at is this third quarter throw from Manning to Barkley to move the chains. Facing a third and three early in the third quarter, the Giants break the huddle with 11 offensive personnel and put Manning in the shotgun. The rookie running back stands to the left of the quarterback in the backfield:
This is the route concept the Giants employ on this third down:
Washington is going to blitz Manning on this play, sending one of the linebackers after him. Behind the pressure package they will run a Cover 1 scheme:
The quarterback reads this perfectly. The rub concept to the weak side of the formation, between the snag route from Fowler and the wheel route from Barkley, creates traffic and forces the linebacker responsible for Barkley in man coverage to work over the top of Fowler and Fowler’s defender. That tiny bit of space is all that Manning needs to find Barkley on this wheel route, and he places the throw perfectly:
From the recognition of the blitz and the coverage scheme, to the placement on this wheel route, Manning is on point to convert this third down to extend the drive.
Are these five throws (and the other ones that Manning has made during his recent stretch of good play) enough to convince the front office — as well as a skeptical fan base — that Manning is the answer for the 2019 season? Probably not. But again, the Giants may not have another viable option come opening weekend, 2019. The two quarterbacks many consider to be the most talented in the 2019 draft, Justin Herbert and Dwayne Haskins, may still return to school. Even if both come out, currently the Giants are looking at picking 10th in the first round. Ahead of is at least one team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are going to be in the mix for a quarterback. It is not a given that the Giants could find a viable week one starter in next year’s draft. So, it might be time to ride with Manning for one more season, at least at the start. If that is indeed the path, hopefully he has more throws like this in his holster.