It's been a wild start to 2012 for the New York Giants, who sit atop the NFC East despite losing two straight games. Much of Big Blue's early-season success can be attributed to quarterback Eli Manning, who paced the team's offense with 2,109 passing yards through Week 7. Yet peg Manning equally responsible for the Giants' recent shortcomings, tallying four interceptions to no touchdowns in the past three games.
There's little parity to Manning's 2012 thus far. Eli has looked like a bona-fide MVP candidate at some points and a second-stringer at others. With a formidable December schedule, New York can't afford such unpredictability under center.
Manning's deep ball looks great, and his mid-level velocity has been on point for most of the season. Eli's football smarts are still up there with the league's best, and there's no denying his penchant for fourth-quarter comebacks and late-game heroics.
Still, there's plenty of tune ups that Manning will need to make as the Giants gear up for a playoff push. Check out what Eli needs to work on and where he can stand to improve as a much-needed bye week comes in.
Manning's struggled to avoid double coverages and center fielders when going long this year. Against the Bengals Sunday, Manning seemed to force balls into well-covered sideline routes all game long. While much of this lies on the Giants' receivers and their ability to find separation, Manning has to be a bit smarter with his deep throws.
Playing the Flat
Manning's Week 2 pick-six to Tampa Bay corner Eric Wright was one of New York's ugliest plays of the season. Eli's been overthrowing screens and failing to incorporate the short game at times. Perhaps opening up these patterns gives rookies Rueben Randle and David Wilson opportunities for catch-and-gos.
Protecting the Football
With 11 interceptions and three fumbles thus far, Manning's been a bit too careless with the football. Despite playing with a clean pocket for most of the season, Eli continues to force plays at times. Perhaps this starts with a stronger emphasis on the running game or simply taking a sack more often.
Manning's night-and-day 2012 is problematic for an offense that is still experimenting with different running backs and a jumbo tackle in David Diehl. The Giants need "Easy E" under center, and Manning needs to improve his consistency. Often times, it feels like Manning's production comes in spurts, with three touchdowns in a half against Tampa Bay and two picks in a quarter against Cincinnati. While there's no tangible solution here, Manning's "all or nothing" mindset needs to settle as the season continues.
Stretching the Offense
In Week 9's loss to the Steelers, Manning targeted receiver Victor Cruz 11 times, while fellow wideouts Hakeem Nicks, Domenik Hixon and Rueben Randle saw a combined eight passes. Against the Bengals last week, Manning targeted Nicks 14 times, while Cruz, Hixon and Ramses Barden were targeted a combined eight times. Simply put, Manning needs to shy away from focusing in on one receiver. With so many dangerous elements to this passing offense, locking in on one target spells forced incompletions and potential turnovers.
New York's finger is far from the panic button, yet it seems that every week things inch a little closer for Eli Manning. The ninth-year pro will have his work cut out for him when the Giants pick it back up in Week 12, facing off against the red-hot Green Bay Packers.