Last year, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning spent Sundays trying to lead his G-Men past a November slump and attempting to vindicate his status as one of the league's elite passers. This time around, it's a whole different story.
Manning's 2012 has catapulted him and the defending Super Bowl champs to ubiquitous national conversation. The 9-year pro tops the NFL in total passing yards while boasting a healthy 92.5 QB rating. Manning's Giants, meanwhile, are winners of five of their last six games, with an average margin of victory of over 15 points.
Eli's dominant start to the season has garnered MVP mumblings, but what exactly has he done so well? Check out a full breakdown of Manning's first seven weeks.
Manning's 63.8 completion percentage this year is a career-best, thanks in large part to an augmented focus on the short passing game. Tailback Ahmad Bradshaw has caught 14 of his 18 targets, while wideouts Victor Cruz and rookie Rueben Randle have each seen a fair share of screens go their way.
Developing the short game makes New York's offense all the more dangerous, especially with the burgeoning ground attack picking up steam in recent weeks.
Arguably the best aspect of Manning's play this year, the Giants are really thriving in second-level passing. Manning's been fitting passes into shrinking windows, and has developed a nice rhythm on crossing routes with Cruz and WR Domenik Hixon.
After averaging nearly 19 yards a grab in 2011, Cruz has fallen to just 12.5 yards per reception in 2012, a testament to the commitment to testing the mid-level. TE Martellus Bennett has been splitting the seams, and Manning's 7.96 yards per attempt average is nearly a half-yard lower than his 2011 output.
Of course, Manning and the Giants still run a lethal long-ball offense. Despite the absence of the hobbled Hakeem Nicks, Manning has been able to attack deep, thanks to Cruz' penchant for beating corners and finding open space over the top.
In years past, Manning struggled with back foot throws and long passes to the inside shoulder of his intended receiver. This year, however, Eli's deep delivery has been on-point, and with a clean pocket, Manning's allowing his talented group of receivers to get open and make things easy.
Perhaps the only point of concern here, Manning's decision making and read ability continue to be a bit spotty at times. While some of Eli's seven interceptions have come on bobbled passes or over/underthrows, others, like Manning's Week 2 "pick six" to Bucs corner Eric Wright, can be chalked up to premature reads.
Manning's seven interceptions are a bit high, especially given the stellar job done by his offensive line (Manning and Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick are the only two starting quarterbacks with more interceptions than sacks).
It's tough to evaluate the leadership of an athlete without locker room access, yet there's no denying Manning's ostensible status as a team player and captain. Eli's Giants are in the NFC East driver's seat, while Manning himself remains the bashful, humble media personality that seemingly contradicts his boisterous stat line. New York was staring an 0-2 start in the face against the Buccaneers, yet behind balanced offensive output, the Giants are now emerging as one of the NFL's most respected threats.
The Bottom Line
Manning's 2,100+ passing yards, 12 touchdowns and career-high completion percentage is certainly encouraging thus far. While the Giants have a tough second-half schedule approaching, there's no denying Manning's status as one of 2012's brightest talents.