Eli Manning has already set a fine legacy with the New York Giants—winning two Super Bowl in 10 years—but it's time his team begins to make plans to go in a different direction at the quarterback position.
The soon-to-be 33-year-old has never been a highly efficient, limited-mistake signal-caller.
Heading into this season, he averaged nearly 17 interceptions per season since taking over New York's full-time quarterback duties at the outset of the 2005 campaign.
But in 2013, he's hit the 25-pick plateau for the second time in four years, and the Giants will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season after winning the Super Bowl.
Despite being known for chucking many ill-advised interceptions, this season will almost assuredly be the first occasion in Manning's career that he'll finish with a higher interception percentage than touchdown percentage.
Also, he's on pace to finish with his lowest completion percentage since 2007, lowest yards-per-attempt average since 2008 and highest sack percentage of his NFL career.
Here's a look at some advanced statistics that illustrate Eli's regression:
(*PFF's "Accuracy Percentage accounts for dropped passes, throw aways, spiked balls, batted passes, and passes where the quarterback was hit while they threw the ball - factors that hurt the quarterback's completion percentage but don't help show how accurate they are.")
A myriad of external factors have affected Manning's dip in accuracy and subsequent production.
Why Eli's Regressed
The most glaring factor is Kevin Gilbride's offensive system.
It's essentially a boom-or-bust passing scheme predicated on an assortment of low-percentage, high-reward vertical shots, many of which come from option routes.
Take a peak at the downfield elements of New York's offense over the past four seasons:
|Eli Manning's Pro Football Focus Accuracy Statistics (Rank)|
|Accuracy%||Over 20-yards Accuracy %||Under Pressure Accuracy %|
|2010||74.3 (12)||43.8 (8)||57.0 (25)|
|2011||72.6 (11)||46.8 (7)||69.1 (2)|
|2012||69.9 (22)||42.6 (9)||59.2 (15)|
|2013||68.1 (24)||35.0 (17)||58.2 (17)|
|Pro Football Focus|
(*All statistical rankings were based on QBs who played at least 50 percent of their respective team's snaps in a given season.)
While Manning isn't the only quarterback throwing it downfield often, the foundational premise of the offense hasn't helped him progress in many key areas.
He was never lauded as a pinpoint accurate passer or a guy with a cannon arm, and possessing one of those two attributes is vital in a vertical-based offense.
|Eli Manning's Downfield Passing|
|Yards In Air Without Drops (Rank)||Number of Attempts of 20 Yards Or More (Rank)||% Of Total Attempts Made 20 Yards Or Further Downfield Per Dropback (Rank)|
|2010||2,489 (3)||73 (3)||13.5 (12)|
|2011||2,891 (2)||109 (1)||18.5 (2)|
|2012||2,569 (8)||68 (11)||12.7 (9)|
|2013||2,100 (8)||60 (9)||12.4 (12)|
|Averages||2,512.25 (5.25)||77.5 (6)||14.27 (8.75)|
|Pro Football Focus|
In college, Manning's highest completion percentage was 63.5 as a sophomore. It dipped to 58.0 percent as a junior, and he finished with 62.4 completion percentage as a senior.
He certainly can make all the throws, but Manning has never been considered one of the top arm talents in the league. However, his underrated ability to push the ball downfield with adequate zip is why we've seen some flashes of big-play brilliance during his Giants career.
Although Manning's thrown it beyond 20 yards less frequently this season than in the past, he hasn't been as accurate on those long throws.
Actually, as shown in the first table, Manning's accuracy has decreased at all depths since 2010.
Accuracy declines are never a positive, regardless of scheme.
Outside of Gilbride's vertical passing attack, the Giants' offensive line has gradually deteriorated over the past four seasons.
Here's how Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has rated New York's offensive front since the site began tracking every NFL play in 2008:
Manning isn't a total statue in the pocket, and his natural quarterbacking skill has proven to help him drift away from pressure on certain occasions, but he tends to rush throws with defenders in his face, which has led to an abundance of interceptions.
In general, quarterbacks aren't as precise when under pressure, but Manning's slide in that area since the rather magical season of 2011 has coupled with the offensive line's regression to create a perfect storm of inconsistency.
Hakeem Nicks' nagging injury issues and the team's inability to find a legitimately threatening third receiving option haven't helped, either.
Also, New York hasn't had a big, high-pointing specialist out wide since Plaxico Burress. While the speed of Nicks and Cruz made them exquisite fits in Gilbride's offense, an imposing target with good leaping ability has been missing over the past few seasons.
The defense as a whole has certainly taken a step back from its Super Bowl-winning days, too.
Where Do Giants Go From Here?
Gilbride probaby shouldn't be in the team's future plans, and with Nicks an impending free agent, he very well may be in a different uniform next season. Other impending free agents include guard Kevin Boothe, offensive lineman David Diehl, running backs Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, cornerback Terrell Thomas and defensive lineman Justin Tuck.
|New York Giants' PFF Offensive Line Ratings (Rank)|
|Pass-Blocking Grade||Run-Blocking Grade|
|2008||+30.7 (7)||+88.8 (5)|
|2009||+28.8 (10)||94.3 (7)|
|2010||+16.2 (7)||+13.1 (16)|
|2011||-81.0 (32)||-29.8 (25)|
|2012||+14.3 (18)||+39.1 (4)|
|2013||-44.7 (31)||-28.6 (17)|
|Pro Football Focus|
Based on the overall team evaluation and many contract situations, it's not hard to fathom the Giants beginning a miniature rebuilding process in 2014.
Sure, a new offensive coordinator could reinvigorate Manning, but should New York start a roster overhaul with a quarterback entering his mid-30s?
Ryan Nassib was selected in the fourth round of the 2013 draft out of Syracuse after many believed he'd be picked in either the first or second round.
He should be involved in any quarterback competition before next season, and with what will likely be a Top 15 pick in May's draft, a premier signal-caller prospect should at least be considered.
The exact quarterback fit will largely depend on the coordinator hired to replace Gilbride.
Fresno State's Derek Carr and San Jose State's David Fales are two strong-armed quarterback prospects with vast experience at the collegiate level who could be of interest to the Giants. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel would be an enormous draw in New York's market.
Carr started three full seasons for the Bulldogs and saw his passing statistics improve across the board each year. In 2011, he completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 3,544 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. In 2013, he's completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 4,871 yards with 48 touchdowns and only seven picks.
He's extremely polished from the pocket.
Though Fales' completion percentage has plummeted from 72.5 in 2012 to 64.1 in 2013, he leaves nothing to be desired in the arm-strength department.
Manziel is a fiery competitor with amazing improvisational skills. After winning the Heisman Trophy in 2012, he demonstrated keen pocket-passing ability in his redshirt sophomore year.
Although Manning represents a cap hit of over $20 million for the second straight year in 2014 (and $19.75 million in 2015), he shouldn't be cut or released this offseason.
However, he does represent just $7 million in dead money next season and only $2.25 million in 2015. Essentially, general manager Jerry Reese wouldn't be wasting a great deal of money if they did decide to release Manning.
Regardless of how the Giants handle Manning in the near future, he can't be solely relied upon as the franchise quarterback for the next three-to-five years as his team, in all likelihood, makes drastic coaching and personnel changes.