Not Yet Ready to Jump on Eli Bandwagon
by Robert Ferringo - 01/24/2008
Every time I watch a New York Giants game with one of my friends that is a fan of the G-Men I always say the same thing when Eli Manning's mug shows up on the screen: there is your fearless leader.
And there he will be, in high definition on the screen but in (low definition) in the huddle. And it's not just that he looks like a distant cousin of Rocky Dennis. Or that his default setting is on bewilderment and awkward uncertainty. Or that, as my friend Nolan says, every time he does something ridiculous or that something goes wrong with the offense he looks like he just walked in on his favorite wide receiver making out with his fiancée.
Well, OK, so my blatant mockery of Manning does have something to do with all that. But mainly I'm just reminding them that Eli is to Peyton what Danny DeVito was to Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Twins".
But then came 2008. And over the last three weeks even the most (rabid) Manning basher has to be impressed with what the kid has been able to do. Manning has guided the Giants to three consecutive outright playoff road victories as an underdog, a postseason gambling first, and has New York playing in the franchise's fourth Super Bowl. Further, he outplayed Pro Bowl quarterbacks Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo, and Brett Favre en-route to Glendale, Arizona.
The most telling stat during Eli's unwitting ascension to Acceptance this winter is that he has yet to turn the ball over in the playoffs after stammering his way to 27 turnovers in the regular season. He has been a solid decision maker, has managed his offense exceedingly well in knowing when to push the peddle and when to ease off, and has been smart enough to go to Plexico Burress as much as possible while not neglecting his other receivers.
>From a scheme standpoint, New York's offensive coordinator has nearly abandoned deep throws down the middle or up the sidelines, as well as anything in the seams. Their go-to pass play has become the back shoulder fade - a Peyton Manning staple - and Eli has thrived in making "loose" throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. However, don't think for a second that Bill Belichick hasn't picked up on this and that he won't be working with his corners on jumping those quick routes.
The line for the media bobbleheads has been that Eli turned the corner in his last meeting with the Patriots, a 38-35 loss in the Meadowlands in Week 17. They'll throw out that he has completed 75 of 117 passes (64.1 percent) for 853 yards, with eight touchdowns and just one interception in his last four outings. While I do acknowledge that he played exceptional for three quarters, he also crumbled when pressed by the Patriots in the last 20 minutes of that game. Specifically, that horrendous, game-changing interception he threw in his own side of the field with 10 minutes remaining was a vintage Eli mistake.
Further, Manning has been less than heroic in the playoffs. He did go 6-for-10 in the fourth quarter and overtime against Green Bay. He did guide his team to what should have been a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation, but Larry Tynes shanked a 37-yarder. That was clutch. As was his two-minute drill at the end of the first half against Dallas. However, that's really been it. Two drives. And what has been less publicized is that Manning threw one - that's right: ONE - pass in the fourth quarters of the Tampa Bay and Dallas games, COMBINED. He did not throw a fourth quarter pass against the Bucs and was 1-for-1 in the last quarter against the Cowboys. Perhaps his heroism lies in the fact that he hasn't had an opportunity to be a goat.
I'm not going to fault the man for having a great running game. Just the opposite. I think that the effectiveness of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw has been the main reason for his emergence during the playoffs. But I also don't want people to try to spin the fact that Manning has "carried" the Giants into the Super Bowl. He simply hasn't blown it for them, and sometimes that's enough.
But sometimes it isn't. As we saw with Rex Grossman in last year's Super Bowl, a shaky quarterback will always be exposed under the Brightest Lights In Sports. The man has been playing very well over the past three weeks. But at his core, Eli is still a career 55-percent passer that has never had a QB rating over 77.0 and averages 1.3 turnovers per game. He was not good enough to best the Patriots in the first meeting, and we will see how he holds up under pressure in the second. I merely caution anyone looking to lay some action on the Giants to underestimate the power of his default settings.