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Will Eli Manning Ever Return to Super Bowl-Winning Form?

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Will Eli Manning Ever Return to Super Bowl-Winning Form?
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY
Is the Eli Manning magic lost forever?

This may seem like an odd time to analyze Eli Manning’s poor season. The 10-year veteran is coming off his first interception-free game of the year, and the New York Giants actually won in Week 7.

Still, despite a solid if unspectacular performance against the Minnesota Vikings, Manning’s 2013 numbers continue to be dreadful. He leads the NFL with 15 interceptions, has completed only 54.5 percent of his passes and owns a quarterback rating of 66.5. The latter statistic, if it holds up, would be his worst mark since his rookie season in 2004.

Does Manning’s play through seven games prove that the 32-year-old is on the decline? Or can he regain the form that was good enough to lead New York to two Super Bowl victories in a span of four years?

The reality is that Manning can become a championship quarterback once again, but the only way it will happen is if he gets better support from his offensive line and receiving corps.

This is not to say Manning shouldn’t take some of the blame. His two major weaknesses—throwing inaccurately and forcing a throw when there isn’t a play to be made—have been more pronounced this season.

These issues pale in comparison, however, to how poor pass protection and mistake-prone pass-catchers have affected his play.

Let’s start with the men in the trenches. The chart below shows the pass-blocking performance of each position along the offensive line so far this season.

2013 Offensive Line Pass Protection
Position PFF Rating Sacks Hits Hurries
Left Tackle (Will Beatty) -5.5 5 6 20
Right Tackle (Justin Pugh) -5.0 2 2 28
Left Guard (Kevin Boothe, James Brewer) 0.4 1 2 10
Right Guard (Brewer, Chris Snee, David Diehl) -11.0 3 1 20
Center (Boothe, Jim Cordle, David Baas) -2.1 3 3 6
Total -23.2 14 14 84

Pro Football Focus

The cumulative effect produces a Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 70 for Big Blue’s offensive line, which is third worst in the NFL. To provide more context to this number, Manning has been pressured on 42.4 percent of his dropbacks. Last year, he saw pressure on only 29.8 percent of his dropbacks, which helped bring the PBE rating up to 77.3.

To be fair, the Giants offensive line didn’t protect Manning well in the 2011 regular season either. Their PBE rating that year was 72.3 and they allowed pressure on 39.1 percent of drop backs.

Manning’s performance two years ago may have been the best of his career. Not only were his numbers good, but he had eight fourth-quarter comebacks, including six in the regular season. The bad pass protection by the offensive line has hurt Manning this season, but 2011 is proof that he can withstand a dirty pocket, so to speak.

When relentless defensive pressure, however, is also accompanied by an unreliable receiving corps, that is just too much for the Giants signal-caller to overcome.

Giants receivers, which includes running backs, fullbacks and tight ends, have dropped 19 passes this season, but this only partly explains how the group has negatively affected Manning.

The receivers, to put it bluntly, have been the main culprits in a majority of his interceptions.

Ed Valentine of Big Blue View, in studying film of the Giants early in the season, blames Manning for only four of the seven interceptions he threw in the first two games of 2013. Of the remaining three, two were the fault of receivers and the other occurred due to an unlucky bounce off a defensive back’s foot in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos.

Then there is Rueben Randle, who has been the intended receiver on six of Manning's interceptions and was directly to blame for two of Manning’s three picks against the Chicago Bears in Week 6.

The week before against the Philadelphia Eagles, two of Manning’s three picks also had the guilty fingerprints of his receivers all over them.

The first occurred with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Giants trailing by eight. Manning unleashes a strong throw on the run to Victor Cruz before getting walloped by an Eagles defensive player. Even though the pass was on target and hits Victor Cruz in stride, as you can see in the image below, Philadelphia defensive back Brandon Boykin is able to secure the interception.

Simply put, Cruz has to be more assertive in this situation. He can’t let Boykin cut in front of him so easily and then rip the ball out of his hands. Cruz has had an excellent season, but this was not one of his finer moments.

On the Giants' next series, with the deficit now 15 points, Hakeem Nicks tops Cruz’s error by inexplicably deciding to not finish his route, which leads to Manning’s final interception landing in the hands of Cary Williams.

As Manning’s pass travels through the air, Nicks stops cold, allowing Williams an unobstructed view of the ball.

As Williams secures the interception, Nicks has moved only about a foot from the previous spot. Also notice how he is just looking at Williams and not even attempting to make a play on the ball or the man.

The five-year veteran was also the cause of this Manning pick against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4, when he ran a half-hearted crossing route instead of the go route that his quarterback was expecting.

We’ve come all this way without even discussing Big Blue’s putrid running game, which is averaging 67.2 yards per game on 3.2 yards per carry. Manning has also worked with five different running backs, due to a rash of injuries at the position.

When a quarterback doesn’t have time to throw the ball, can’t trust his receivers and is facing a defense with no fear of the run, it is pretty hard to be successful.

The Giants two-time Super Bowl MVP is not lost. Manning can be found, but he needs to play a little better and get a whole lot more help from his friends on offense.

 

All stats, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required for premium stats) and Pro-Football-Reference.com.

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