As we roll through the offseason we have been profiling each of the 90 players the New York Giants will bring to training camp. Today is the day we are supposed to profile quarterback Eli Manning. Considering his importance to the past and present of the Giants, and the divisive nature of talking about Manning in any form, I thought it best that we take a different approach to the Manning story.
Rather than a generic Manning profile, I asked Big Blue View contributors to weigh in on the question “What are your expectations for Eli Manning in 2019?” That’s actually a broad question that could include thoughts on both how well or poorly he might play, and how much he will play.
Below, the thoughts of BBV contributors who answered.
I fully expect that the first time Eli Manning has a bad game, the crowd and the media is going to be clamoring for his removal from the game and his immediate dismissal.
Yes, I’m serious.
So Eli needs to meet head coach Pat Shurmur’s challenge back in April when the team selected Daniel Jones sixth overall and play well enough to keep the rookie on the bench.
The truth is, the Giants have given Manning everything he needs to accomplish that. In two off-seasons, general manager Dave Gettleman fixed the offensive line, brought in a legitimate running back who can scare defenses, revamped the receiving corps by trading away Odell Beckham Jr. and fixed the defense (or so it would appear).
The presence of Jones should also serve as added motivation, not that Manning needs it. His play hasn’t been horrible, but football is a results-based business, and I think it’s safe to say that given the won-loss record of the last two years, no one has played good enough football, including Manning.
So with all the stars finally aligning, there are zero excuses for Manning to not play at a high enough level this year. His stats in Year 1 of the Shurmur/Shula offense were very good, but that didn’t stop Manning, at times from reverting to taking some risks that backfired.
That cannot happen this year. Manning is in Year 2 of this offense so he should know it very well. He’s had an entire off-season to get to know newcomers Darius Slayton and Golden Tate, and he’s not going to have to deal with any real or perceived pressure to feed Beckham the ball every week.
In other words, he has everything a quarterback needs to be successful. So, I’m expecting to see a disciplined, confident quarterback who doesn’t force things, who doesn’t make rash decisions in the hopes they pan out and who manages the game well enough, making the plays that he needs to make to win games.
I’m looking for Eli Manning to beat Father Time once again — and while he’s at it, beat more than five teams this year.
I want to say that Eli Manning will defy the world and ride off into the sunset in the manner which he deserves. I want Eli to lead the Giants to a championship — or at least a winning season — on the strength of good, efficient quarterback play.
Unfortunately, we can’t ignore the evidence of the last few years. Manning’s play when not pressured has declined in each of the last three years. And while Eli has always been a high-variance quarterback, for most of his career that has been because he was the NFL’s most unassuming gunslinger playing in an offense that was a glass cannon. If Manning saw an opportunity for a big play, he would take the chance and trust his arm and his receiver to pull it off. Sometimes he and the receiver weren’t on the same page (a major fault of Gilbride’s offense), sometimes Manning put himself in the position of having to make a perfect throw and just didn’t, and sometimes he just made a bad call. But enough of those risks came with enough rewards to justify making them. But lately Eli’s erratic play has come from him missing throws, lacking eye discipline and leading defenders to the ball, or flat out misreading the defense. Combine that with a very risk-averse play style he has adopted since being moved to a West Coast Offense, and we have only seen glimmers of the quarterback we used to know.
There’s also the Odell, or rather the Lack-of-Odell, factor. For a little thought experiment, I’m going to list two quarterbacks’ performance since 2014 in four areas.
Quarterback A - 60.9 percent
Quarterback B - 60.3 percent
Yards Per Attempt
Quarterback A - 6.48
Quarterback B - 6.57
Touchdowns Per Game
Quarterback A - 1.35
Quarterback B - 1.2
Interceptions Per Game
Quarterback A - 1
Quarterback B - 1.03
“Quarterback A” is Eli Manning in his games without Odell Beckham Jr. since 2014. “Quarterback B” is Brock Osweiler. Taken as a whole it’s obvious that even an aging Manning without Odell is still better than Owseiler, but the two are closer than I think anyone should be comfortable with.
*Note: I reject the narrative that the offensive line has been the problem with Giants’ offense. I trust Football Outsiders’ work, and believe their stats on run blocking and pass protection to be accurate. Taking into account sacks per pass attempt, down, distance, and the opposing defense, the Giants’ pass protection has only fallen out of their Top 10 in two years since 2007 (2013 and 2018). Assigning blame or dissecting the problems with the Giants’ offense over the last six or seven years is well outside of the purview of this round table, but it’s also a question that probably should be asked and explored at some point.
So what am I expecting from the Manning and the Giants? I’m expecting Eli to begin the season as the starter, and I’m expecting Pat Shurmur to scheme as many quick, easy completions as he can, including plenty of check-downs and few risky plays. I don’t know how long Eli will start, but I think the Giants will ride with him for as long as they have hope of playing in January and he is able to put up a reasonably efficient box score. I’m also expecting opposing defenses to completely disrespect the Giants’ passing game and play primarily Cover 1 or Cover 3 defenses with eight defenders in the tackle box to smother the Giants’ running game. It would be up to Eli to make them pay for it, and whether or not he can will determine how long his season lasts and how it is remembered.
I’m not sure what there is to expect at this point. There is no doubt Eli Manning is one of the most important figures in Giants history. But heading into his age-38 season, it would be insane to expect anything different than what’s been shown over the past few seasons.
Manning hasn’t been in the top half of quarterbacks in DVOA or QBR since 2014. That’s five seasons ago. Last year he was 24th and 27th, respectively. Even the improved second half of the season wasn’t all that impressive when diving past the surface level. Twenty-nine quarterbacks had at least 100 pass attempts without pressure from Weeks 9-17 last season. Per Sports Info Solutions, Manning ranked 25th in completion percentage, 26th in on-target percentage, 21st in yards per attempt, 15th in touchdown rate, and 22nd in interception rate. That was the good half of the season.
I also have a hard time seeing an improvement at right guard and a drop off at wide receiver as an overall upgrade for the quarterback’s situation. I wrote a big piece on what Manning was entering the 2018 season and nothing over the last 16 games indicated the negatives were shifting back into positives. At this point, it’s not even a knock on Manning. Quarterbacks shouldn’t still be good at this age — that’s a completely normal thing.
With 2019 as the final year of Manning’s contract and the draft capital used on Daniel Jones, this should be Manning’s final season as a Giant. There’s a hope it goes better than 2018 did — it’s not a high bar — but expecting some grand finale to send him riding off into the sunset isn’t likely.
Our expectations for Eli Manning should not be very high for 2019, but that does not mean the Giants offense cannot be successful.
Every offensive transaction GM Dave Gettleman made during the offseason was a clear indication the Giants want a highly productive offense in 2019. What might not be so obvious is that this offense is built to lean heavily on Saquon Barkley. There is marginal talent remaining in the current receiver group, and major moves were made to bolster the offensive line.
Over the last few seasons, we’ve watched Eli decline in physical ability, and at 38 years old he’s not going to get any better. But what is different at this point in his career is that he has an extremely talented, young running back to lean on. Barkley could receive more than 350 touches next year. While relying on the run can be considered to be an ancient philosophy in the modern pass-centric NFL, Barkley is the type of running back who can take over games.
My expectation for Manning is to see a significant dip in his production. He won’t attempt more than 500 passes. He won’t pass for over 4,000 yards. He might not even start all 16 games. This is the case mainly because he has reached the point where it is time for him to take a step back and allow the next generation of Giants to lead the charge, including letting Daniel Jones start a few games.
For Eli’s whole career, the Giants’ offensive success depended solely on how he performed. Whether it was breaking interception records or torching defenses for fourth-quarter comebacks, the Giants were always built to revolve around Eli. In 2019, that is no longer the case.
After 15 seasons, we know what Eli Manning is. I like Chris’s description of him as a “high-variance quarterback.” We have seen him take the Giants to the mountaintop twice, and outplay all-time greats like Tom Brady (twice), Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers while doing it. We have also seen him make what look like the most ridiculous of mistakes, ones you should never expect to see from a quarterback with his pedigree. I have said in the past that every so often he will look like the kid playing quarterback for the local high school junior varsity.
With Manning, you take the good with the bad. Because the good has been as good as it can possibly be.
The question now is, what’s left?
Manning is different at 38 than he was at 28, or 25. There’s no denying that.
I have said before and will say again that don’t believe difference is some drastic change in arm strength or mobility. He has never had a cannon arm or all that much mobility. The difference for me is that he’s less trusting in the pocket, less willing to be patient, more in a rush to get rid of the ball. I can’t back that up with years worth of verifiable data, but that’s what the eye test tells me.
Part of that is playing behind sub-par offensive lines for so many years. Often, he just doesn’t seem to believe he will have time. Some of it is just getting older. Watch Brady — he ducks hits sometimes, too. Part of it is being coached differently and playing in a different type of offense.
The Kevin Gilbride era offense didn’t really care about efficiency. That was geared toward chunk plays and accepted more risk. The offenses he has played in since that time are more rhythm-based, timing, efficient offenses built to minimize risk. I think that as you age you simply become less risk averse, as well.
I still believe that the Giants can play good offense if the Giants run the ball efficiently and Manning is able to trust his protection. I believe he still has enough weapons at his disposal to identify mismatches and get the ball to the right place, or read a defense and get the Giants into the right play. Pro Football Focus ranked Manning only 28th out of 35 qualifying quarterbacks last season when passing from a clean pocket and only 19th in what it called “big-time throws.”
Manning isn’t going to suddenly morph into Patrick Mahomes or become Drew Brees, but I think he can be better than those numbers and the Giants can score enough points to have a chance to win a solid number of games. I think we saw that during the second half of the 2018 season when Manning had passer ratings (yes, I know it’s a lousy, misleading stat to judge by but it’s what we’ve got) above 100.0 four times.
The elephant in the room, of course, is Daniel Jones and when the Giants might pull the plug on Manning.
I know there are already calls from some in the media and fan base for Jones to start Week 1, or maybe Week 2 if the Giants lose their season-opener to the Dallas Cowboys. I don’t believe those things will happen.
Manning knows, though, that he has to play well and that the Giants have to do better than last season’s 1-7 start. He knows that if that happens the Jones era will begin some time during the 2019 season.
My expectation remains that as long as he is healthy and the Giants have what they consider to be a realistic shot at the playoffs Manning will continue to play. If they are eliminated from the playoffs or get off to another abominable start, Jones will play.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Comments in this post are going to be closely monitored. Express your viewpoint, but keep it civil and respectful.]