With the 28-year-old Eli Manning entering his prime, is the possibility of Tom Coughlin handing over full play-calling responsibility to the six-year veteran a reasonable strategy?
Manning has improved each year, leading the Giants to the playoffs for four straight seasons.
His 2008 passing efficiency of 86.4 percent was the highest of his career, a reflection of feeling more comfortable as the established leader of a team that shed the big personalities of Tiki Barber, who questioned his leadership skills, and Jeremy Shockey, who continually complained about his touches.
Despite his sub-par 2008 performance in the playoffs, Manning seems to be on the threshold of bigger and better things.
But, with the team choosing not to re-sign both starting wide receivers, the 2009 season might not seem to be the right moment to hand play-calling duties to Manning in Coughlin's mind, who also has to deal with a young receiving corp and an injury-prone running game in the form of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
Often, the unconventional approach is the "lightning in a bottle" that separates the very good coach from the great one and Coughlin, whose nickname is "Colonel," could take a strategic lesson from a great coach—Bill Belichick.
The unorthodox Belichick handed the play-calling reins to his franchise quarterback, Tom Brady, in the 2004 AFC championship game on a first-possession, 4th-and-1 call at their own 44 yard line against a pumped up Colts team.
Brady completed the pass, a short two-yard conversion. The play set the tone for Brady and the Patriots' playoff run, propelling them to their second Super Bowl in three years, transforming Brady into a legendary gold-standard quarterback that calls his own plays.
While Belichick did this in the playoffs, Coughlin should consider preparing Manning for play-calling responsibilities at the start of the 2009 season to help him overcome his propensity to start slow.
Manning has proven himself to be a durable and assertive big-game performer. The knock on him is his out-of-rhythm accuracy during the first 30 minutes of games. His performance improves dramatically when he is forced to make decisions on the fly, often with his team down and in their quick no-huddle offense.
This tendency can be compared to a bored student who is so ahead of the class, his mind drifts from the teacher's course lesson to shooting spit balls out of a straw at his classmates. At times, Manning looks so unfocused on his passes, the ball comes out of his hand like a knuckle ball pitcher.
A player of his talent shouldn't have those lapses in mechanics, and it you watch Coughlin's body language when he comes off the field after one of those throws, you can see him saying to him without talking, "Get your head in the game."
Coughlin could go a step further and give Eli an opportunity to help to design offensive strategy, designing plays with Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride because of his extensive football background. How many players grow up with a NFL quarterback legend of a father and a improvising quarterback genius of a brother?
Imagine the backyard barbecue talk, that alone could turn into a master's course in quarterbackology. Father Archie and brother Peyton could end up as unpaid consultants in the Giants playbook and if you think about it, would that be that bad of a thing?
Manning's re-focused attention on the playbook could turn him into a more relaxed, assertive, and confident player, transforming his 76.1 career quarterback efficiency rating into an above 90 percent rating, which would approach the golden realm of Brady, a career 92.9 passer and Peyton Manning, who has a career rating of 94.7.
Brady is still the most-feared quarterback in the league because of his ability to quickly exploit matchups on the fly. Close behind him is Eli's brother Peyton, who reads defenses so quickly coordinators delay putting their teams in their defensive set to disrupt his vision. They both call their own plays, being the only two on record in the NFL to do so.
Coughlin has shown that he is flexible and aggressive. Giving Eli Manning playcalling responsibility could be the bold move that Coughlin could use to get the Giants back to the Super Bowl.
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