Is Eli Manning's Arm Strength a Problem? Examining Incomplete Passes in Cincy

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistNovember 12, 2012

Eli Manning's productivity has fallen off a cliff in recent weeks, and—unsurprisingly—the Giants have stopped winning games. 

Prior to this week's loss to Cincinnati, NFL Films guru Greg Cosell wondered if Manning was suffering from the effects of a "tired arm."

Cosell said (via Pro Football Talk):

Ron Jaworski and I were having this conversation this week. I looked at Eli on Monday; Jaws looked at Eli on Wednesday. And he made a very interesting comment. It really struck me, and I would defer to Jaws on this because I've never taken snaps in the NFL. ... It looks to him like Eli's arm is a little tired. And that he's not driving the ball at the intermediate and deeper levels the way we've come to expect. Because Eli has a strong arm.

And we even got that sort of confirmed by someone who's a lot closer to the situation. His arm's a little bit tired right now. He's missed some throws that he would normally make.

Several factors are surely at play here, one of which is undoubtedly Manning's arm. With this in mind, I went through all 17 incomplete passes Manning threw against the Bengals Sunday to determine who or what was at fault on each occasion. 

I figured it'd be a combination of inaccurate or sloppy throws, bad decisions, good coverage and poor execution from pass-catchers. What I found was a potpourri with all of those ingredients.


Incomplete pass No. 1: Manning rolls out right, and it appears Cincinnati has everyone covered well. He tries to hit Domenik Hixon on the sideline, but Terence Newman is draped all over him. The throw seemed to have enough zip, but Cincinnati's defense played it well. 

Blame: Cincy's defense


Incomplete pass No. 2: Manning has plenty of time on third down, but the coverage is fantastic again. There was absolutely nothing wrong with his tight throw to Hakeem Nicks, but Adam Jones was there to break it up.

Blame: Cincy's defense


Incomplete pass No. 3: Manning would complete his next five passes before over-throwing Bear Pascoe on a short attempt into the left flat. It would be hard to argue the pass lacked velocity, and it would have only been a short gain anyway, but it's still on Manning for a lack of accuracy.

Blame: Manning's inaccuracy 


Incomplete pass No. 4: He would complete his next six passes after that last overthrow, but only one was for more than nine yards. His throws were very conservative throughout the first half. In this case, Manning made a bad throw, but it was also a questionable decision passing into double coverage. It was third down, which indicates he was desperate. But the Giants only needed six yards and went for it on fourth down anyway. The pass was lacking, but the decision was worse.

Blame: Manning's arm and decision


Incomplete pass No. 5: Manning definitely didn't lack zip on a perfect throw to Martellus Bennett in the back of the end zone on a third down. The problem was that Bennett was only able to get one foot down.

Blame: Nobody


Incomplete pass No. 6: This was an embarrassing interception from Manning, who should have taken the sack, but instead tried to get fancy and flip the ball's tough to tell, but it was either Bennett or Ramses Barden. It was deflected by Geno Atkins and picked off by Pat Sims. 

Blame: Manning's decision


Incomplete pass No. 7: Manning had Ahmad Bradshaw underneath on what could have been a solid gain, but Domata Peko made a nice play to jump up and knock it down. I get the feeling the pass would have been knocked away regardless of how hard it was thrown, but this one didn't seem to lack velocity. 

Blame: Cincy's defense and Manning's decision


Incomplete pass No. 8: It's impossible to tell whether a tired arm impacted Manning on this interception to Newman because he was trying to hit Bennett while flat-footed and being pulled backward by a defender. I'd like to rip Manning for the decision, but the Giants were trailing by three scores and it was a third down in the second half. I understand the panic. Here, I highlight where he meant to throw it and where it ended up.

Blame: Cincy's defense and Manning's decision


Incomplete pass No. 9: Manning has a wide-open Bennett over the middle, but simply throws it behind him. 

Blame: Manning's inaccuracy


Incomplete pass No. 10: Manning appears to overthrow a wide-open Bennett, but in his defense, Bennett slipped coming out of his break, which coincided with Manning's delivery. 

Blame: Manning's inaccuracy and Bennett's agility 


Incomplete pass No. 11: He puts what should have been a touchdown pass into Victor Cruz's breadbasket, but Cruz drops the ball. 

Blame: Cruz


Incomplete pass No. 12: Bennett drops a third-down pass.

Blame: Bennett


Incomplete pass No. 13: On the ensuing play, Newman's coverage on Nicks is fantastic, but Manning's throw is high anyway. This is a fourth-down throw that wouldn't have had to happen had the Giants not been down 25 points. 

Blame: Manning's inaccuracy and Cincy's defense


Incomplete pass No. 14: He attempts to go to Travis Beckum on a short route, but the coverage is again solid, this time by Rey Maualuga. It's broken up. The throw didn't lack zip, though.

Blame: Cincy's defense


Incomplete pass No. 15: There's absolutely no hope for Nicks against double coverage down the right sideline, especially with Manning's pass sailing out of bounds.

Blame: Manning's inaccuracy and Cincy's defense


Incomplete pass No. 16: He hits Nicks right in the chest on what would have been a first-down completion into tight coverage, but Nicks drops it. Jones might have gotten a hand in there, but it was a good throw from Manning that should have been caught.

Blame: Nicks


Incomplete pass No. 17: He threw the ball away here in an attempt to avoid a sack on 1st-and-goal. What's crazy is that this was his only real throwaway of the game despite the fact the Bengals brought tons of pressure throughout.

Blame: Cincy's defense


So I can't find a single incomplete pass that could clearly and solely be pinned on Manning's lack of arm strength. There were no comically ugly wobblers and his spirals were generally tight. Maybe that's why Manning himself doesn't seem worried about his lack of production

But it might not be that cut and dry. A tired arm might not only result in dud passes, but it could explain instead why Manning has been much less accurate than usual of late. 

The sheer numbers don't properly tell the story either, because Manning has gone up against three very good coverage units in as many weeks. The Steelers have the best pass defense in the NFL, statistically speaking, and Dallas and Cincinnati both shut down New York's receivers, coercing Manning into having to force a lot of throws into tighter-than-usual windows. 

That might be straining Manning overall. And also consider that Manning made bad decisions on over 20 percent of the incomplete passes examined above against the Bengals. Let's remember that the guy has yet to have a bye week and didn't finish the 2011 season until February. Considering too how much of a frenzy that abbreviated offseason can be for Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, it's possible Manning's mind and body are both tired, rather than just his right arm. 

And when your receivers aren't getting open and are dropping too many passes and your pass protection and run support are inconsistent, it's easy to see why Manning and the passing game are struggling so badly right now.

And yes, the bye week should help, but I don't think one weekend off will necessarily make everything better, either. 

And that, my friends, is why it's so damn hard to repeat in this league.