Something Is Slightly Amiss with Eli Manning and the Giants' Passing Game

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Something Is Slightly Amiss with Eli Manning and the Giants' Passing Game
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I don't want to sound the alarm, because the New York Giants still have the second-highest-scoring offense in the NFL thus far in 2012 and Eli Manning is still completing over 62 percent of his passes at a solid 7.8 yards per attempt. 

But while the Giants have won each of their last three games and scored at least 26 points in each of those matchups, it's hard to argue against the notion that Manning and his receivers left quite a few opportunities unfulfilled. 

During that stretch, Manning has completed 57 percent of his passes, has a 2-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has gone over 200 yards passing just once. 

So what's been happening with this passing game? Let's look at some factors.

 

Lack of Chemistry with Hakeem Nicks

Nicks has been easing himself back from ankle and knee injuries, and that has seemed to hurt his timing with Manning. Over the last three weeks, Nicks has just 12 catches on 21 targets, according to Pro Football Focus.

Nicks was able to beat Chris Culliver on a nice move early against the 49ers. See the separation...

Ordinarily, this would be a lock for Manning. But instead, Nicks lets Culliver close the gap a little...

And Manning's pass is about two feet out of Nicks' reach. 

It could have been a touchdown on a 3rd-and-2, but instead they'd have to punt.

Against the Redskins, Manning was lucky he wasn't intercepted when he led Nicks by about 10 yards on a play that I can only assume involved miscommunication between the two parties.

 

Simple Inaccuracy

Late in the first half against San Francisco, Manning had Martellus Bennett on an out-route and no pressure. Had he stepped into this throw and led Bennett, the tight end would have only had to beat one man to pick up the first down and possibly more. But instead, Manning threw a pass that was low and short of Bennett, incomplete. They'd have to settle for a field-goal attempt, which would be blocked.

Later in the same game, Manning missed Cruz and Domenik Hixon on back-to-back plays. The first might have been miscommunication and featured decent coverage, but Hixon was open on the second play and Manning simply threw it behind him. The red line and circle is where Manning threw it. The black line and circle is where Hixon needed it.

Against Washington, he did the same thing to a wide-open Cruz on a third down in the red zone. 

And then only minutes later, he fired way too high for Cruz again when he was wide open.

Again, early third quarter of that Redskins game. He overthrows Cruz on what would have been a touchdown.

Overthrowing receivers has been Manning's main problem of late. It also happened on an interception to Josh Wilson in the third quarter against Washington.

 

Poor decisions

Manning had little reason to throw this ball at Cruz deep over the middle. Carlos Rogers had great coverage, and Cruz had to become the defender to break it up. 

We see Manning make poor decisions like these once in a while, so this isn't necessarily a new factor. It's just been part of the formula behind his recent "struggles."

Not sure what he was seeing there...

Ditto on this throw to a fairly well-covered Nicks in the fourth quarter against the 'Skins. He didn't see Rob Jackson underneath, and it was a fairly easy interception for the linebacker. That nearly cost New York the game.

 

His Receivers Haven't Been Great

We've already gone over Nicks' issues as he gets up to speed, but Manning's receiving corps as a whole dropped four passes against the Cowboys. I counted three alone in the first half, and all three would have been first-down completions to Nicks or Cruz.

Even Eli's lone interception against the Cowboys wasn't really his fault. He made a tight throw to Cruz, but a big hit jarred the ball loose and into the arms of Danny McCray. 

Combine that with the fact Dallas also did a great job in coverage in that game, and Manning at least has some excuses for a below-average outing. I couldn't find any incomplete passes in that game that were blatantly on him, but he wasn't exactly making heroic throws down the field, either. 

 

It's easy to find examples of plays like these from any NFL quarterback, no matter how good. But there were a few too many ducks from Manning against the Niners and Redskins, and the Cowboys played too well on defense for us to be able to tell if he had snapped out of it or not in that game. 

The Giants had better hope he has, because the schedule doesn't get any easier, with matchups against the Steelers and the Bengals up next. 

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