Eli Manning Has New York Giants Soaring Under the Radar Again

Scott Kacsmar@CaptainComebackContributor IOctober 24, 2012

It’s late October, the New York Giants are 5-2 and considered one of the best teams in the NFC, but not the best in the NFL. In other words, it is business as usual for Tom Coughlin’s bunch.

While the Giants have earned their respect in January and February, the defending champions continue to fly under the radar, never to be taken seriously until the postseason arrives again.

But with each memorable win, such as Sunday’s comeback over the Washington Redskins, we see a team that continues to make history. Even if they often do not flash the signs of a classic, dominant team like Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers or Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers.

Through it all, the constants have been Coughlin and Eli Manning. In his ninth season, Manning is playing as well as he has at any point in his career. Leading the league in passing yards (2,109), Manning has the Giants right where they need to be: winning without unnecessary hype.

Let’s give them some hype after a historic win on Sunday.

Tom Coughlin’s Giants in elite company

Since taking the job in 2004, Tom Coughlin has started 5-2 or better in every season. They have been exactly 5-2 eight times, and were 6-1 in their last title defense (2008).

How good is that? It ties the NFL record for most consecutive seasons starting 5-2 or better through seven games, set by Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys (1975-1983).

Only eight teams in history have gone at least six consecutive seasons with such a hot start. The rest of the top five had multiple head coaches, while only Landry and Coughlin did it for the complete run.

Coughlin's team joins Paul Brown’s great Cleveland teams as the only ones on the list to win multiple championships during the streak.

What Brown and Coughlin also have in common is they only had to rely on one starting quarterback. Brown had Otto Graham, who missed just one start in those six seasons, and it was a late-season game in which Graham still played.

Coughlin of course has Eli Manning, the game’s biggest flatliner, which is a compliment.


Eli Manning’s career turning into “the stuff dreams are made of”

No matter which situation you put Eli Manning in, he reacts the same way.

For years thought to be the dopey little brother to the prolific Peyton, the youngest Manning’s demeanor and dependability have been lately mixed with a growing consistency in his play that suggests he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

A lot has changed in New York since 2004, but Manning remains the constant. The Giants have transitioned from Tiki Barber to more of a running back committee, and they succeeded without the threat of a strong running game, or quality offensive line for that matter.

The receiving corps that once had proven veterans like Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer and Jeremy Shockey has been fully revamped with Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and seemingly a new tight end every year who puts up career numbers with Manning. This year that player is Martellus Bennett, who already has a career high in receiving yards (305).

The Giants said goodbye to Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham, but with Nicks (22 receptions for 334 yards) battling through injury, we have already seen Domenik Hixon step up with similar production (22 receptions for 346 yards). Even the disappointing Ramses Barden had 138 yards against Carolina this year when they needed it.

That is the value of an elite quarterback, and Manning’s ability to adapt to change always keeps the Giants in contention.


Captain Comeback

Since becoming an Opening Day starter in the 2005 season, Manning has led the Giants to eight straight seasons of a 5-2 or better start, which no quarterback in NFL history can say they have done. It helps to be a league-best 26-5 (.839) in the month of October.

Looking at the numbers, it is hard to differentiate one 5-2 start from another. The scoring differential (plus-68) for the 2012 Giants is the third best they have had in the last eight years, so that is a positive.

Manning has more attempts (265) and completions (169) at this point than in any other season of his career, and he is the least sacked (1.9 percent) starting quarterback in the league in 2012.

But while the stats have improved in recent years, it is still likely the moments in the clutch Manning will be remembered for best. Since 2007, no quarterback has led more game-winning drives (22), and that includes a whopping 10 since last season alone.

His latest was one of his best, even if it was basically one big play.

The comeback win over the Redskins tied another NFL record for Manning. Eli joins Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning with the most fourth-quarter comeback wins (23) in a player’s first nine seasons, and he has at least nine games left to earn sole possession.

The only other quarterbacks with at least 20 fourth-quarter comeback wins in their first nine seasons are Ben Roethlisberger (21), John Elway (20) and Tom Brady (20). It is select company.

The 77-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Victor Cruz is the longest in Giants’ history in the final two minutes of the game. It was also one of the most improbable of Manning’s 23 comebacks.

Using the Win Probability Calculator at AdvancedNFLStats.com, I was able to break Manning’s comebacks down into three different win probabilities (WP) to see which were the most impressive or difficult.

  • WP(4Q): This is the WP the Giants had to start the fourth quarter, but not with 15:00 left. Instead it is using the first play of their first possession in the quarter.
  • WP(4QC): This is the WP the Giants had whenever they started making their comeback. If it was from a multiple-score deficit, then it was at the start of the initial drive.
  • WP(GWD): This is the WP the Giants had to start the drive of the game in which they scored the points that put them ahead for good (the game-winning drive).

Some of the numbers overlap because they are taken from the same moment in the game, but some you will see are much different.

The “MaxDef” is the largest deficit the Giants faced in the fourth quarter. The average has been 6.57 points with seven wins after trailing by multiple scores.

The Giants actually had a 76 percent chance of winning when the fourth quarter started on Sunday versus Washington. In a 13-13 game, the Giants faced a 2nd-and-4 at the WAS 9. Ahmad Bradshaw scored a touchdown on the fourth play of the quarter for a 20-13 lead.

But in terms of the game-winning drive only, Sunday’s comeback win over Washington was the second most improbable in Manning’s career. Down 23-20 with 1:27 left at his own 23, Eli’s WP was just 16 percent.

The only game lower was last year’s comeback in New England, where the Giants similarly trailed 20-17 with 1:36 left at their own 20. That WP was 15 percent. Apparently the extra three yards matter just a tad more than the nine seconds.

From the middle WP column, “WP(4QC)”, you can see Manning’s average comeback win has had a WP of 25 percent. So in this 23-game sample, you can say Manning and the Giants were expected to win 5.75 of these 23 games, which of course all ended up as wins. That is +17.25 wins, and this sounds like a future metric for Captain Comeback to analyze for more quarterbacks.

No comebacks were less likely than 2006 in Philadelphia (4.0 percent) when the Giants trailed 24-7 with 18:59 left in regulation. Likewise, there was last year’s 12-point comeback in the final 5:41 in Dallas (4.0 percent). 

Some quarterbacks may have a higher winning percentage in clutch situations (Matt Ryan and Tom Brady), and some may have more triumphs over a longer period of time (Peyton Manning). But is there anyone right now you trust more to go down the field for a must-have score, especially a touchdown, than Eli Manning?


Looking Ahead

Eli Manning is a perfect dark-horse candidate for league MVP. As usual, he is being overlooked, this time because of Matt Ryan’s heroics on the 6-0 Atlanta Falcons, Robert Griffin III’s rookie season, J.J. Watt’s dominance in Houston, Aaron Rodgers’ recent resurgence and Peyton’s hot streak in Denver.

The Giants are 5-2 every year, and even though it is a historic achievement of consistency, they apparently have bored us. Now we wait for their annual mid-season swoon to begin any game now.

That often does come, as it did last year when the Giants lost four in a row and five out of six at one point. The schedule will be getting tougher, which has also been the norm in the NFC East.

The true test for the 2012 Giants will come in the postseason, assuming they return. We know after two championship runs that they can get hot and compete with anyone.

But it is also time we recognize that this team, over eight years behind Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, is enjoying one of the most successful runs in NFL history. It is about more than two Super Bowl wins over the Patriots.

They have stats, records, signature wins and moments. The Giants did not just get hot and go on “lucky runs” twice in the last five seasons. They have had their share of adversity to fight through, and it has not always been a success.

Every season at least one team will have a better record than the Giants. But in a one-and-done, winner-take-all setting, there is no team more dangerous than the Giants as long as they have Coughlin coaching and Manning at quarterback.


Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.


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